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Howdy fellow musicians!

I have two important questions on piano playing:

1. This is my personal experience. Whether you've also experiences this I don't really know. Perhaps you will missunderstand me as I ask this over the internet. I do have music teachers but just wanted to hear your wise thoughts.
Piano, and other instruments including singing, is taught by teaching students to do technichal exercices, eg scales, as warm-ups. To me this can be problematic if the warm-ups turn into technichal workouts. To me a warm-up should be something you do in order to get a better blood flow, find the right bodily movements needed and waking up you ears. Often times teachers ask the students to do workouts as warm-up. Warm-ups to me is bassically making a person aware of the fundamentals of piano playing, ie what is needed even if you play a very simple tune. It should not be the same as practicing technique. You can also include simple pieces as warm-ups as long as you are aware of your "relaxed" playing. I combine arpeggios, scales and simple pieces in my warm-ups.
Technichal workout is done at other times. I have even heard of people who have a specific warm-up piece. And many pianists can just sit down at the piano and play without thinking about a warm-up. This happens at jam sessions or when people just play for fun.
What are your thoughts about this?

2. I find that most teachers, more or less, ask students to do technichal exercices without learning how to apply them to pieces. I have difficulties applying technichal exercices to pieces. My solution is think of pieces in which the same technique is needed. I then try this technique in the piece. I don't try to separate between technichal exercices and practising pieces.
This is also very true in singing.
What are your thoughts about this?

Last edited by Billy Johnsson; 03/01/21 01:17 PM.
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I think I would listen to my teachers before I took advice from strangers on the Internet.


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Originally Posted by Billy Johnsson
Piano, and other instruments including singing, is taught by teaching students to do technichal exercices, eg scales, as warm-ups. To me this can be problematic if the warm-ups turn into technichal workouts. To me a warm-up should be something you do in order to get a better blood flow, find the right bodily movements needed and waking up you ears. Often times teachers ask the students to do workouts as warm-up. Warm-ups to me is bassically making a person aware of the fundamentals of piano playing, ie what is needed even if you play a very simple tune. It should not be the same as practicing technique. You can also include simple pieces as warm-ups as long as you are aware of your "relaxed" playing. I combine arpeggios, scales and simple pieces in my warm-ups.
Technichal workout is done at other times. I have even heard of people who have a specific warm-up piece. And many pianists can just sit down at the piano and play without thinking about a warm-up.
There's no need to do any specific warm-ups if you start by playing something - anything - that will use all your fingers fairly gently. How gently depends on how aged, er, mature you are.

Me, I'm very mature (i.e. ancient), so I'd probably play the Goldberg Aria (Bach is always good for using all fingers) followed by Var.1 and K545 (I).

I'm a runner (and mountaineer), and it amuses me that some people go through a rigorous warm-up routine prior to their sedate jogging that runs great risks of causing injuries (callisthenics followed by bone-crunching stretching etc), rather than just walking at a moderate pace for a few minutes, then more briskly, then slow jogging, speeding up gradually as your muscles permit etc.



Quote
I find that most teachers, more or less, ask students to do technichal exercices without learning how to apply them to pieces. I have difficulties applying technichal exercices to pieces. My solution is think of pieces in which the same technique is needed. I then try this technique in the piece.
To put my cards on the table (not that I know any card games), let me say straight off that I don't regard scales & arpeggios as "technical exercises".
Every serious pianist needs to do them sooner or later (though not until they have developed complete hand independence and some finger independence - about three months or so into lessons, no earlier - and only simple one-handed ones for the first year), because they are part & parcel of almost all classical music. (BTW, if you aren't interested in classical music, just pretend this post doesn't exist). But I haven't played/practised any scales & arpeggios by themselves since I was a student. Why? - because they are in almost every piece I play.


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I think it is just as important to warm up the mind as the fingers, On odd days I play scales in some form or another. On even days I play arpeggios in different ways. I vary what I do which warms up the mind. Then I spend a few minutes sight reading.

I think the best technique exercises are designed from pieces you are studying, or they are selected so that they directly relate to a problem you are having. Having trouble playing octaves? There are plenty of exercises designed for that. Can't play thirds in one hand? Lots of exercises for that. That's one advantage of having a knowledgable teacher that can point to a particular exercise just for your problem. But if you know where to look you can find something with a little work.

