Piano Technique

  1. What about Technique ?
  2. The method of Franz Liszt
  3. What a Good Technique achieves
  4. Piano versus Electric Keyboard
  5. Five important Rules
  6. Where to Start
  7. Reference Material
  8. For Absolute Beginners

    Subject Index - Topic Index

    PIANO LAB - Songs

Lessons | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | ?? |

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KT Intro.1 - What about Technique ?

The very word technique (or 'method') suggests a cold, mechanical and rather unmusical activity.
Some students regard technique as something that can only stifle their creativity, and use this as a convenient excuse to ignore this aspect completely.
The opposite is of course true. A poor instrumental technique will restrict your creative potential enormously.

Technique is just a label. Behind it hides one of the most intimate relationships a musician can ever have.

When a student comes face to face with his instrument for the first time the two meet as complete strangers.
The immediate objective is to get to know each other and to start building a winning team. But in order to come together change is required.

  • Each instrument (as all musicians know) has its unique soul and temperament (perhaps reflecting that of it's original maker ?). However an instrument does not have a mind or a living body, and therefore can not change its ways.

  • It is therefore up to the student to change.
    This change is achieved through the practice and development of a good technique.

As your technique practice progresses you will gradually become a different person.
Certain muscles will grow, new coordination skills and thought processes will develop and your attitude towards your instrument and towards music in general will change forever.

Steadily you will move closer to the ideal point, where the piano and you become one united instrument through which you express yourself with a unique, personal musical voice.

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KT Intro.2 - The method of Franz Liszt

kb007.gif Franz Liszt is widely regarded as the founder of play technique for the modern piano instrument.
Liszt himself studied with the legendary teacher Carl Czerny, who in turn was a student of Beethoven. They represent a musical 'bloodline' through which piano technique expertise was passed on in time.

Franz Liszt spent part of his earlier life in Paris where he had a great influence.
His piano technique method lives on in that city today through two of the world's leading piano teachers, Yvonne Loriod (widow of the composer Olivier Messiaen) and Germaine Mounier.

My own teacher, Dr. Graham Williams, was taught by both these ladies when he studied at the Paris Conservatoire and the Ecole Normale de Music in Paris.

This Piano Technique Course is an extension of the modern Liszt method.
It incorporates :

  1. Graham Williams' instructions as published in our jointly written book Scales & Arpeggios for the Jazz Pianist, and my six years of piano study with him.

  2. My own analysis of the anatomy of the hand as it applies to a correct piano technique.

  3. A series of technique exercises I especially wrote for this Course. They are similar to the ones by Liszt, Czerny, Poisot, Clementi, etc., but feature Jazz oriented harmonies.

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KT Intro.3 - What a Good Technique achieves

A good piano technique will :

  1. produce a crystal clear, focussed, resonant sound
    Most piano players push the keys down. This produces either a crude blunt sound or a rather weak and thin tone.
    Good pianists use the gravity force from the weight of their fingers, hand and arm. This produces (on the acoustic piano) a quite spectacular difference in resonance and overall tone quality, often not realised by the novice student.

  2. enable cleanly articulated even flowing passages at any speed
    Nothing sounds laboured, muffled or irregular. All notes can be heard individually, but at the same time are fluently strung together in an apparently effortless manner.

  3. avoid repetitive strain injury (rsi)
    The tendons of the flexor digitorium muscles move through the carpal tunnel under the wrist. Poor technique relies heavily on these muscles and often causes inflammation of the carpal tunnel and other muscle damage.

Development of instrumental technique is a life-long process, but provided you are on the right track you will always continue to improve. This Course can place you firmly on that track.
  • A relative beginner will have developed a good technical foundation after about 3 years of practice.

  • A more experienced player will have confidently converted to this professional technique within about one year of practice.
Do not be discouraged !
Progess is a very very subtle process, which you may barely be aware of yourself at the time.
The development process involves two stages :
  1. Stage 1 - building up strength of the interossei muscles within your hand.
    This is the easy part. Just continue with regular practice of the exercises in this Course and the muscles strength will gradually build up.

