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Connect dots between piano materials and piano exercises

Mizue Murakami

Young man struggling with piano practice

Some piano practitioners (especially beginners and intermediates) ask these questions frequently.

  • “What other exercises should I do?”
  • “Some online experts say that these exercises are dumb. But other experts say I should be doing these exercises (whatever they are)”
  • “Do I have to do these exercises? They are boring.”
  • “How many minutes a day should I work on these exercises?” 

Piano exercises such as scales, arpeggios, inversions, strengthening exercises, etc. are all important. And they are usually incorporated in piano educational programs. However, for a lot of students, the dots are not connected. I mean, they don’t know why they are essential, what they are doing those for. Therefore, they are doing those exercises just because the method books say so, online experts say so, and teachers say so.

In my teaching practice, I like to create an opportunity for my students to experience and discover the needs of these exercises by using the materials that they enjoy working on. That’s more important than me telling them to do this exercise or that exercise. Of course, I introduce the exercises accordingly depending on where their levels are at. But I don’t force them to spend too much time on them.

If piano practitioners picked a music piece that was beyond their capability, they may either give it up or postpone the project to their later stage. But if it’s only a little bit challenging, there is a huge opportunity for them to discover the needs for certain kinds of exercises. It is best for this piano practitioner to have proper guidance from a professional teacher, though. Then, the teacher can advise what kind of exercises the student needs to conquer and address the specific technical difficulty that the student has run into. Then, the student would be very eager to learn and earn this particular skill by using specific exercises. The dots are connected. And the motivation is already there.

So, in this blog, I’m actually not able to answer the questions I listed above. I get these questions a lot. But I always have a hard time answering them. So, in the end, I just say, “Just work on a piece of music that you want to work on. Then, you’ll find out that you need some exercises. But if you are willing to spend time to practice these exercises, you can work on them even if you don’t know why you are doing them. The dots will connect in the future. Perhaps a small amount of exercises every day is better than too much at once. Doing too much of these exercises without knowing why you are doing them will kill your motivation eventually. You are trying to enjoy playing music, not to become like a perfect robot in a factory.” It sounds very uninspiring. And it doesn’t sound like what a teacher or coach should be saying. But I believe the best way to realize something always comes from experience. And the wise teachers can give their students just the right amount of that space to discover things. When the student experienced something, he or she will want solutions to go to the next level. Wanting is the key. This student can be also motivated to ask a teacher the right kind of question too or to ask for guidance.

As the saying goes, “When the student is ready, a teacher appears.” But in this case, “a teacher” doesn’t mean just a real music teacher or piano teacher. It could be something you read, a performance you saw, the music you heard, video clip you saw, something you heard from someone, or accidental discovery you did yourself. In any case, you’ll find it.

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