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Why are exercices with scales not technical exercices?

Originally Posted by Sam S
I think the best technique exercises are designed from pieces you are studying, or they are selected so that they directly relate to a problem you are having. Having trouble playing octaves? There are plenty of exercises designed for that. Can't play thirds in one hand? Lots of exercises for that. That's one advantage of having a knowledgable teacher that can point to a particular exercise just for your problem. But if you know where to look you can find something with a little work.

Sam
I find that my teacher doesn't always relate exercices to the piece(s). Is this a common issue for studens? Or perhaps I have more difficulties with this than others? Does certain students have more difficulties with relating exercices to pieces than others? I have psychological issues that makes it difficult to relate skills I have learnt in one situation to another.
How should a student bring this up with a teacher?



Originally Posted by Sam S
I think it is just as important to warm up the mind as the fingers, On odd days I play scales in some form or another. On even days I play arpeggios in different ways. I vary what I do which warms up the mind. Then I spend a few minutes sight reading.

Sam
I think that one of the issues is that certain skills is supposed to be learnt unconsciously. Most of the scale exercices never really helped me become better at using my ears. Neither singing scales and playing scales helped much. I needed to consciously listen. Most piano or singing teacher never teach this. This has frustrated me. A lot of the practice I do have to be more conscious.
Am I missunderstanding something or are you supposed to just get better with your ears by just playing and singing?
Most piano and singing teachers I have met never talked about consciously listenting to the music and told me how to do it. I play a lot by ear even if I have sheet music. Why do most teachers think you don't need much conscious ear training and understanding of music? Perhaps normal people get good ear by just playing and singing whereas I am not normal and need specific training with this?

Last edited by Billy Johnsson; 03/01/21 04:17 PM.
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I have not "warmed-up" for decades because it doesn't seem to make any difference to how well, or more likely badly, I play. As I seldom start an improvisation with a hiss and a roar anyway it doesn't matter if things take a couple of minutes to get going. There have been days when I could do almost any execution easily and have produced dull music and occasions when my technique was terrible and I have played the session of my life. Some pianists I know spend more time warming up and practising than they do enjoying their music. I couldn't stand that so I guess I ought to refrain from commenting further.


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I think what you play to warm up does not really matter. What is important is just to gradually increase the intensity until you feel your fingers and other body parts are good to go. I try to play things with a variety of positions, some trills, scales, arpeggios, a little bit of extensions. Sometimes part of exercices, other times i play some easy pieces that cover a range of positions. Some people need more warm up than others. In particular if your hands tend to be somewhat tense, some light stretching is helpful.

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Originally Posted by Sidokar
In particular if your hands tend to be somewhat tense, some light stretching is helpful.
Just to make things clear - one should never stretch until and unless you're thoroughly warmed up. Cold muscles and tendons and ligaments are very prone to tearing - even with 'light stretching'.

Warm your hands in a bowl of warm water if necessary. Don't play anything that involves wide stretches until every finger has been thoroughly moved & used. Even just by warming up thoroughly, one gains a little extra stretch automatically: compare your ease of reaching your comfortable 1-5 span before and after your practice session, and you'll see what I mean.


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Sounds like you are more interested in improvising and playing by ear. The way to learn to do that is to practice it - not a big secret. But I can't offer any other advice - except not every teacher is comfortable teaching that.

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Someone in this forum recommended the book "The Perfect Wrong Note" by William Westney. Chapter 4 has really helped me with my practice time. I don't want to repeat it here (copyright issues and all) but when I follow the steps he suggests, it is beneficial.

Instead of just sitting down at the piano and starting to do scales or Czerny or Dozen a Day....I start by doing a little mind-body practice. Sometimes it's simply trailing my fingers up and down the piano and reminding myself how much I love the piano. Then I consciously decide what I'm going to play - or what section of the song I'm going to focus on.

Probably the biggest suggestion from this book for me is to take a break. He suggests every 20 minutes or so and I find this is perfect for me. Not only beneficial physically - but mentally and emotionally. I take 5 minute or so and then go back to it refreshed.

