Most of us benefit from a brief ‘warming-up’ or ‘pre-practice’ session before work begins in earnest, whether that may be stretching, playing very slowly, negotiating simple piano exercises, sight-reading or even preparing mentally with a coffee! Everyone has their preferred method; during my interview series, one eminent pianist remarked that morning practice was simply impossible without playing scales at a quarter of the intended speed whilst intermittently sipping a weak cup of English breakfast tea! I hope these suggestions may be of interest.
Warming up before your practice is important, especially before negotiating large chords or octave patterns. Warm-ups don’t need to last a long time; 3-5 minutes is ample. Here are a few ideas to add to your pre-practice routine:
1. Stretch out your arms, hands and then fingers, one by one
Encourage your wrists to make circular motions in the air (away from the keyboard). Flexibility and freedom during practice can be helped by freeing and relaxing the muscles beforehand.
Take time out to watch Tim Stein’s lesson, as to how one should sit correctly at the piano. (This video is one of over 60 lessons you can view on the Pianist TV Channel).
2. As you put your hands on the keys, play a triad (one in each hand), slowly, allowing your fingers to sink into the keys.
Repeat this with different keys and chord shapes. I like to play diminished sevenths as they fit my hand comfortably.
3. Now start playing scalic patterns; again, very slowly, allowing the tips of the fingers to play deep into the key-bed.
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You could begin with five-finger note patterns, hands separately, then play them in unison.
4. Move on to a few scales.
Once you’ve played several two-octave similar motion scales (in different keys), work with various touches: legato, non-legato, staccato, martellato, etc. If the wrists make small rotational movements after each note (when playing slowly), this will be a helpful way to keep flexible and tension free.
5. End with a few arpeggios and broken chords.
Select your keys and work carefully, observing the movement required to play each note with an even sound (and pulse). Keep arms moving freely, guiding the hands and fingers during the larger intervals. When warming-up, slow speeds are much more beneficial.
You could now move on to exercises such as those by Hanon, Cramer or Czerny, working on technique, or you may just want to dive into your pieces!
Now watch Melanie play her own composition, Karma! If you like the sound of it, it appeared inside Pianist issue 89. You can still order a copy.
Read more about Pianist contributor Melanie Spanswick. Melanie gives a Beginner ‘How to Play’ lesson inside every issue of Pianist. She chooses a score that features inside our 4-page Scores section and offers up a step-by-step lesson on it.
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