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Technique and Rote Learning

In today’s lesson, Bryan Chuan will help you learn some effective approaches to piano playing to improve your technique and rote learning, as well as improvisation.

Piano Lessons with Bryan Chuan, The Lesson Studio, Boulder


Warming up with Technical Exercises

You should begin your piano lessons with 5-15 minutes of technical exercises. These allow students to warm up and address any ongoing or new physical tendencies that may be slow your progress. 

Growing up, I practiced technical exercises thoroughly which benefited my musicianship greatly. However, I will admit that throughout the years I have had great difficulty passing this on to my students. Tried and true method books by Hanon and Czerny and endless series of scales and arpeggios simply don’t connect with the majority of students. 

I have come to embrace one core principle about technique. Technique must de-emphasize reading and emphasize rote learning, so students can focus solely on physical movements, active listening, and expression. Here are three examples of technique that emphasize learning by ear and feel while teaching important pianistic skills.


Beginner: Rainbow Fish

EKS Music School Piano Faculty Demo: “Rainbow Fish” by Catherine Rollins


The opening of this piece can be introduced at the very first piano lesson! Right away students get to play on the black keys across the whole instrument and use the pedal. These are two aspects of the instrument that are neglected in early method books, yet pique the curiosity of young students. Students can also experiment with coordination and dynamics without understanding musical notation.


Intermediate: Modulating Double Thirds Exercise

This exercise can be taught easily by ear once a student is familiar with five-finger patterns. Each measure lowers a finger by a half step, and the four-measure pattern modulates to a new key up a half step. The exercise can be played with various rhythms, contrary motion, and broken. This exercise both strengthens the fingers and encourages relaxation of the arms to play double notes cleanly.


Advanced: Improvisation 

Warm-Up Exercises That Sound Pleasant But Make You WORK

This is one of my favorite videos to show advanced students. The best pianists actually make up their own exercises! Students should use their knowledge of chords to improvise patterns that either modulate or spread across the piano.


After progressing through these three types of exercises, you will find that your skills at the piano are much more advanced. Not only will your general technique improve, but you will be able to learn by ear and improvise much more easily. Happy practicing!

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