What is Piano Technique?

We must understand what technique means because not understanding technique leads to incorrect practice methods. More importantly, the correct understanding can help us to develop superior practice methods. The most common misunderstanding is that technique is some inherited finger dexterity. It is not. The innate dexterity of accomplished pianists and ordinary folk are not that different. This means that practically anyone can learn to play the piano well. There are numerous examples of mentally handicapped people with limited coordination that exhibit incredible musical talent. Unfortunately, many of us are much more dexterous but can't manage the musical passages because of a lack of some simple but critical information. Acquiring technique is mostly a process of brain/nerve development, not development of finger-moving muscles or strength.

Technique is the ability to execute a zillion different piano passages; therefore it is not dexterity, but an aggregate of many skills. The task of acquiring technique thus boils down to solving the problem of how to acquire so many different skills in a short time. The wondrous thing about piano technique, and the most important message of this book, is that piano skills can be learned in a short time, if the correct learning procedures are applied. These skills are acquired in two stages: (1) discovering how the fingers, hands, arms, etc., are to be moved, and (2) conditioning the muscles and nerves to execute these with ease and control. This second stage is concerned with control, not the development of strength or athletic endurance. Many students think of piano practice as hours of intense finger calisthenics because they were never taught the proper definition of technique. The reality is that you are actually improving your brain when learning piano! Acquiring technique is a process of developing faster nerve connections, creating more brain cells for the proper movements and memory functions, and for "speaking the language of music". You are actually making yourself smarter and improving your memory; this is why learning piano correctly has so many beneficial consequences, such as the ability to better cope with everyday problems or the ability to retain memory longer as you age. This is why, in this book, memorizing is an inseparable part of technique acquisition.

The above definition of technique tells us that, once you have learned something, like playing a scale, practicing it over and over does not materially improve technique and can waste a lot of time. We must understand our own anatomy and learn how to discover and acquire the correct technique. This turns out to be a nearly impossible task for the average human brain unless you dedicate your entire life to it from childhood. Even then, most will not succeed. The reason why it takes an entire dedicated lifetime is that, without proper instruction, the pianist must discover the correct motions, etc., by trial and error. You must depend on the small probability that, as you try to play that difficult passage faster, your hand accidentally stumbles onto a motion that works. If you are unlucky, your hand never discovers the motion and you are stuck forever, a phenomenon called "speed wall". Most beginning piano students haven't the foggiest idea about the complex motions that the fingers, hands, and arms can perform. Fortunately, the many geniuses who came before us have made most of the useful discoveries (otherwise, they wouldn't have been such great performers) leading to efficient practice methods.

Another misconception about technique is that once the fingers become sufficiently skillful, you can play anything. Almost every different passage is a new adventure; it must be learned anew. Experienced pianists seem to be able to play just about anything because (1) they have practiced all the things that you encounter frequently, and (2) they know how to learn new things very quickly. Therefore, acquiring technique might at first appear to be a daunting task because there is almost an infinite number of different piano passages -- how are we to learn them all? This problem has been mostly solved. There are large classes of passages, such as scales, that appear frequently; knowledge of how to play these will cover significant portions of most compositions. But more importantly, there are specific solutions for specific problems -- these solutions are the main subject matter of this book.

Some of the most important solutions we will discuss are powerful learning tricks that allow you to acquire difficult technique using general procedures that apply to almost any passage. These learning tricks provide the fastest way for you to discover the optimum finger/hand/arm motions for playing that passage. There are two reasons why you need to make your own discoveries. First, there are so many different passages that the methods for playing them can't all be listed here. Second, the needs of each individual are different, so that the set of rules in this book should only serve as a starting point for each person who must adapt them to the individual needs. Readers who truly understand the contents of this book will not only be able to immediately speed up their learning rate, but also to accelerate it with each added skill. The degree of this acceleration will largely determine how fast and how far you will advance as a pianist.

Unfortunately, many private piano teachers not associated with music institutions do not know these methods and they teach most of the beginners. At the other extreme, the great masters and professional pianists have written books on piano playing that discuss topics at a higher level on how to make music but do not deal with how to acquire basic technique. That is why I wrote this book.