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  • Writer's pictureThe PTC UK

Technique Series: 3. Developing agility at the piano

One of the main aims we have for our pupils in setting them up with a good technique is to give them piano AGILITY, getting around the keyboard with ease and confidence. We want them to know the layout of the keys in their octaves so instinctively well that they feel as comfortable in a high or low register as they would be around middle C.

Our piano hands have 2 main positions:

1: Close Hand, 5 finger position, with neighbouring fingers for neighbouring notes

2: Open Hand, with 1 and 5 spanning an octave

For the first position I suggest initially Pentascales (1-2-3-4-5 and back) leading soon into full Scales.

For the second position the Arpeggio, starting in one octave.

In order for the long fingers 2,3,4 to have the desired round dome shape, I would recommend many pentascales, major or minor or augmented, WITH 1, 2 black notes in the middle.* Miss out starting from B-flat and B and if at all possible avoid CDEFG or add it in as a little extra at the end! Play each hand alone first, in different octaves, up and down the piano. The other hand can mirror the fingering (up-down becomes down-up and vice versa) Play both hands in the opposite, then the same direction, separately at first and then together.

As the first major scale separate hands I would then, although you may have missed it out in the pentascales, definitely recommend B major, NOT C major, as it enables a much better hand shape and uses all the black notes. Try teaching it as a spiral for the first “thumb-under” experience. Very soon your pupil will be able to play from B to B in the right hand first, and following with the left hand, down up first, then up down, a little harder with the start on finger 4, but with explanation and demonstration also possible very early.

A little jump ahead: For hands together, and after good separate hand practise I would recommend E major. Fingers 1 and 2 will always want to play at the same time!

So here there’s a good little rhyme to help with this:

Two goes with one, one goes with two

Threes go together and we are through!

E major can very quickly and after explaining the E/F and B/C gap navigation lead to contrary motion for a quick learner, and before you see it you have the first ‘Russian scale’, spanning 4 octaves on offer!

Teach Open Hand position with D,E,A,B major and C,F,G minor Arpeggios as soon as the Close Hand position is fairly stable. Keeping the hand with gaps between fingers but very relaxed go up and down one octave a few times with a little sideways rotation.

As a first 2 octave arpeggio I use the ‘wind-up arpeggio’.

*Chopin advised E F# G# A# C, an augmented Pentascale, as the first hand layout scale

Beate Toyka, Principal Tutor of The Piano Teachers' Course UK

‘Getting to the heart of music’ is Beate’s teaching philosophy. Exploring a beautiful tone and the shape of a melody right from the early stages is essential, as is the formation of a good technique. Listening to good music is as important as playing it; encouragement at all stages is the key, and she is a devoted teacher from beginners to diploma levels.


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