What if there was a routine that you could follow, and you could methodically practice this routine each day, and by doing so, improve your musicals skills to such an extent that you could become an excellent musician just by following this simple routine?

Sounds too good to be true? Well, the truth is, you can! And this is not news. It’s just that a typical student does not see the long-term benefit of this type of study. But, it works!

A long time ago, in 1873, in France, a gentleman named Charle-Louis Hanon came out with a method book called “The Virtuoso Pianist”. In the Preface to this book, Hanon claimed “This entire volume can be played through in an hour; and if, after it has been thoroughly mastered, it be repeated daily for a time, difficulties will disappear as if by enchantment, and that beautiful, clear, clean, pearling execution will have been acquired which is the secret of distinguished artists.”

From the sound of this glorious statement, it appears that advertising and hyperbole existed long before our generation! But — is there any truth to Hanon’s claims, and his methods? Are there routines that you can follow, that will lead to mastery of the piano? Or, any other musical instrument, for that matter?

Yes, in my opinion, there is truth in Hanon’s claims. But the problem is, we live in a time period of “instant gratification”, and very few students, or prospective students, see the value in practicing routine exercises, when there is the allure of playing a very interesting and fascinating piece of music that they enjoy.

Even though I am a commercial musician who makes a living playing jazz, rock, and every type of popular music, I was brought up in the classical tradition. I studied flute and piano in the traditional classical way, learning scales, arpeggios, and all the traditional technical studies for those instruments. My mother was trained in this tradition, and I simply followed that path because as a child I knew no other alternative.

So, did I benefit from those classical methods? Yes, I did! I believe that Hanon was right; if you do follow his book, and practice all of his exercises on a regular basis, you will become an excellent pianist. Of course, many other teachers have different opinions about Hanon. Some teachers find fault with his particular methods. But his was not the only method. There are certainly many other mehods of practicing that will get you to the same place as Hanon’s method.

I bring up this topic because so many students come to me for lessons, and they want some sort of instant gratification. They may have a specific piece of music in mind; they may have set a certain goal of learning a specific piece by a certain time. There is nothing really wrong with having such a goal. But, it is also like carving a new sculpture out of marble. Yes, you can force yourself — or have a teacher force you — to learn each note tediously, by rote — and do this over and over again until finally you can play one piece.

Or, there is an alternate path. As Hanon says, “If all five fingers of the hand were absolutely equally well trained, they would be ready to execute anything written for the instrument, and the only question remaining would be that of fingering, which could be easily solved.” In other words, by acquiring the necessary technical skills, learning a new piece of music would be more like molding clay, rather than laboriously carving hard marble.

Just like any physical sport, learning a musical instrument involves real physical activity. If you have the patience to work on this technique, you will make real progress. The good news is, any form of physical activity has rewards. Any time you take to learn basic technical skills on an instrument will be its own reward; the reward of developing better hand and finger coordination. And, by taking the time to practice an artistic skill, you are putting yourself in higher place of concentration, which is ultimately a better place.

By Ernie Mansfield ©2011 Windsailer Music (BNI)