Piano songs played better after practising this five finger exercise with varied finger combinations and touch to simulate how actual phrases in a composition are usually performed
“If you take care of the music, it will take care of you” – Roy Hargrove, Grammy Award winner
As someone who grew up in a not musically inclined family, music was thought of as an extra not an essential. Good grades in mathematics was more of a priority. But the desire to learn was always at the back of my mind like a nuisance.
When I finally did so - learning the piano, it was surprising how easily it came to me. Looking back, the reason was the music took care me because I did the same to it, every minute of the day all the time through actual practise and constantly nursing the desire.
I try to clock in at least 2 hours of practise each day, but even if I could just muster 30 minutes I would squeeze in any kind of practice I could. One kind that is very effective when limited for time is the 5-finger exercise.
Press all 5 fingers on any 5-note chord, try to avoid the C major because it does not have any black keys. Real compositions almost always have black keys so we would want to practise exercises that resemble the real thing.
Press and hold the third finger (middle finger), rest it at the bottom of the keybed while playing the other notes around it. Training the hands to build independence in the fingers, this exercise lays a strong foundation towards performing any song.
There are many combinations of fingers which can be used in this exercise such as pressing and holding down the second finger (index finger) and fourth finger while playing the others around them. Or even, the first (thumb) and fourth finger held while the others play around them.
Another variation is to lift high each finger one by one, playing each key at a time - allowing you to feel the fingers stretch and extend. When they reach the bottom of the keybed release the effort.
The ultimate goal of the exercise is to build independence by developing strength and flexibility in the fingers. However, mindless repetition makes the whole endeavour unprofitable in terms of growing as a musician if we consider the energy and time spent on it.
To get a better return on the energy and time spent on this exercise, in addition to varying the combinations of the fingers vary too the touch. Play them in legato at first, then switch to staccato. Rhythm can also be varied such as alternating from long to short beats as you play one note to the next.
“If you can play slow, it shows maturity because everything is exposed. Keep practicing. You’ll get over the humps. You might discover something during that time. Mistakes are beautiful because they’re human. You don’t want to sound like a robot.” – Roy Hargrove [reference : The Burton Wire, 6th June 2014]
Pay a close attention to the quality of the sound and the quality of your movement. Simple as they are, if you start this habit now with this exercise when it is time to play a real song the body will remember to do it automatically.
Let us take a look at the phrase shown in Image 1 above, taken from Rondo All Turca. It switches from a sequence of notes played in staccato to a legato one. The combination of different touch mid-phrase applied by Mozart in this song maintains the sense of intensity in the song's march. A performer shall need to project an image similar to it in her music making, therefore start small by practicing the five-finger exercise using many finger combinations and varying touch.