What About Technique?
Found in: Musicality, Pedaling, Technique
Mary R., Michigan
Had 40 people at an FIS last night and the wife of a local traditional teacher was in the group (not a nice woman, but that’s another story) and asked at the end of the Q & A section —“What about technique?” I did not give a response that I was pleased with and really can’t remember fielding this question before. What would you guys have said?
Cindy B., Illinois
My reply to this is that most technique, when approached from a playing based method, develops naturally without any drills or exercises. When there’s a problem with reaching particular notes, or with extra tension in the hand, or some similar obstacle to playing, I will spend about 30 seconds on it – once a student is aware of any problem, it will correct itself with very little special attention. I might instead ask the questioner something like “What technique are you talking about?” and in all cases I can think of, I can say that it happens naturally without my special attention. This includes the awful hunched shoulders, claw fingers, lazy fingers, etc
Reading based teachers have their entire list of priorities upside down – because reading is the number one priority, and playing lots of music is at the bottom of the list, they have to come up with workbooks, theory drills, technique exercises, and boring repetition to teach the things that would be coming naturally if they just let the student play the piano.
Carrie L., Michigan
I’ve told parents that technique is taught in Simply Music, but it is interwoven in the curriculum. For example, if they say something in the first lesson about hand position, then I will tell them that it will work itself out when they start playing chords. That’s what I’ve found happens for students.. they invariably change their hand position to make the chords work.
Robin Keehn, Washington
When people ask me about technique I tell them that we work on technique as necessary but do not draw particular attention to it because it introduces another thought process. For example, if a student is having difficulty with the blues scale, we point out that the fingering should be thumb on white notes, finger 2 or 3 on black notes. That is technique and it is necessary to know that. I might point out to a student that they would benefit from cupping their hand to get alll their fingers on the keys rather than playing with flat fingers. I might suggest that someone scoots the bench out because their posture is affecting their range of motion on the keyboard, etc…
Janita P., Nebraska
When technique questions arise, I use the analogies of playing football or being a dancer, a painter, a runner, etc. a person needs to do “it” in order to get better.
The more we play the piano, the better we become, and along the way we teach technique, such as pedaling, phrasing, expression, curved fingers, neutral wrists, sitting erect, etc.
I reference many things back to being their coach and use analogies from other activities where coaches help the student improve, are in charge, are on their side, work on drills within context, etc.
In essence, the Simply Music way of teaching technique is always done in a playing-based environment so the student can learn it within context and with joy!
I am a newish teacher, but what I would have answered is that Simply Music’s aim is not to make professional concert pianists out of students, but for people to be able to have music as a life long companion. Technique is specific to the piece. You isolate the portion of the piece that is giving trouble or needs a particular technique and work on it till it is easy. Neil demonstrates the technique on the training videos. Doing drills for the sake of doing drills usually doesn’t foster the love of music. If a student sees that he/she can’t get the “sound” of the piece they are working on unless they know a certain technique it is self motivating.
When I had to do scales and exercises as a kid I never knew why I was doing them. Also, because students are encouraged to “keep their playlist alive” they hopefully are maintaining the technique they have already learned from the pieces. In most traditional methods your technique is only as good as they last two or three pieces you have been working on.
Students who complete the whole program and want to be professional can go onto a conservatory or find someone who can teach them more indepth technique , but most people want to be able to play for friends and family, in their church or community band. That’s what I think Simply Music is about. So there’s my two cents.
Sheri R., California
I don’t envy you for having to field that question. It seems traditional teachers think technique is of paramount importance when in actuality, as far as I know, people can play at relatively advanced levels and still not have what is considered fabulous technique. It’s too bad that question came up with such a large audience (congratulations on such a good turnout)–I hope the question didn’t hurt your sign-up rate.
I think Neil has said something along the lines of allowing technique to naturally emerge in our students. That’s one of the reasons students have such easy and quick success is because it is a single-thought learning environment and when so much attention is put on technique at the early stages it comes at a huge cost (slower learning, less fun, quitting. . .) Like a toddler doesn’t learn proper walking and talking technique but has it naturally emerge with time and experience, the same thing can be said about piano.
At the same time, we all play with slightly different technique as our bodies are different. If a student is playing flat-fingered and isn’t able to play a faster song, I think it can be pointed out that if they just curve their fingers a bit it will be easier. Sometimes students complain about soreness. I will tell them they shouldn’t feel sore and to stop playing momentarily if they are, and then to try to be aware of any tension they may be carrying. So technique conversations can get sprinkled in but it’s not a focus, and I do have students who play with flat fingers but play very beautifully.
I grew up taking traditional lessons and I liked having long fingernails as a teen when I started lessons. I always played flat-fingered. As an adult I keep my nails trimmed and since then my fingers have just sort of naturally played with better technique, so the bad habits weren’t really ingrained in my case. Still, I don’t have concert-level
technique, but I can still sit down and have a great time at the piano and all my students think I’m really good!
Since the goal of the program is for students to acquire and retain music as a life-long companion, formally teaching proper technique at the beginning stages doesn’t really support that outcome. (I’m not even sure if and when it is ever appropriate beyond what I have described above to talk about technique and would like some insight from others as to if and when and how they do introduce technique related strategies.)