In the last post, I wrote about the three things you need to work on to improve your playing. The first of those three is technique, and I would like to go into a little more depth about that in today’s post.
As I described in the post, your technique is your toolbox. It exists to serve your playing and the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more challenging playing tasks you will be able to take on.
Have you ever been in an old fashioned hardware store? This is the kind of place where you can go and ask the person behind the counter what sort of tool you need for the job you want to tackle. Back behind that counter are all the tools and little parts – nuts, bolts, screws, nails – and from out of that huge collection, the hardware guy picks exactly what you need. You need that particular size wrench, that one and no other.
When you work on building your technique, you are working on your own hardware store. Whatever technical requirements the piece on your music stand might call for, your hardware store needs to be ready to fill that need.
So let’s start with the basics. What should you be doing to keep your toolbox filled?
1. Scales and arpeggios. No brainer. Any piece of music you look at has passages of scales and arpeggios, whether they are extended ones as in a Mozart sonata or three note arpeggiated chords accompanying a simple melody. If you’re not playing scales and arpeggios every day, you’re missing the biggest boost you can give your technique.
2. An etude or exercise book. There are plenty out there, and you can find one that suits your own personality. If you’re looking for intense “leave no stone unturned” study, LaRiviere may be what you like. If you prefer something more unusual, try Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. Exercises and etudes work on the combinations and patterns of notes that occur most frequently in the music we play. They increase flexibility and agility.
3. Special techniques. Harmonics, trills, muffles, pedals or levers all require special study, apart from the more usual playing techniques. These don’t need to be an everyday exercise, but rotate them into your technique work regularly to keep your skills sharp.
4. Problem solving tools. Sometimes you run across a challenging passage in a piece, one that is a little problematic or unusual, that needs some extra work. You need to have some tricks in your toolbox for working on those passages. One trick we commonly use is practicing in a long-short rhythms. For some other examples, see my previous post on Practice Solutions.
Above all, keep your technique steady and strong by working on it every time you practice. In the words of my husband surveying his well-stocked workbench, “You can never have too many tools!”
Your etude choice for today is…?