I've been noticing poor hand technique in some of my younger students for a while and trying valiantly to help them fix it. However, there are only so many analogies I can give and so many times I can remind them in each lesson and during each song to lift their wrists and bend their pinkies. After all, there are other things I am trying to teach them as well!
Good hand technique is something you have to consciously work towards until it enters your sub-conscience and your muscles remember what to do. It also means students need to spend a decent amount of time watching their hands to see what they are doing and correcting it if necessary. "But you told me not to look at my hands!", my students say when I ask them to watch what they are doing. I have to remind them that there is a time and a place for both looking at their hands and for looking at their music.
So to help them spend some quality watching their hands, I decided to dedicate this summer to just that: hand technique. And because the summer is a time that most students are less likely to practice and tend to miss lessons, I made it a game and added an incentive.
(If this looks like a rug as a background... it is. The walls of the studio are covered with rugs, so I try to work with what I have.)
I've compiled eight exercises that they will play in four different keys. We'll cover all 12 five-finger scales this summer while they work through the eight exercises. They get two tries for each key and must play them perfectly (in all four keys) without any yellow card infractions (World Cup, anyone?) to complete the exercise. The infractions are:
- flat fingers (especially pinkies)
- heel of hand on the piano
- incorrect rhythms
- incorrect notes
- inconsistent tempo
If that sounds a little tough, it is on purpose. This is my chance to demand excellence and get them to really think about what their hands are doing.
Here's a look at the first exercise:
The circles under each key correspond to white keys and black keys. I have the students color in the circles that will be played as black keys. (I got this concept from Piano Safari and find it really helps the younger students to have another visual). The exercises gradually get harder, but every one of them is written in C major and is short enough to be easily memorized.
While I intend to go over every key with my students, the last exercise is a review of the seven white key five finger scales:
Their prize is one homemade rice krispie treat for each exercise they complete by Sept. 4th. That's 10 weeks of lessons to finish eight exercises! I'm excited to see how they do this summer.