Every pianist has a set of exercises that he or she often practices before getting to work on the repertoire du jour. This activity typically includes scales, chords, and arpeggios in a variety of formats. Today, I want to share with you a personal exercise of mine that I do to reinforce the fundamentals: supple use of the wrist and arms at the piano.
Warm Up Exercise: Play a single note ten times slowly with a wide range in tone, dynamics, and use of wrist/arm weight. Do this for each hand separately.
On the surface, this might seem simple, but give it a try. What this exercise will teach you is to determine how much wrist and arm weight is necessary to produce the quiet notes to the loud ones. Often times when we want to play quietly or loudly in our repertory, we often forget that using the full range of our body as well as keeping a loose and tension-free arm are absolutely vital into producing a rich tone.
Note: it is imperative to practice these exercises slowly so that you can listen and evaluate each note.
Variant One: Do the above, but add chords.
Start by adding a two-note chords. Again, consider what type of weight is needed to produce the type of tone you would like to achieve. Experiment by voicing (highlighting a certain note) different notes of the chord. In other words, do not always focus on the top note––try the bottom and middle notes as well. When you can do this variant comfortably, gradually add additional notes to the chord.
Variant Two: Extending the warm up exercise to a two-note, three-note, and four-note slurs.
Now, go back to the original warm up exercise. Instead of repeating the same note ten times, add two-note slurs and repeat each measure five to ten times while gradually increasing in volume. Following this, try extending it to three and four notes when comfortable (see below). Additionally, try inverting these exercises––instead of ascending two-note slurs, play them in descending order. Make sure that appropriate emphasis is placed on the first note while finishing the gesture with a tapered sound––the wrist should go down slowly on the first note and a gentle upward gesture at the end.
I cannot stress the importance of adding this particular variant to your daily exercises. Think about the regular recurrence of two-note and three-note slurs in the works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. They are everywhere! In my lessons with students, I find that I talk frequently about the proper execution of this commonly-used gesture. Next time when warming up, consider adding this to your routine––the skills acquired from this exercise can be transferred and applied to your repertory.
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