Work on Your Technique – a Four-Part Practice Strategy

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Technique practice

We all want to work on technique, so we play a few scales, do a few exercises, learn some etudes. Often we take a rather haphazard approach. Is there a better plan?

Like any other part of your music study, your technical work should be focused and goal-driven. You should know what you want to accomplish, whether it is building your technique from scratch or a seasonal overhaul.

At this time of year, I am ready for a technique overhaul. The concert season is winding down. I am planning my repertoire for next year, but I still have plenty of time to get everything in my fingers. It’s my fingers that need my attention now.

Just because you’ve been playing a lot doesn’t mean you’re in shape. In fact, when you have a stack of music to prepare and perform, it’s very easy to get out of shape and let bad habits creep in.

So as the concert season ends, I renew my technique. And in case you’re interested in doing the same thing, here is my four part approach. I work on:

  • Mechanics. This is how you produce your sound, the physical creation of your tone. It is the muscular action and interaction that is the most efficient and effective.
  • Facility. Facility is fluidity. It is getting around your instrument evenly and easily.
  • Mastery. Mastery takes facility to the next level, encompassing speed, dynamics and articulation.
  • Specials. These are the common extended techniques for your instrument. On the harp these include harmonics, glissandi, oscillating, pedal slides. Trills fit this category as well.

A good technical workout should strengthen all these areas. An ideal one-hour session might look like this for an advanced player:

10 minutes of mechanics
15 minutes of facility
25 minutes of mastery
10 minutes of specials

A beginner would spend more time on mechanics and less on specials. You may fall somewhere in between.

Mechanics work is a slow careful warm-up. For harpists, the place and hold exercises that are in the beginning of many exercise books are perfect for this. You can also use a difficult passage from any piece as long as you play it very slowly with total attention to technique.

Facility practice is the place for scales and arpeggios. Any exercise book is good here, too, such as LaRiviere or the Conditioning Exercises.

Mastery  – Etudes are where we refine our technique. We add speed and dynamics, different articulations. In short, we practice using our technique in a musical context. Whether you play Pozzoli or Dizi, play etudes.

Specials are dedicated single technique exercises. Do you need work on trills or harmonics? Muffles or staccati? You can also work on a particular problem area in one of your repertoire pieces.

Whatever your playing level is, you can use this plan to sharpen your technique.

What is your “go to” technique refiner?

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