  2. Stage 2 - the psychological process of the mind, having to hand over control of the finger movements from the flexor muscles (located outside the hand) to the now strong and capable interossei within the hand.
    This is the difficult part. It is a matter of relaxing, letting go, and trusting your fingers. This may take a while, but sooner or later will suddenly happen. Once this has occured you will never revert back and continue to make progress for as long as you keep playing the piano.
Oscar Peterson is a good example of a famous Jazz pianist with an outstanding technique (learnt in Paris). Other well known Jazz pianists who studied in Paris include John Lewis and of course Jacques Loussier.

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KT Intro.4 - Piano versus Electric Keyboard

The modern day keyboard player usually requires the versatility (and transportability) of the electronic keyboard.

However for the development of a good technique I recommend that you use an acoustic piano, for two important reasons :

  • weighted keys
    the weighted keys of an acoustic piano are essential for building good muscle strength within the hands. The spring resistance of the keys of electronic keyboards do very little for your technique in this regard.
  • point of sound
    the 'point of sound' lies between the point of key resistance and the lower limit of the key action.

    On the acoustic piano this is a reliable reference point and consistently the same for all keys.

    On electronic keyboards the point of sound may lie at a different level (compared to the acoustic piano) and also can vary from one key to the next, especially on the cheaper models. This can cause inaccurate timing of the notes.


If you have no access to an acoustic piano, I suggest you consider the purchase of an electric keyboard with weighted keys, such as a clavinova instrument (made by Yamaha and others).

Check the point of sound on the keys of your electronic keyboard, and record your playing occasionally to check your timing of the notes.

In recent years I have been playing a quality electronic keyboard with semi-weighted keys (a Korg PA1x) and find that the recommended exercises in this course are effective in terms of building interossei muscle strength and all other aspects of good finger technique. Point of sound of such quality instrument is also consistent for all keys.

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KT Intro.5 - Five important Rules

To gain the greatest benefit of the exercises, and to achieve the objective of this course (a good keyboard technique), I recommend you follow five simple rules.

1. Practise regularly

2. Focus on quality of execution, not on speed

3. Do not over-practise the strenuous muscle building exercises

4. Use the keyboard fingerings as indicated

5. Always count the beat for a few bars before you start to play

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1. Practise regularly
Try to practise four, or preferably five days per week.
Practise 1 - 2 hours per session if you can, but even as little as 20 minutes (on a busy day) will be beneficial and also help to keep your practice momentum going.

You will make good progress with regular daily practice, even of short durations. Avoid playing 3 or 4 hours on one day and then nothing for the rest of the week, it is of very little benefit.

Take two days rest each week, and also have longer breaks from time to time, like over school holiday periods for example. This way you will not feel enslaved by your practice and can sustain your efforts over a long period of time. (The periods of rest will in fact be beneficial to your progress.)

Keep a daily Logbook of your practice sessions in which you record the time you spend each day on each item. Add the times for a total at the end of each week. This will give you a sense of achievement and will strengthen your motivation to keep going.

Progress of all music study typically contains a number of exhilarating break throughs. Always remember that these break throughs are really the result of long periods of practice where "nothing seems to happen".

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2. Focus on quality of execution, not speed
Be meticulous will all exercises. Focus on your hand position, exaggerated finger movements, good timing and evenness.
These are the really important aspects to get established. Increased speed of play will develop naturally and in due course once the basics of good technique are in place.

You may gradually increase the speed of scales and exercises, but do not force it.

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3. Do not over-practise strenuous exercises
This applies to the warmup, the fixed hand position exercises and the bird's claw exercise.
These are very powerful exercises to build muscle strength within the hand.

Adhere strictly to the recommended practice times for these exercises. Overdoing them may damage your hands.

It is the same as for sports training. Let the muscles develop gradually, never put them under too much stress. When you start training for the marathon for example you are not taking a 20 km run on the first day !

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4. Use the Keyboard Fingerings
All scales and exercises show keyboard fingerings for the right (and where appropriate for the left) hand. Use these tested and long proven fingering patterns in all your practices. This will gradually lead to good and reliable (subconsciously applied) fingering in all your playing.

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5. Count before you start to Play
No matter what you are going to play - a scale, an arpeggio, an exercise or a song - always count yourself in for a few bars.
This will put your mind into the right tempo and ensures a good confident start from the very first note you play.

