Piano Basics - Getting Your Fingers to Work

Piano Basics: Getting Your Fingers to Work

By Carla | Music Lessons

Have you ever wondered how can you get your figures to work the way that you want them to when playing piano?

Do you know if you're off to a strong start with piano? How can you be sure you’ve covered the basics?

The answers is to become a master of the obvious. But how?  Let me explain...

Every building must have a strong foundation and laying that foundation isn’t glamorous. It’s hard work. In the beginning, it can be difficult to imagine what the finished product will look like. It’s also not known what it takes to get there.

On the way to building your musical equivalent there will be hiccups and stumbling blocks along the way. That’s normal. Accept that fact and the fact that it takes work, both mental and physical to master, assimilate and effectively make use of the basics.

When it comes to learning anything at all, learning is built on prior knowledge. The musical ABCs and 123s  are deceptively simple concepts, perhaps too simple, particularly for adults. When we were kids we mastered and assimilated our ABCs and 123s little by little through repetition and constant use.

We consume copious amounts of information every day and we have busy lives. The basics are not quickly assimilated mainly because we don’t have or make time to use them. If we really want to have the piano in our lives, we have to make time for it. A relationship with music requires the same thing all relationships require. Attention.

These basics are given in no particular order, because these all work together.  We may not give them the time required and this leads to problems like not getting your fingers to do what you want. Your knowledge of theory can easily outpace your physical and technical ability so you’ll know what to play but be physically incapable of playing it.

1. Learn note names on keyboard and Staff 

Learn the landscape of the piano. Some people resist learning anything that looks like music theory usually because of the assumption that it’s hard to learn and confusing. Not true. It’s so easy that children do it. Children are taught the basics slowly and methodically. After that they progress quickly. 

Adults tend to skim over the simple parts.

Notes have complex spatial relationships, and they also have complex temporal relationships. All good knowing what notes to play. The question is, when do you play them? Timing is everything in music.

2. Using a metronome

Tempo is measurement of how fast or slow a song is.

That tempo, or pulse, should be steady and even.

A metronome helps to develop your inner sense of time. It can be hard to gauge your own timekeeping abilities as a beginner so use a metronome when you’re practicing. Keep it up until you can feel the pulse and eventually generate and maintain your own internal pulse.

3. Technique (finger strength, accuracy and endurance)

Now if you know the notes and feel the beat you want to play a song from beginning to end. This requires finger strength, control and endurance.

Your hands are going to have to do things they’ve never done before. This takes training.

This is the foundation of your technique and as a self learner it’s the most difficult because it’s the most difficult to self assess. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Give it time and attention. All basics work together

This is also where you can shore up your note names and work with a metronome. Practise scale and arpeggio exercises to develop strength, accuracy and endurance.

When you practise and play scales slowly, the brain has time to make and strengthen neural connections securely and correctly. This is usually called muscle memory, but it takes place in the brain as well. When scales are done fast and incorrectly, the brain is trained incorrectly. Also, by practising and truly mastering exercises slowly allows you to play fast and accurately when you really need to. And you’ll need to when you start playing the music and songs you want to play. What songs / music do you want to play?

4. Active listening and imagination

Whether you play piano by ear or from sheet music, playing piano requires imagination. Active listening populates our internal reference library and we draw from it by imagining what something sounds like. The more accurately we can hear it in our mind, the more accurately it can be played.

By ensuring that we know our way around the landscape of the piano and have developed basic technical proficiency in both hands, surprisingly good music can be made by adding some imagination. If you can hear a song or musical passage CLEARLY in your mind, you can play it on the piano. This skill is developed over time. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll become proficient at it. 

Active listening means that you will learn to listen and engage with music in a whole new way. New patterns will emerge and you’ll be listening for information. You’ll learn how to predict what will come next and have a deeper understanding of orchestration, harmony, melodic phrasing, ect… It may not seem like much now, but it will pay off.

This isn’t meant as a comprehensive list, but you can do amazing things with just these skills.  

Wherever your Musical journey leads, no matter what style or genre you prefer, you’ll stand or fall depending on your foundation, so be sure it’s strong.

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