Top Five Ways to Help Music Students Develop Technical Skills

Richard Goode with Student

For musicians, technique is about controlling the body to create sound. It involves thinking about what needs to be done in a specific situation, and determining the most efficient and effective way to achieve a result. While music teachers recognize the value of developing technique, many students find technical tests – scales, chords, and arpeggios, – the least appealing part of music study. Long-time teacher Dr. Janet Lopinski, our Senior Director, Academic Programs, shares her top tips for integrating technical tests into lessons in a meaningful, fun way.

For students who study music alongside many other activities, time is a precious commodity. Teachers must find the right balance and advise wisely on how best to incorporate technical work into the practice routine. I have found the following considerations very useful in weaving the thread of technical skill development into each student’s weekly lesson and daily practice sessions:

Quality over quantity

When assigning technical elements for daily practice, fewer items in a smaller number of keys will allow students to focus on achieving a higher level of comfort and ease in execution. Provide instructions for creating variety in touch, tone, tempo, and rhythm as a way for students to refine and perfect each element. This approach will engage students in enjoyable practice sessions.

Teach concepts to support the skills

Wherever possible, explain the theoretical and practical concepts that inform the instructions for learning technical patterns. Illustrate how scales and chords are formed, and explain the logic that governs fingering patterns rather than simply asking students to memorize them.

Connect to repertoire                 

Whenever possible, connect technical exercises to pieces. For example, align scales in the keys of  repertoire selections a student is learning, or work on arpeggios in preparation for a piece involving arpeggiated accompaniment figures.

Create a warm-up routine

Incorporate technical exercises as part of a warm-up at the start of every lesson, and encourage this as a way of starting each practice session. A warm-up routine that can be learned by rote and does not involve reading music leaves students free to focus on the physical sensations and sound created.

Have fun!

Be creative, and encourage your students to find ways to make the technical work interesting and enjoyable. For younger students, create games and contests. With intermediate and advanced students, encourage the use of smart phone videos  for self-evaluation. Provide a variety of imaginative approaches for practicing and encourage your students by acknowledging and applauding progress.

It is our role as teachers to help our students understand the importance of building technical skills as an integral part of music study. As your students engage in this important aspect of their musical journey, they will reap the rewards of more carefree and confident music-making.

This entry was adapted from an article originally published in the Winter 2015 edition of our Music Matters newsletter.

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