In this first part of our “Spring Cleaning Challenge,” I walk you through a five day plan for refreshing your technique. Parts 2 and 3 of the series follow in the coming weeks.
“There’s no excuse for running out of gas.”
That was one of the first warnings my parents gave me when I learned to drive. As long as the gas gauge was working, keeping gas in the tank was my responsibility. If I got stranded somewhere because I didn’t stop to fill up, that was my fault.
Sure, we all push it from time to time. The light on the dashboard comes on to remind you that the tank is nearing empty. It’s tempting to push it just one more mile, hoping that we will stop at the gas station before the car comes to a halt in the middle of the road.
This is the time of year your technique could probably use a “fill up” too. When you have a good technical foundation, you can figuratively “run on fumes” for quite a while.
But taking some time to refresh and renew your technique is important too. It will help keep those correct habits you worked so hard to build, prevent any bad ones from taking over and prevent injury. I’d like to offer a quick 5 day plan to get the gas back in your tank.
Day 1: Back to Basics
The fundamentals are the obvious place to start, and the most important. Scales, arpeggios and chords form the basis of most of the music we play, and when our fingers manage them competently, all our music flows better.
Start Day 1 with exercises based on these foundational patterns. You’re your tempo slow and steady, so that you can pay attention to each finger as it places, plays and closes. Check your relaxation as you play too. A relaxed technique is more nimble and fluid.
Day 2: Baby Steps
Stick with the basics again today but taking a small step forward. Keep your tempo slow, but add some dynamics and legato to your drills. Yes, even these drills should sound musical! Your fingers are the means of your musical expression and you should ensure that they are able to convey music the way you intend.
Today you could also add some more complex exercises to the mix, ones that will help you review some of those common patterns that we want our fingers to manage well.
Day 3: Test Track
We take one more day to practice basic drills and exercises, but today we go for speed.
Being able to play fast is not something that happens accidentally. It needs to be practiced with intention, and now that you’ve gotten the rust off your fingers, it’s time to put them to the test.
Use the metronome to keep your tempo even and remember to play more softly as you try faster speeds. This will help you stay relaxed and keep your fingers loose.
Finish your technique work with one more drill, played slowly and meticulously, just to remind your fingers of the correct way to play.
Day 4: Etude Review
Etudes are the missing link, the middle ground between exercises and “real” music. Choose an etude book from your collection – you do have one or two, yes? – and start from the beginning.
Play through the first etude or two, checking not only your technique, but your expression and tempo as well. Don’t feel that you have to make everything in these etudes “perfect;” use them instead as a way to expand your technical repertoire. You want your fingers to gain lots of experience with different musical rhythms, idioms and ideas, and working through an etude book is the perfect method for this.
Day 5: Rotation
Create your personal technique practice plan. Include a rotation of those fundamental drills and exercises, as well as etudes.
You could try a month-long plan with basic drills on week 1, exercises on week 2, etudes on week 3, and tricky spots from your repertoire on week 4. Or you could mix it up with something different on each day of the week.
Make your plan one that appeals to you and suits your practice style and schedule. The only “wrong” way to practice technique is to not practice it at all!
Interested in a more detailed approach? Then be sure to join me on my new webinar, Discover the 3 Steps to Filling in the Missing Pieces So You Can Finish the Music You Start and Play the Way You Want.
I’ll help you discover exactly what those missing pieces are (hint: one of them may be your technique!), why they are costing you precious time and energy, and the simple fixes that can help you make the music you want. Plus, when you register for the webinar, you will be directed to a self-assessment to help you identify your personal missing pieces.