[1.I.2] What is Piano Technique?

We must understand what technique is because not understanding technique leads to incorrect practice methods. More importantly, a proper understanding can help us to develop correct practice methods. The most common misunderstanding is that technique is some inherited finger dexterity. It is not. The innate dexterity of accomplished pianists and ordinary folk are not that different. This means that practically anyone can learn to play the piano well. There are numerous examples of mentally handicapped people with limited coordination that exhibit incredible musical talent. Unfortunately, many of us are much more dexterous but can't manage the musical passages because of a lack of some simple but critical information. Acquiring technique is mostly a process of brain/nerve development, not development of finger strength.

Technique is the ability to execute a zillion different piano passages; therefore it is not dexterity, but an aggregate of many skills. The wondrous thing about piano technique, and the most important message of this book, is that piano skills can be learned in a short time, if the correct learning procedures are applied. These skills are acquired in two stages: (1) discovering how the fingers, hands, arms, etc., are to be moved, and (2) conditioning the brain, nerves, and muscles to execute these with ease and control. Many students think of piano practice as hours of finger calisthenics because they were never taught the proper definition of technique. The reality is that you are actually improving your brain when learning piano! You are actually making yourself smarter and improving your memory; this is why learning piano correctly has so many benefits, such as success in school, the ability to better cope with everyday problems, and the ability to retain memory longer as you age. This is why memorizing is an inseparable part of technique acquisition.

We must understand our own anatomy and learn how to discover and acquire the correct technique. This turns out to be an nearly impossible task for the average human brain unless you dedicate your entire life to it from childhood. Even then, most will not succeed. The reason is that, without proper instruction, the pianist must discover the correct motions, etc., by trial and error. You must depend on the small probability that, as you try to play that difficult passage faster, your hand accidentally stumbles onto a motion that works. If you are unlucky, your hand never discovers the motion and you are stuck forever, a phenomenon called "speed wall". Most beginning piano students haven't the foggiest idea about the complex motions that the fingers, hands, and arms can perform. Fortunately, the many geniuses who came before us have made most of the useful discoveries (otherwise, they wouldn't have been such great performers) leading to efficient practice methods.

Another misconception about technique is that once the fingers become sufficiently skillful, you can play anything. Almost every different passage is a new adventure; it must be learned anew. Experienced pianists seem to be able to play just about anything because (1) they have practiced all the things that you encounter frequently, and (2) they know how to learn new things very quickly. There are large classes of passages, such as scales, that appear frequently; knowledge of how to play these will cover significant portions of most compositions. But more importantly, there are general solutions for large classes of problems and specific solutions for specific problems.