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KT Intro.6 - Where to start

Start by printing out from the PIANO LAB :

  • the Contents page for your Practice folder, and all files that are listed on it.
    Arrange all pages in a folder. Even numbered pages are left side pages, odd numbered pages are right side pages. There are 75 pages in total.

  • 14 copies of the Practice Log.
    Arrange these in a Practice Logbook. It contains sufficient logs for a full year of practice.

Next select a good time of the day when you can practise undisturbed.
Ideally this is at the same time each day. This greatly helps to set a regular routine. If this does not fit with your work or other commitments try to set approximate times for each day you plan to practise.

Now you are ready to start with your first practice.

  1. Warm up
    Start every practice session with the warm up exercise.

  2. Major scales of C - G - D - A - E
    Gradually add the major scales in the remaining keys.
    Then start work on the Harmonic minor scales.

  3. Fixed hand Position No.1
    Work on this for about a month, then add FHP No.2.
    Add a new one every 6 - 8 weeks.

  4. Fluency No.1
    Work on this for about a month, then add Fluency No.2.
    Add a new one every 6 - 8 weeks.

  5. This is quite a good work load to start with.
    Once you are comfortable with items 1 to 4, select a written piece.
    Shift your focus to a new piece every 4 weeks or so.

    In general : follow the Long Term Schedule.


Aim for absolute perfection and fluency of items 2, 3 and 4.
You may abandon a written piece at any stage, and revisit it again at a later time.

Always divide your practice time in half.
Work the first half (up to 1 hour max.) on items 1 to 4. Use the second half for written pieces, improvisation, chords and comping.

Reread the Lesson section for each technique element from time to time, to ensure that you execute all parts of the exercise correctly. One usually does not absorb all the important points the first time.

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KT Intro.7 - Reference Material

The 75 page Practice Folder contains ample material for you to work on.

You can expand this material with the following publications.

  1. Jazz scales
    Scales & Arpeggios for the Jazz Pianist - by Michael Furstner & Graham Williams.
    Available from Jazclass

  2. Fixed Hand Position Exercises
    Etudes Quotidiennes de Mécanisme - by Charles Poisot
    Publ. Editions Salabert, 22 Rue Chauchat, Paris, France

  3. Fluency Exercises
    The School of Velocity - Opus 299 - Carl Czerny
    Publ.G.Schirmer, New York, and other leading Publishers throughout the world.

    Gradus ad Parnassum - by Muzio Clementi
    Publ. Durand & Cie Editeurs, Paris.

For written pieces the choice is endless. Anything you play will help.
Select pieces in any style you like (Classical, Jazz or Popular)

  1. There are seven songs included in this Course.

  2. 'The Entertainer' or 'Palm Leaf Rag' by Scot Joplin are good Jazz pieces to go on with.

  3. For Classical pieces try :
    1. Prelude No.1 by J.S. Bach
    2. Sonatina in G by Ludwig van Beethoven
    3. Sonatina No.1 (Opus36) by Muzio Clementi
    4. Ständchen (Serenade) by Franz Schubert
    5. Preludes No.6 and 7 (Opus 28) by Frédéric Chopin
    6. Gnossiennes 1, 2 and 3 or Gymnopedies 1, 2 and 3 by Erik Satie.

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KT Intro.8 - For Absolute Beginners

kb001.gif This Course assumes that you have some basic music reading skills and are playing the piano already (from 1 year up to perhaps a lifetime).

If you are an absolute beginner I recommend you start the first six months with a basic beginners course such as :

John Brimhall's Young Adult Piano Course - Book 1 and Book 2 (Publ. Warner Bros.)

These combine the very first piano exercises, reading music and some simple chord playing.

You can include aspects of the Piano Technique Course as follows :

  1. from day 1 - include the warm up exercise in Lesson 3.

  2. after 3 weeks - start with scales practice (for C, G and D major) in Lesson 4.

  3. after 3 months - start with the Fixed Hand Position exercises in Lesson 6.

  4. after 6 months - start with the Fluency exercises in Lesson 7.

If you require further help : just ask me.

Good luck.


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© 1999-2006 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)