How to master finger technique, part 2

This post is a continuation of my review of the methods for practicing finger technique. I start with method 5, The Norwegian method.

5. The Norwegian method

I am naming this method the Norwegian method because a famous Norwegian pianist sometimes practices this way. It is easiest to just demonstrate how the method works with pictures.

The following passage is from the last page of the Nielsen concerto. 

Below is how you practice it according to the Norwegian method.

Below is how you practice it according to the Norwegian method.

The Norwegian method helps you coordinate your fingers according to the pulse of the music. It is a good defense against rushing. The problem with practicing long passages of sixteenth notes is that you have no reference points in the middle of the passage. The Norwegian method helps build those reference points into your fingers and mind.   

The Norwegian method helps you coordinate your fingers according to the pulse of the music. It is a good defense against rushing. The problem with practicing long passages of sixteenth notes is that you have no reference points in the middle of the passage. The Norwegian method helps build those reference points into your fingers and mind.

 

6. Practicing a passage backwards

Yes, sometimes this can help. I try to practice the “noodles” in Daphnis and Chloe both forwards and backwards. This helps me learn the passage better. I am not sure why this method works, but I suspect that when practicing something repetitive over and over again, the brain can get tired and confused. Playing the passage backwards presents the brain with a new challenge involving similar finger movements and helps you re-focus. 

7. Practicing every note extremely slowly (as if every note were a quarter note at 60) and focusing on smoothness of finger movements, beauty of tone, and smoothness of legato. 

This method is great for ensuring that each note really sparkles and has great sound quality, but it is tiring and can be boring.

8. Identifying the exact areas where the fingers are uneven or uncoordinated and doing exercise 7 on just these few notes, often going back and forth between difficult intervals (like over the break). 

I have found this to be the only method that helps me learn the trickiest intervals in the clarinet repertoire (for example, fast passages that go back and forth over the break, such as in Daphnis and Chloe ). This is the method that requires the most thought, but I believe it helps you learn the passage thoroughly, so that you do not need to go back and re-practice the same passages day after day.

 

 If it seems that many of these methods for practicing technique are dull, repetitive and require only the intelligence necessary for janitorial work, you are right. The only aspect of practicing technique that takes constant thought, analysis, and a trained ear is identifying the reason for the problem, finding exactly where it occurs, and coming up with the best solution to remedy it. The student who constantly listens and analyzes the precise cause of a technical problem, and practices the problem area slowly and thoughtfully will develop excellent technique much faster than the student who mindlessly practices any one (or all) of the techniques described above.

 

How do you decide which method to use? It requires a little trial and error, but generally you should try to identify that problem and then apply a practicing technique that can lead to a solution. Is the problem that you just can’t play the notes fast enough? Then method number two, in which you continually repeat the passage at faster and faster tempos, is a good option. Can you play the notes fast enough, but they don’t sound even? Then the Norwegian method is a good bet. Do you always mess up in the same spot in a larger passage? Then use method eight to practice the challenging interval. Do you have great technique but a lousy sound? Then do method seven and focus and getting a great, resonating sound on each note. There is no one recipe for success. The only given is that a musician must constantly listen and evaluate.