Scales, Arpeggios, Finger Independence and Finger Lifting Exercises
Scales and arpeggios must be practiced diligently. They are not in the class of mindless repetitive exercises because of the numerous necessary techniques that are most quickly acquired using them (such as thumb over, flat finger positions, feeling the keys, velocity, parallel sets, glissando motion, tone/color, how to reverse directions, supple wrist, etc.). Scales and arpeggios must be practiced HS; practicing them HT all the time will place them in the same category as Hanon. Two exceptions to this “no HT rule” are: (A) when you are using them for warm-ups (before recitals, etc.), and (B) when practicing to make sure that the two hands can be synchronized accurately. Learning to play them well is very difficult and you will certainly need parallel sets, see sections III.4.b and III.5 for more details.
The finger independence and lifting (see below) exercises are performed by first pressing all five fingers down, e.g., from C to G using the RH. Then play each finger three to five times: CCCCDDDDEEEEFFFFGGGG. While one finger is playing, the others must be kept down. Do not press down firmly as this is a form of stress, and will cause fatigue very quickly. All the depressed keys must be completely down, but the fingers are just resting on them with only enough downward force to keep the keys down. The gravitational weight of your hand should be enough. Beginners may find this exercise difficult in the beginning because the non-playing fingers tend to collapse from their optimum positions or lift involuntarily, especially if they begin to tire. If they tend to collapse, just try a few times and switch hands or quit; do not keep practicing in the collapsed position. Then try again after a rest. One variation of this exercise is to spread out the notes over an octave. This type of exercise was already in use during F. Liszt’s time (Moscheles). They should be done using the curled as well as all the flat finger positions.
For the finger independence exercise, try to increase the speed. Note the similarity to exercise #1, section (b); however, for general technique development, exercise #1 is superior to this one. The main objective of exercise #1 was speed; the emphasis here is different -- it is for finger independence. Some piano teachers recommend doing this exercise once during every practice session, once you can play it satisfactorily. Until you can play it satisfactorily, you may want to practice it several times at every practice session. Practicing it many times at once and then neglecting it in subsequent sessions will not work. Advanced players generally do not need this exercise.
All the practice methods and exercises discussed in this book deal mostly with the muscles used to press the key down (flexors). It is possible for those muscles to become far more developed than the ones used to lift the fingers (extensors), especially for those who practice loud all the time and never develop the art of playing fast, thus causing control problems. As you grow older, the flexors can end up overpowering the extensors. Therefore, it is a good idea to exercise the relevant extensors by performing lifting exercises. The flat finger positions are valuable for exercising the extensors for lifting the fingers and, at the same time, relaxing the extensors at the fingertips. These two extensors use different muscles.
For finger lifting exercises, repeat the above exercise, but lift each finger as high as you can, for two seconds each, only one lift for each finger. Again, keep all the other fingers down with minimal pressure. This is a form of isometric exercise for strengthening specific muscles. Therefore, you must give each lift your maximum effort, but without causing pain. As usual, it is important to reduce stress in the fingers that are not being lifted. This needs to be performed a maximum of three times a day. Because they are isometric, large numbers of repetitions are not needed each day.
There has not been any systematic research on whether all these exercises work and whether some of them might even be harmful. They are listed here because they have been used by many piano teachers in the past, and there is some logical expectation of why they might be beneficial. Clearly, this is a potential topic for future research.
Everyone has problems with lifting the 4th finger. There is a mistaken belief by many that we must be able to lift the 4th finger as high as all the others and therefore they expend an inordinate amount of effort trying to achieve this. Such efforts have been proven to be futile and counterproductive. This is because the anatomy of the 4th finger does not allow it to be lifted beyond a certain point. The only thing the 4th finger must not do is to depress a key inadvertently, which requires much less lift. Therefore you can play at all times with the 4th finger just barely off the keys or even touching them. Practicing difficult passages with inordinate effort at lifting this finger higher can cause stress in fingers 3 and 5. It is more productive to learn to play with less stress as long as the 4th finger is not interfering in any way. Therefore, you mainly need to lift the 4th finger independently of the others. The exercise for lifting the 4th finger independently is performed as follows. Press all fingers down, CDEFG, as before. Then play 1,4,1,4,1,4, . . . etc., with the accent on 1 and lifting 4 as quickly and as high as you can. Finger 1 should stay as close to the key as possible. Then repeat with 2,4,2,4,2,4, . . . etc. Then with finger 3, then 5 against 4. This is not an isometric exercise and can be repeated any number of times and maximum effort is not needed because you are practicing for control. You can also do this exercise with 4 on a black key.
Both the finger independence and lifting exercises can be performed without a piano, on any flat surface. This is the best time to practice relaxing the extensor muscles of the last two phalanges (the nail phalange and middle phalange) of fingers 2 to 5; see section III.4.b for more details. During the entire exercise, those two phalanges for all the fingers should be completely relaxed, even for the finger being lifted.