Basic Piano Technique
This outline was originally developed at, though it has apparently been removed from the site. This article covers some of the basic principles or techniques of piano playing, including posture, prepared attack, follow-through, basic scales and arpeggios.

First Principles

  • Posture
    • Sit on the front half of the bench to allow for maximum mobility.
    • A straight and tall backbone will provide support for shoulders and head.
    • Fingers should be somewhat curled.
    • Feet evenly spread in front of the bench, not far from the pedals, will provide a stable support for the torso.
  • Rehearsing:
    • Remember: mental intention precedes physical action.
    • When you encounter a persistent technical problem, slow down the temp
    • Always rehearse with a pre-determined, steady rhythmic pulse.
    • Exaggerate motions first, refine later.
  • Pedaling
    • Keep the heel planted on the floor.
    • Don't allow damper noise or thumping to occur, control the pedal movement.
    • Listen carefully and pedal with your ear so the tones sound distinct, clear and musical.
  • Philosophy
    • Technique is the physical means to a musical end.
    • There are three keys to efficient technique:
      • Timing
      • Relaxation.
      • Simplicity.
    • Strive for minimum motion/maximum sound.
    • The faster the tempo, the smaller the motion.
    • Larger motions ==> larger phrase groups.
    • Smaller motions ==> smaller note values, detailed ornaments.
    • Faster details are handled by the fingertips.
    • Slower motions are handled by wrist and arm.
  • Procedures
    • Know the music first; review and analyze the music before you ever touch the piano keys.
    • Form a mental image of what you want to accomplish physically.
    • Analyze what you do physically. Work to bring it closer to the mental image.
    • Base all rehearsal procedures on your solid rhythmic-metric framework.
    • Always vary the dynamics and articulations when practicing exercises.

Arm Weight

  • Perception Vs. Reality
    • The mind imagines that the arm falls freely from the shoulder, that no muscles are involved.
    • The reality is that a whole complex of muscles may be involved in some way.
  • Mental Image
    • Proper image = "forward, down, and through"
    • Faulty image = "upward, backward, fixed position"
    • Analogies
      • Analogy #1: ball falling to the floor with a natural rebound
      • Analogy #2: swinging bridge
        o two points of support: shoulder and fingertips
        o muscles do not lift the arm at any point

Prepared Attack

  • Rationale
    • If the arm acts as a "swinging bridge", the fingertip must provide the support at one end.
    • The reality is that the fingertip will not always be in contact with the key, but the mental perception will be that it is.
      • Mental image = "from the key, out and forward"
      • Faulty image = "from above the key and downward"
      • Analogy: pole vaulting
      • The wrist starts from a low position, and moves forward and up (follow-through).
      • The weight of the arm is supported by each finger in turn
      • Unused fingers remain relaxed (pointing downward)
  • Incorrect!
    • The unused fingers are tense and raised above the keys.
    • Use the exercise above to practice relaxing / dropping unused fingers.
    • Concentrate the weight of the arm on the one supporting finger.
    • Keep the elbow hanging from the shoulder, not raised.
    • Unused fingers will relax more easily if you let them hang from the hand.


  • A continuous follow-through motion aids in reducing arm, hand, and finger tension.
  • The wrist starts from a low position, and moves forward and up (follow-through).


  • Scale Groups
    • Group the scales according to how they are played.
    • The scale groups relate to the circle of fifths.
    • For now, our exercises will be for the "white key" and "black key" groups only.
  • Features Common to Both Groups
    • The exercise begins with a slow tempo, playing one note at a time in each hand.
    • The scale is then played in groups of two, three, and four notes, all within the same pulse established with one note
    • Wrist and follow-through motions synchronize with the basic pulse.
  • Differences
    • The white key scales involve an initial downward motion into the key for each pulse.
    • The black key scales involve an initial upward motion from the key for each pulse.
    • The white key scales work with symmetrical fingering in contrary motion.
    • The black key scales work with parallel groups of 2-3, and 2-3-4 on black keys, thumbs on white keys.
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