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It all depends on your practice habits. The point is that if you jump straight to repertoire pieces without warming up, you can't achieve the desired sound quality from the start just because of the rustiness of your hands, and in many people, myself included, it causes irritation which spoils the mood and can affect the whole session negatively. After warming up I always play some memorized pieces and I want these pieces to sound (almost) perfectly right from the start. It sets a kind of foundation and good working mood for the entire session, and allows me to work productively and joyfully. It's a kind of a ritual.

But you may work in a totally different manner if you wish. You may start your session with sight reading or something. Or you can warm up right by playing your rep pieces if you feel ok with it.

But if you decide that warming up is necessary for you then you need to find what you need to warm up efficiently and do it. Identify what your hands can't do well when you start a new session, and work on it. If you feel tension in your wrists, play something that helps best to release this tension. If your chords sound loose, play chords. If a scale is uneven, play the scale. Try to feel flexibility and dexterity in your hands before moving on.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Sidokar
In particular if your hands tend to be somewhat tense, some light stretching is helpful.
Just to make things clear - one should never stretch until and unless you're thoroughly warmed up. Cold muscles and tendons and ligaments are very prone to tearing - even with 'light stretching'.

Warm your hands in a bowl of warm water if necessary. Don't play anything that involves wide stretches until every finger has been thoroughly moved & used. Even just by warming up thoroughly, one gains a little extra stretch automatically: compare your ease of reaching your comfortable 1-5 span before and after your practice session, and you'll see what I mean.

I, of course dont agree with this statement. Have done for years and worked with physicians who also recommend it. It all depends how it is done. It has to be progressive and gentle and there is no risk whatsoever.

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Hi Billy,

Welcome to PW!

1) I don't do warm ups, apart from playing my pieces slowly when I start in the morning. The mornings are the best for me, my mind is fresh and capable of concentrating. I save scales, sight reading etc for later, when my mind is more tired and more apt to make mistakes. But maybe I don't yet play pieces that require a physical warm up. smile

2) My teacher always says that any exercise or scale or whatever should be played as a piece, with attention to expressiveness and phrasing. In the teaching that I get, the technical exercises are always immediately related to the pieces.

Animisha


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I warm up with pieces or snippets of pieces from my repertoire, not exercises or scales. I really don’t need to warm up my hands: they behave just fine without it. It is my brain that needs warming up. This is just a few minutes.

My exercises are not traditional Hanon or Czerny but are developed from the problem sections of the piece I am learning


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Originally Posted by Sidokar
Originally Posted by bennevis
Just to make things clear - one should never stretch until and unless you're thoroughly warmed up. Cold muscles and tendons and ligaments are very prone to tearing - even with 'light stretching'.

Warm your hands in a bowl of warm water if necessary. Don't play anything that involves wide stretches until every finger has been thoroughly moved & used. Even just by warming up thoroughly, one gains a little extra stretch automatically: compare your ease of reaching your comfortable 1-5 span before and after your practice session, and you'll see what I mean.

I, of course dont agree with this statement. Have done for years and worked with physicians who also recommend it. It all depends how it is done. It has to be progressive and gentle and there is no risk whatsoever.
Are you seriously telling people to stretch when cold?

As you're so good at researching Google etc, why don't you check up to see what is recommended practice today - yes, by physicians, physiotherapists, sports therapists etc - and let us know?


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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Sidokar
Originally Posted by bennevis
Just to make things clear - one should never stretch until and unless you're thoroughly warmed up. Cold muscles and tendons and ligaments are very prone to tearing - even with 'light stretching'.

Warm your hands in a bowl of warm water if necessary. Don't play anything that involves wide stretches until every finger has been thoroughly moved & used. Even just by warming up thoroughly, one gains a little extra stretch automatically: compare your ease of reaching your comfortable 1-5 span before and after your practice session, and you'll see what I mean.

I, of course dont agree with this statement. Have done for years and worked with physicians who also recommend it. It all depends how it is done. It has to be progressive and gentle and there is no risk whatsoever.
Are you seriously telling people to stretch when cold?

As you're so good at researching Google etc, why don't you check up to see what is recommended practice today - yes, by physicians, physiotherapists, sports therapists etc - and let us know?


How about Harvard for a source for cold stretching?

https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/exercises-for-pain-free-hands

Or Un of Southern Calif
https://www.keckmedicine.org/5-hand-exercises-to-help-you-maintain-your-dexterity-flexibility/


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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Sidokar
Originally Posted by bennevis
Just to make things clear - one should never stretch until and unless you're thoroughly warmed up. Cold muscles and tendons and ligaments are very prone to tearing - even with 'light stretching'.

