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Piano Finger Strength

 

 

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PIANO FINGER STRENGTH IS CUMULATIVE

The longer I play piano, the clearer it becomes that pure finger strength solves many knotty technical problems.

To play the heavyweight romantic piano composers such as Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Liszt and Schumann, you'll need tremendous, almost superhuman strength and endurance.

If you've ever listened to a great piano piece, and then tried to learn it, you'll soon come up against a "wall of endurance" past which even the most talented and well-intentioned pianist may not pass without the right muscle development. You may know the music but if you're not strong enough to play the huge pieces from end to end, you're finished.

The only way past that wall is strength. Talent alone won't take you there.

Three areas must increase in general strength: fingers, wrists and arms.

While wrist and arm strength is beyond our scope today, these two are generally increased by octave studies. Be very, very careful with octaves: you can easily permanently impair your arm, or at least get an acute case of tendonitis. Go slowly, and never do octaves unless you are really warmed up.

As to finger strength, you'll find that the more of it you have, the better all those filigree arpeggiated runs and scale-like passages sound and feel. In fact, in my opinion, you'd often do better to increase your strength rather than repeat those difficult passages over and over.

My method is to do both: I mix finger exercises with the difficult passages, so that when I become tired or bored with repeating difficult passages, I can turn my brain more or less "off" and play finger exercises.

In addition, I "listen" to my hands and arms: if one hand is tired, rest it immediately, and do finger exercises with the other hand.

There's a feeling inside your hand when all the muscles are warmed up, and ready to go.

To pianists, it's the greatest feeling in the world, like you could conquer anything, play any difficult spot with ease.

Let's call it the Strength Zone, for lack of a better term.

The quickest way I know to the Zone is Hanon, those horrible finger exercises that many students were forced to endure years ago.

I know many will say, "Try Czerny, try this or that," but the Hanon "Virtuoso Pianist" is the only book that ever helped me achieve and maintain real finger strength. The exercises are so dull that you really don't have to think, just play and play. The dullness is a virtue. I watch TV during the session.

In fact, I use an amalgam of several of the first exercises, which I tailor so that they repeat the 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers as much as I want. These are the fingers that need the most work, no matter who you are.  For that matter, you can just play those three fingers endlessly to gain strength.

Your index finger and thumb don't really need exercises, being the dominant digits of the hands.

I play Hanon one hand at a time so that I can feel each finger, and keep track of the depth of the stroke, trying to make each stroke as strong and defined as I can. I find that two hands at a time is useless, because I cannot pay enough attention to each finger.

As soon as I become bored with finger exercises, whoosh, I start some monstrously hard passage and see how long the strength lasts.

Remember that finger strength is cumulative: if you do finger exercises every day, your strength will grow, and as soon as you stop daily finger workouts, the muscles start fading from the Zone.

Ultimately, it comes down to endurance, just like an athlete.

Without endurance, you cannot link all those difficult passages into a whole and make music out of it.

So test for endurance often by playing through a set piece to see how far you can get.

I use Chopin's G Minor Ballade as my endurance test so I can gauge the evolution of the muscles and my strength.

There is no place more fun at the piano than the Strength Zone, and nothing more difficult to achieve.

Strengthen your fingers, strengthen your mind.

The piano requires lots of both.

By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved

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THE COMPLETE BOOK PACKAGE: 

1. 107 page illustrated THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KIT Book with 44 songs, Play Along Audio CD, and removable stickers   

2. 120 page illustrated PIANO IS EASY Book with 50 songs, Play Along Audio CD, and removable stickers 

3. 50 page I CAN READ MUSIC Book 

4. 132 page TEACH YOURSELF PIANO STEP BY STEP Book, 56 minute DVD Video and removable stickers 

5. 141 page THE BIG BOOK OF SONGS BY NUMBER Book with 130 songs, and removable stickers 

6. 88 page EASY CLASSICAL PIANO BY NUMBER Book with 10 songs, and removable stickers, and 29 minute Play Along Audio CD 

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