If you’ve got holidays coming up or have some students that could do with some fresh technical work, check out these ideas.
I personally like to give my students different things to do in order to break up their usual menu of scales and arpeggios and the holidays seem like a perfect chance!
Of course, mixing up technical exercises is a good idea at any time of the year, but I like doing it over the holidays as it makes for something a little more fun and challenging, keeping students interested when far more interesting things are beckoning for their attention!
I also think it’s good for students to gain an appreciation of a wide variety of technical exercises over the years.
I was neither brought up on, nor recommend Hanon excercises (click to download) for students in their day-to-day practice as I think they are an over-used and mostly time-draining task given everything else that a student has to do in a practice session.
However, I have noticed that some students really do quite enjoy some of the exercises (probably because I don’t normally use them!) and for this reason, Hanon is one of my options for the holidays.
I generally use the more famous Part I exercises, but there are some exercises for trills and double notes in Part III (click to download) that are interesting for students.
Aloys Schmitt’s Preparatory Exercises for the Piano Op 16 is a fantastic group of some 200+ 5-finger patterns sure to challenge a student at any level.
Ranging from reasonably simple patterns (see image to the right) to the really quite complex (holding down multiple notes while playing others, etc.), it’s a great challenge for any student.
Most of my students have experienced at least page 1 (playing in rhythms to increase the challenge, of course!), and the harder exercises are another holiday challenge!
Finger Independence Exercises
Of course, you can always make up your own finger exercises too.
The one I like to do is to have the students hold down one note of a five-finger pattern while playing up and down the remaining ones.
It’s best if they put the weight of their arm into the note being held down then work lightly up and down the rest, playing as slowly as required to retain a legato touch.
The same exercise can be done in C diminished 7th chord position (I’ve heard it called the “Diminished Rack” by jazz teachers for good reason), but I’d never recommend this for beginner students, and certainly not for prolonged periods of time!
Scales in 3rds for one hand
For more advanced students looking for a challenge but not yet up to Grade 8 where this is officially introduced, they can try and conquer a scale in chromatic minor 3rds for one hand. Always handy to have up your sleeve for the Chopin Etudes!
I get students to play things in rhythms all the time, so this isn’t something that I leave for the holidays, however if you haven’t yet tried this technique with your students, why not give it a go these holidays? For full details of how I use rhythms in my teaching, please read this article.
My kids love learning blues scales for RH in a variety of keys. As well as being fun and sounding good, it is a very helpful starting place for jazz improvisation. Teach the c blues scale: C D Eb F F# G Bb C (they can play some 7ths chords in rhythm to go along in the LH) and help them transpose it to a few other keys.
So there are a few ideas to get you thinking 🙂
Good luck and make sure you enjoy a well-deserved break!
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.
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