Technique, Theory, Improvisation for Pianists

TECHNIQUE and MUSIC THEORY in piano and composition lessons

Students who learn to perform well generally enjoy their music making more and stay with their studies for longer periods of time. Consequently, all students will study technique exercises to enable them to perform to their best ability. Piano students will play scales, arpeggios, chords and cadences focusing on proper shape of hands and correct arm movement. Composition students will work with scales, chords, cadences, and four-part harmonizations.

Great care is taken to teach proper arm, wrist, and finger motion to prevent or reduce injury in later life. Piano playing, like many other activities including typing, computing, and video games, can cause carpal tunnel conditions as well as other injuries. It is important to me for students to learn a correct basic technique to minimize the potential long-term damage that can come from playing piano.

The exercises used to develop correct technique also teach basic music theory. Theory is the musical equivalent of grammar and involves key signatures, scales, rhythm, note reading, chords, and cadences.

IMPROVISATION and COMPOSITION in piano lessons

All piano students will create short pieces of music for their lessons. Since the arts are by definition supposed to be creative, I think it is very important that students be encouraged to create!  Too often music lessons spend an entire lesson telling students to do this or do that, “round your fingers, play louder here, slower there,” etc. And soon a half hour passes and students have not been able to create anything of their own.

Most students will create short passages for each lesson that describe something of their own choosing. Students are encouraged to keep this music “in their head.” The primary reason for this is to keep it from becoming work. Notating music requires knowledge of clefs, key signatures, rhythm, etc. and writing a good manuscript is taxing.

Occasionally students develop a strong interest in composing. Students who are strongly interested in composing AND show good musical skill in their piano playing (correct technique, good counting, proper notes) will be allowed to notate some pieces as part of their lesson studies. The time spent on these compositions will be short … the focus of piano lessons remains the study of piano performance. But conscientious students will be able to develop and refine their compositions and may enter composition competitions if they choose. Details about competitions will be found later in this handbook.