Terrific Technique Takes Time Darlene Irwin April 13, 2015
Spring is in the air and many music students are busy preparing for practical exams.
As the exam approaches, quite a lot of time is spent preparing and memorizing all the required pieces. However, it is VERY important that students also take time to work on their scales, chords and arpeggios. Successful technique requires great perseverance, patience and preparation.
Here are seven teaching tips that have helped my students to do their very best on the technical portion of their exams.
Take Time to Learn Correct Fingering
- Fingering matters. Learn the correct scale fingering from the start. Fingering is also essential for fluent triads. Watch the 2nd and 3rd fingers in the middle of the triads.
- Say the finger numbers out loud as you play scales hands separately. This will help to reinforce fingering. Learn to play one key correctly before attempting to play the others.
- Drill, drill drill. Muscle memory takes time. Playing scales correctly is like learning to ride a bicycle….with enough practice, they eventually become second nature.
- Skeleton Scales are a fun way to help students learn fingering and visualize patterns. Play a C+ scale (RH) - 1 on C, 2 and 3 together on D and E, 1 on F, 2, 3 and 4 together on G, A and B, 1 on C and so on up and down the scale. Repeat with the left hand. Once you have mastered C+, try this exercise in different keys.
Take Time to Use The Metronome
- The Metronome is your best friend. Play scales with the metronome from the very beginning.
- The metronome is also 'The Great Controller'. You must learn to control the notes…..you can’t let the notes control you!
- LISTEN carefully and make sure you are not going faster or slower. Try to ‘Catch the Beat’.
- Slow practice gives you time to listen and think about arm weight and tone production. The scales need to be played consistently and correctly. Only then can you start to increase the speed.
- Remember…..Slow practice is really Fast Practice in Slow Motion.
Take Time to Discover Patterns
- Know your key signatures. Watch for and compare Relative Major and Minor scales. Did you know that the descending Melodic Minor scale is the same as it’s Relative Major?
- Watch the 4th finger in hands-separate scales. It is almost always played on the same key. The 3rd and 4th fingers generally take turns.
- In the hands-together scales with the pattern 123123412312345, the 3rd fingers generally play at the same time.
- Identify all of your required scales that have the same patterns and practice them one after the other.
- Memorize these three tricky scales separately (f#-, g#- and c#- melodic). Be careful because the pattern changes on the way down.
- ‘The Student Music Organizer’ has a very handy Comparative Fingering Chart on the back inside cover. This can be colour-coded to show which scales share the same fingering patterns.
- For hands-together scales, watch the right hand on the way up and the left hand on the way down.
- For scales containing lots of black keys, watch black and white keys for patterns. i.e. G flat+ - play the white keys closes to the 3-black keys. D flat+ - play the upper white key each time. B+ - play the lower white key each time.
- I call d- and g- harmonic the ‘Grand Canyon’ scales. You have to jump from black key to black key across the canyon (2 white keys). The f#- harmonic scale has a white-white canyon!
- Dominant and Diminished 7ths also have patterns with the white and black keys.
- When arpeggios start on black keys, the thumb generally comes on the first white key (unless the notes are all black).
Take Time to Practice Technique All Year Long
- Technique will not cram well…..practicing all year long builds confidence and finger strength.
- All technique should be up to grade speed before applying for an exam.
- Challenge yourself - strive to have your technique at the speed of the next grade.
Take Time to be Organized
- The Student Technique Organizers are a great resource for both teachers and students. These handy Scale Charts are one-page practice guides for the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) technical requirements.
- Scale Charts save time. You can tell at a glance what’s hands-separate, what’s hands-together, what’s one octave or what’s 2 octaves. The major keys are in upper case and the minor keys are in lower case.
- The Scale Charts are colour-coded and easy-to-read: green for hands-separately, white for hands together. Diminished 7th are also colour-coded. There are only 3 of them…the rest are inversions of the originals.
- Scales are listed on the top of the chart, chords in the middle and arpeggios at the bottom.
- The charts are also Weekly Practice Guides. (divided into six days)
- You can write specific information in the boxes i.e. key signature, raised notes, fingering etc.
- On-Line digital Scale Charts or regular charts will be available shortly for the new 2015 requirements.
Take Time to Plan Your Exam
- Start your exam with technique. This helps to warm up your fingers. It also lets you get a feel for the piano and the arm weight required to produce the sound that you want AND it gives you time to relax and feel comfortable in the room before playing memorized pieces. When you start with your technique, you are telling the examiner that you are well prepared….go ahead, ask me f#- melodic….I CAN DO IT!!
- Mock Exams help. (See previous blog post - ‘8 Essential Keys for Successful Exam Preparation’). Scroll to the bottom of the blog post for lots of great ideas on doing Mock Exams with students.
Take Time to Listen and Think Before you play
- In your exam, mentally prepare to play each scale, chord or arpeggio. Pre-think the patterns and where you are going before you start.
- Listen carefully to what the examiner has asked for…then repeat it over in your mind. Is it right hand or left hand, Harmonic or Melodic, legato or staccato? Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to repeat the request.
Successful exams require strong technique and strong technique takes time. Work on your technique all year long, not just before an exam. Practicing technique every day is like going to the gym for your fingers.
Take time to prepare and you will be rewarded with a greater technical facility and you will have the confidence you need to do your very best on your exam.
♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎
Photo credits: Playing Piano, 12-2009, Time, 01-2008