Let’s Play #7 – Developing Your Finger Strength and Flexibility
by Jerry Kovarsky
Working on your technique, and your finger strength and coordination is something players of all levels and styles of music should spend some daily time on. Perhaps as a synth player you don’t think this relates to your music making, as so often people think of technique as just scales, and arpeggios and all that “pianistic” stuff. But with a little creativity we can come up with lots of ways to help strengthen your fingers, develop your finger independence and work on your touch in ways that adapt well to synths.
We have five fingers, and so starting with five note groupings is a logical place to start. There are many centuries-old piano technique books that offer this type of exercise. When we discuss technique and fingering we use numbers for each finger, so the thumb is 1, the index, or pointer finger is 2, the middle finger is 3, the ring finger is 4, and the pinky is 5. Let’s start with the most basic exercise: place your thumb on Middle C and your other fingers over the adjacent white notes:
As you play each note, concentrate on connecting from one to the next with no gap, but also no overlap. Listen carefully that you are playing each note rhythmically even, and at the same level if you’re using a velocity-sensitive keyboard. The most important advice is to do this slowly at first, concentrating on your control. Playing fast too early tends to just cover up problems/weaknesses and can instill bad habits. Don’t bring up your tempo until you are satisfied that your playing is accurate and comfortable.
When that becomes comfortable, then try playing the example again, and play each note detached from each other, so you play a note, release it, then play the next note. Still keep your rhythm even, but each note should be short(er) and not connected. This detached style of playing becomes important when you have mono/legato amp/filter envelopes in your synth sound and you want each new note to retrigger the envelope.
You won’t always just play on all the white notes, so I like to vary this exercise by changing one of the notes each time, bringing it to an adjacent black key. This feels different and provides you the chance to continue to play smoothly even when your hand shape changes slightly. Here are the logical variations to try (don’t forget to play them both connected and detached!):
Next I like to start stretching the fingers slightly, so I’ll skip a note in-between in the following fashion:
All these examples have started on Middle C, and it’s a good step when you become comfortable with them to start moving to other keys. But for now, working on these slowly and with both connected and detached playing will bring you further along in your proficiency. Pay attention to your fourth and fifth fingers – they are the weakest for most players, so you’ll need to concentrate to both keep them in time and at the same volume as the others.
You’ll want to work on the same exercises using your left hand as well. Start off by putting your thumb on Middle C and playing them moving down, so you’re not playing the same notes as the right hand examples.
Another common way to practice the left hand is to cover the same notes as we did in the right hand. This means you put your pinky on a C, and cover the notes up to G with the other fingers:
From this position you can do all the exercises we did for the right hand, just in a lower range of the keyboard.
The most important thing about practicing technique (or anything musical) is to do it as often as possible. It’s better to do a short session of practice every day as opposed to skipping five days and then trying to do a marathon session to catch up. You don’t need to spend a lot of time per day on it, but if you’re consistent and conscientious about it you’ll see progress made within a few weeks. Next post we’ll continue with some technique-building concepts. Enjoy!
Jerry Kovarsky is highly respected in the music industry. For more than 30 years, he worked as brand manager, product manager, marketing director, product developer, and product demonstrator for Korg, Ensoniq, and Casio. An accomplished keyboardist, synthesist, and author of Keyboard for Dummies, Jerry passionately advocates for making music with keyboards. After studying at the University of Miami and graduating from William Peterson College with a BA in Jazz Studies, an opportunity to demonstrate early portable keyboards sidetracked his professional aspirations. More recently, Jerry writes about technology and keyboard musicianship for numerous outlets. He likes living at the intersection of technology and art and has returned to his musical roots, performing, recording, and teaching on the island of Maui, Hawaii.