Warm your hands in a bowl of warm water if necessary. Don't play anything that involves wide stretches until every finger has been thoroughly moved & used. Even just by warming up thoroughly, one gains a little extra stretch automatically: compare your ease of reaching your comfortable 1-5 span before and after your practice session, and you'll see what I mean.

I, of course dont agree with this statement. Have done for years and worked with physicians who also recommend it. It all depends how it is done. It has to be progressive and gentle and there is no risk whatsoever.

Are you seriously telling people to stretch when cold?

As you're so good at researching Google etc, why don't you check up to see what is recommended practice today - yes, by physicians, physiotherapists, sports therapists etc - and let us know?


As usual, you should more carefully read what i said, instead of creating your own interpretation. Then you are not the only one that has experience. It happens that you are just intolerant when it seems to contradict your predefined biases. It just happens that i have been doing physical training with professionals, which is better than reading various advices found on the net, which seems to be your source of information.

So yes static and mild stretching is a good complement to a warm up routine as it helps to increase the range of motion of the hand. It does not necessarily reduce the risk of injury but it helps to relax the hand and prepares for extended mouvements. That would be also the case for other type of physical activities that involves large ranges of motion.

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https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931


Before you plunge into stretching, make sure you do it safely and effectively. While you can stretch anytime, anywhere, proper technique is key. Stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good.

Use these tips to keep stretching safe:

Don't consider stretching a warmup. You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. Even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm.

Consider skipping stretching before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching may actually decrease performance. Research has also shown that stretching immediately before an event weakens hamstring strength.

Also, try performing a "dynamic warmup." A dynamic warmup involves performing movements similar to those in your sport or physical activity at a low level, then gradually increasing the speed and intensity as you warm up.



Incidentally, I've seen the consequences - both in my job as well as in friends in my running club.

Be careful what you read, and look at what they don't say, as well as what they say.


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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
It all depends on your practice habits. The point is that if you jump straight to repertoire pieces without warming up, you can't achieve the desired sound quality from the start just because of the rustiness of your hands, and in many people, myself included, it causes irritation which spoils the mood and can affect the whole session negatively. After warming up I always play some memorized pieces and I want these pieces to sound (almost) perfectly right from the start. It sets a kind of foundation and good working mood for the entire session, and allows me to work productively and joyfully. It's a kind of a ritual.

But you may work in a totally different manner if you wish. You may start your session with sight reading or something. Or you can warm up right by playing your rep pieces if you feel ok with it.

But if you decide that warming up is necessary for you then you need to find what you need to warm up efficiently and do it. Identify what your hands can't do well when you start a new session, and work on it. If you feel tension in your wrists, play something that helps best to release this tension. If your chords sound loose, play chords. If a scale is uneven, play the scale. Try to feel flexibility and dexterity in your hands before moving on.
I don't really jump to pieces at once. If I play eg an arpeggio exercise then I also look at how it should be applied to a melody. Warming-up to me is all about finding that lovely bodily movement needed for piano playing. Much of my warm-up is away from the piano. We use our body and mind for more things than just piano playing.

My issue is that some teachers never talk about how you can warm-up with both exercices and pieces. I find that my teacher don't really tell me how I can relate eg an arpeggio exercise to pieces.
My question is: could it be that certain students need some extra help with apllying exercices to pieces?

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Originally Posted by Ted
I have not "warmed-up" for decades because it doesn't seem to make any difference to how well, or more likely badly, I play. As I seldom start an improvisation with a hiss and a roar anyway it doesn't matter if things take a couple of minutes to get going. There have been days when I could do almost any execution easily and have produced dull music and occasions when my technique was terrible and I have played the session of my life. Some pianists I know spend more time warming up and practising than they do enjoying their music. I couldn't stand that so I guess I ought to refrain from commenting further.
Much of the warm-ups I have done were really not helpful at all. Most of the warm-ups are just really all about playing without being aware of your body or being too aware of your body.
Aren't warm-ups supposed to help you be more aware of your body and the moevement needed to play the piano?
Most of the warm-ups I think are all about letting that happen unconsciously which never works for me at all.
What do you think?

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