Practicing Technique vs. Music

Question: Can give us an idea how to go about the mastery of technique? Is practicing technique more important that practicing songs?

– Tejas

Albert’s reply: Practicing actual music should always be preferred to practicing technique. There’s a problem inherent in the very phrase “practicing technique.” Technique is but the expression of musical ideas – it is not something that exists in a vacuum.

This means that “practicing technique” is by nature dangerous in that it can be detrimental to musical expression. Any technical exercises must be done with great care, always with the intent of improving musical expression.

The goal of piano technique is to be able to express musical ideas with clarity and beauty. This implies that technique must always be married to musical expression – in other words, to the ear.

The danger of practicing technique alone is that in almost all cases such practice is entirely divorced from the actual sounds produced. Done consistently, such mechanical practice will invariably reflect itself in the music played. Piano scales will be perfectly even but shapeless; highly technical passages will fail to sing.

I am not by any means entirely opposed to piano exercises. On the contrary, they are a necessary component of any pianist’s musical education. In the words of Josef Lhévhinne, one cannot go through the mountain of modern piano technique, one must go over it.

My point of contention is the way most technical exercises are performed. Turn off the mind, stop listening, and treat them as purely mechanical exercises, and you will soon form a most dangerous habit.

A handful of exercises really are simply mechanical in nature, but these are but a small minority, designed for very specific purposes such as articulating the fourth finger or striking the keys accurately. Most technical exercises have as their implied goal musical expression.

One way to improve your piano technique while simultaneously fostering musical expression is by making exercises out of passages in your music. You can for instance transpose a short section into all keys, possibly retaining the same fingering. This will challenge your ear, mind and fingers at the same time, integrating them into a synergistic whole. That must be your goal!

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