Fundamentals of Piano Practice, 2nd Edition by Chuan C. Chang

I have never read a more comprehensive and logical guide on to how to actually practice a musical instrument! And I have read quite a few!

Here is one example of the often counter-intuitive approaches to practice that Chang explains. "What is the purpose of practice?". Answer: "To maximise Post Practice Improvement:quot;. The realisation that PPI occurs, and that it's opposite can just as easily occur, is crucial when deciding how to pace your practice. Because practice can make you worse!

Fundamentals of Piano Practice, 2nd Edition - by Chuan C. Chang is available as a free download on his site (www.pianopractice.org), and it is an essential text for the serious music student on any instrument. It is also available at Amazon in Kindle format.

"You can learn piano up to 1000 times faster (!) compared to other methods", claims the author. And he has a point - see Chapter One, IV.5. "For hundreds of years, many teachers and other books taught you what techniques to acquire, but that is of little use unless you know how to acquire them quickly, as Mozart, Liszt, etc., did. You can download the entire book free".

How to use the book

A couple of points about using this book -

  • It's 228 pages long - spend the approx. $30(AUD) and get it printed out. You will want to attack it with a highlighter pen and a 6B pencil, or buy a hard copy from Amazon
  • Put your thinking cap on. There are no illustrations. You won't read or comprehend it in one sitting.
  • Luckily, or rather, by design, the layout is logical and well indexed, so you can find your subjects of interest.
  • You will have to transfer this piano oriented information to Guitar.
  • Get my book "Guitar Playing and how it works" if you want help in how to apply these concepts to the guitar. e.g.
    • What Chang calls "parallel sets" I call 'One impulse equals Four Notes
    • Forearm rotation applied to tremelo
    • Video of the continuous rasgueado
    • Ballistic movement

    I have never seen a more comprehensive and practical tome on how to effectively practice a musical instrument.

    Chang's style is clear and logical, unlike many books on how to play an instrument. His background as a pianist and physicist with over 100 published papers serves him well here. You can follow his logic and then accept or reject it.

    More than two fingers

    As you will quickly notice if you browse my second book on Guitar Technique - "Guitar Playing and how it works" - I advocate using more than the traditional index and middle finger on scale passages.

    Fundamentals of Piano Practice, 2nd Edition - by Chuan C. Chang, contains some great explanations of how this works.

    I quote here excerpts from page 147 : 1.4.2 The Theory of Finger Motion for Piano

    "The finger motions for playing the piano can be classified at the most basic level as serial or parallel. In serial play, each finger is lowered in succession in order to play. A scale is an example of something that can be played serially. In parallel play, all fingers move together. A chord is an example of parallel play. As we shall see later, a scale can also be played parallel.

    Can we really play infinitely fast? Of course not. So then what is the ultimate parallel speed limit, and what mechanism creates this limit? ...

    ... by listening to her/his chords. The accuracy of chord play (how accurately all the notes of the chord can be played simultaneously) is a good measure of an individual’s ability to control the smallest phase differences. Therefore, in order to be able to play parallel fast, you must be able to play accurate chords. This means that, when applying the chord attack, you must first be able to play accurate chords before proceeding to the next step.

    It is clear that there are many more speed walls and the particular speed wall and the methods for scaling each wall will depend on the type of finger or hand motion.

    ... As a rough approximation, if serial play allows you to play at a maximum speed of M, then you can play at 2M using two fingers, 3M using three fingers, etc. The maximum speed is limited by how rapidly you can recycle these fingers. Thus each number of available fingers will give you a different new speed wall. We therefore arrive at two more useful results:

    1. There can be any number of speed walls, and
    2. You can change your speed wall by changing your fingering;

    In general, the more fingers you can use in parallel before you need to recycle them, the faster you can play."

    Speed Walls

    Sooner or later everybody will hit the 'speed walls' that Chang talks about, and sooner rather than later if you are only using two finger patterns such as im im on the right hand.

    Chang says that trills ( Piano 23 23 = Guitar im im etc) are the best way to increase ultimate speed. BUT - bear in mind that piano players are always practicing with 1 2 3 4 5 , so the improvements they see when practicing with only 12 or 23 occur within a daily routine of using all the fingers. So it seems that the more fingers the merrier! ... even if at the end you only use 2 fingers for some passages.