Teaching advanced piano technique can be one of the drier aspects of lessons.
It’s easy to fall in a rut of the same old technique drills. Perhaps you realize good tone is vital, but when you begin to adjust a wrist or examine a thumb turn, you note the look of utter boredom in your student’s expression.
I once heard a conservatory student comment: “I play through all the major and minor scales at the beginning of each lesson, and while I’m playing, I have a chat with the professor about my day.”
So, let’s have a look at two big mistakes teachers make today with advanced technique, plus I’ll reveal my own favorite warmups, and give you some quick wins to revitalize your advanced level teaching.
It’s a big mistake when teachers miss the chance to pull examples out of the student’s repertoire and use them as exercises. Just like with theory, when we can directly connect the idea to a relevant example, they’ll remember it far longer.
This is also just an easy way to make technical work more practical. So I really encourage teachers to use examples straight from their repertoire for this work.
Also when it comes to advanced level technique, think about ways you can mix things up. Throw in some new exercises. Students at this level tend to get pretty bored of scales and arpeggios and chromatic scales and the like.
So that’s the biggest mistake I see teachers make — just doing more of the same old thing. We’ll cover what I DO like to do for warmups instead in a moment.
The second mistake I notice with technique is when a transfer student is picked to pieces over faulty technique, eclipsing their other musical abilities.
I’m really strong on this.
When I started doing my diploma-level work here in Australia with my teacher, Caroline Almonte, I was apprehensive she would say, “Tim, your technique is rubbish, and let’s start again.”
I had heard this happening with other teachers. I also don’t want to do that in my studio. It’s so hard and so debilitating for students. They think, “I’ve come all this way, but I have to start again and play middle C because I haven’t learned to do it properly.”
I don’t agree with that. I think the chances of actually losing students is far too high.
Instead, my approach is to continue teaching the student and work in technical aspects as we go.
If the student is really flat-fingered when they play, it’s not a matter of drop everything and let’s fix this. Or — let’s perform technique exercises for a month before you can do anything else.
No. Let’s find ways of strengthening those last finger joints. Bring the student awareness of what they need to do and help them do that as they’re playing.
Try video recording them while they’re playing, or have someone sit in on the lesson and watch them as they’re playing.
It’s going to take time.
But — the last thing we want to do is sit there with a student and say, “Sorry, we can’t do anything until you have mastered your technique, and you’ve got it perfect.”
Moving on, let’s discuss next what you should consider instead!
In my Inner Circle complete technique course, I recorded a bonus video demonstrating some of the technical exercises that I use with advanced students.
We’ll break down some of the examples and show you highlights from the video here:
These are a few new exercises that you might not be familiar with. I find these to be a great addition to any advancing student’s warmup routine.
They’re actually some of the exercises that I use today when I warm up!
So what you’re going to do is use fingers 1-2-3-4, or fingers 2-3-4-5. It’s a bit unusual, a four-finger exercise when generally everything is 5-fingers. But this is how this works:
Thumbs are on C, and it’s going to be a pattern of 4 different movements, repeated four times each. So here’s the movement, and then we move up chromatically. You get the idea. Great warmup for the first four fingers.
But you can do the same things with fingers 2-3-4-5. Demo at [1:55]”.
I also like to do this descending chromatically.
Here are some good goals:
Tip: The patterns feel quite differently under the fingers. Students will take quite some time to be able to get comfortable at that exercise.
So, that’s one of my first go-to’s.
You can mix it up however you want! That’s the idea of that exercise. I think it’s a great one!
Students will play diminished arpeggios and dominant 7th arpeggios at some stage as they advance. I like to put them into a bit of a package of arpeggios. They’re based around the major, the minor, the augmented, and diminished chords in each key. Then add the major 7th, the dominant 7th, the 6th and flattened 6th if you can, to that chord.
So let’s start in C major. We’re going to do C major 7th arpeggios. So I start with a C chord with a major 7th. Demo at [3:40]”
Then we go to a dominant 7th. Then to the 6th. Then to the flattened 6th. Some call that a minor 6th. There’s not always enough notes to do it, but it is fun when you can.
Now you can then go to a minor chord and do the same thing. Same set of 7th and 6th arpeggios. Demo at [4:10]”
So there’s some quick wins for you on how to freshen up teaching advanced piano technique, with ideas you can implement in your next lesson.
In our Inner Circle course, Technique Foundations and Transformations, which just came out, we created a definitive guide on technique so that you can learn straight from seven experts on all aspects of technique.
You’ll benefit from learning to lead beginners the right way with expert teachers Fred Karpoff, Dr. Julie Knerr, and Irina Gorin.
Discover intermediate and advanced technique solutions with Rae de Lisle, Anastasia Buettner-Moore, Josh Wright, and myself, plus the complete bonus video, which is excerpted in this article.
I hope you’ve found this article on teaching advanced piano technique helpful!
Here’s a free download of my exercises, as sheet music.
If you’re an Inner Circle member, no need to enter your email, you can find this download now in your Resource Library.
For everyone else, please enter your details below:
Let me know what your favorite exercises are for advanced students!
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.