June 5, 2024

About the Author: Stefan Joubert

Stefan Joubert is the manager of Online Piano Institute and The London Piano Institute. He is passionate about world-class piano education and learning via Zoom, Skype or FaceTime.

As an intermediate or advanced piano player, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of exploring new repertoire and techniques.

However, it’s essential to remember that a strong foundation in the basics is crucial for continued growth and improvement.

In this article, we’ll explore the importance of going back to basics in piano study, even if you’re already an accomplished pianist.

Woman playing piano

Why go back to basics?

When you’re already proficient in reading sheet music, understanding music theory, and executing complex finger exercises, it’s natural to assume that you’ve mastered the basics.

However, the truth is that even the most skilled pianists can benefit from revisiting the fundamentals. Here are a few reasons why:

The foundation of technique

The fundamentals of piano playing, such as scales, arpeggios, and finger exercises, serve as the bedrock upon which all advanced techniques are built.

These foundational elements are not mere stepping stones to be discarded once more complex skills are acquired; rather, they are the very tools that support and enhance those skills.

Repeating basic exercises helps maintain dexterity, precision, and muscle memory. For instance, practising scales regularly reinforces finger strength and agility, ensuring that advanced passages can be played with fluidity and ease.

Refining musicality

Revisiting basic pieces and techniques also provides an opportunity to refine musicality. When the technical challenges of a piece are minimised, a pianist can focus more on expression, dynamics, and phrasing.

This deeper engagement with the musical elements allows for a more nuanced and emotive performance, enriching the overall interpretation of a piece.

Intermediate and advanced players often find that their understanding of simple pieces evolves over time, revealing new depths and insights that can be applied to more complex repertoire.

Correcting bad habits

As pianists advance, there is a risk of developing bad habits or technical flaws that can hinder progress and even cause injury.

Returning to basic exercises and simple pieces allows for a reassessment of technique.

This reflective practice can help identify and correct issues such as poor hand positioning, uneven finger strength, or inefficient movements.

Building confidence

For many intermediate and advanced players, the pressure to constantly tackle challenging pieces can be overwhelming.

Revisiting the basics provides a psychological respite, allowing pianists to reconnect with their love of music without the stress of high difficulty.

This practice builds confidence as players rediscover the joy and simplicity of music-making, reinforcing their commitment to continuous improvement.

Enhancing sight-reading and memory

Basic pieces and exercises serve as excellent tools for improving sight-reading and memory skills.

Regularly sight-reading simple compositions sharpens the ability to quickly interpret and execute new music.

Additionally, memorising basic pieces strengthens mental discipline and the ability to internalise music, skills that are crucial when learning more complex works.

The virtue of humility

Returning to the basics instils a sense of humility and continuous learning.

It reminds pianists that mastery is a journey rather than a destination and that every skill level requires a solid foundation.

This humility fosters a growth mindset, encouraging players to remain open to learning and improvement, no matter how advanced they become.

Pianist holding music sheet

Which basics should you focus on?

When you’re considering going back to basics, it’s essential to identify the specific areas that need attention. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

Scales and arpeggios

Mastering scales and arpeggios is crucial for developing finger independence, strength, and dexterity.

These fundamental exercises lay the groundwork for complex fingerwork, allowing you to execute challenging passages with ease.

By revisiting scales and arpeggios, you’ll improve your overall technique, increase your finger dexterity, and enhance your ability to play with precision and control.

Chord voicings

Understanding chord voicings is vital for effective accompaniment and harmonisation. A chord voicing is a specific arrangement of notes within a chord, and mastering various voicings will enable you to add depth and nuance to your playing.

By spending time exploring different chord voicings and practising switching between them smoothly, you’ll develop a more sophisticated understanding of harmony and improve your ability to accompany others.

Music theory

Music theory is the foundation of music composition and analysis.

By reviewing music theory concepts such as harmony, counterpoint, and form, you’ll deepen your understanding of music structure and develop a more nuanced appreciation for the art of music.

This will enable you to approach complex pieces with confidence, analyse scores more effectively, and even compose your own music.

Practice techniques

Developing good practice habits is essential for consistent progress and improvement. By focusing on techniques such as slow practice, hands-separate practice, and pedalling control, you’ll establish a solid foundation for your practice routine.

Slow practice, for example, involves practising a piece at a slower tempo than the indicated performance speed. This allows you to focus on precise execution and build confidence.

Hands-separate practice involves practising each hand separately before combining them, helping to develop independence and coordination. Pedalling control is critical for achieving the desired tone colour and dynamic range.

Man in suit playing piano

Additional tips for focusing on basics

When revisiting the basics, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Start with small sections or exercises to build momentum and confidence.
  • Set specific goals for each practice session to maintain focus and direction.
  • Practise regularly, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day.
  • Record yourself playing to identify areas for improvement.
  • Seek guidance from a teacher or mentor to help you stay on track.

Back to basics – conclusion:

Going back to basics is essential for any pianist looking to improve their skills and expand their musical horizons.

By revisiting the fundamental concepts of piano study, you’ll be better equipped to tackle new challenges, build confidence, and refine your technique.

Remember, even the most accomplished pianists can benefit from a refresher course in the basics.

Take the time to revisit these fundamental concepts and watch your playing grow stronger and more confident as a result.

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