Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises is a new addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy series published in the UK by Faber Music.
Subtitled, “Warm-ups, work-outs and scale routines to develop technique”, the book is introduced by its global superstar author with this encouragement:
“Everything you play should be performed with love and musicality, so all of these exercises are designed to be satisfying exercise patterns that lead you smoothly through all the key centres. Enjoy your scale practice, and your piano playing will take off!”
This new book follows a similar look and feel to the five levels of Mastering the Piano, which launched the Lang Lang Piano Academy series a few years back. Daily Technical Exercises is a companion volume to those books.
A notable and very welcome difference is that the book binding uses staples, so lies flat on the music stand; I found it a problem with the previous books that even with a firm hand they resisted practical daily use.
Inside, the book is black-and-white, printed on white paper. It has a well-judged layout, spacing, and the typical clarity of design which is a regular hallmark of this publisher.
Following on from the short Introduction written by Lang Lang, the book is divided into three sections, each prefaced by the author with some pithy and sensible advice aimed at intermediate and early advanced players. Other than the Lang Lang quotes and photos, the book’s 40 pages are then taken up with finger exercises. But don’t switch off at this point…
The question many players and teachers will have is probably this one: is there anything new here, or is this just standard fare served up in Lang Lang-branded packaging? So let’s take a closer look the content which makes up each of the book’s three sections, which are:
- Section 1 Warm-ups.
- Section 2 Scale-busters.
- Section 3 Advanced sequences.
Introducing the first section, Lang Lang tells us:
”It is so important to warm up at the start of your practice. I start by playing scales routines really slowly and only build up fluency very gradually.”
He also wisely counsels:
“Make sure your posture is correct and you are comfortable before you begin, and stay relaxed throughout.”
The section starts with a series of five-finger warm-ups; the same five-finger pattern is repeated in each and every major and minor key, using the first five notes of the corresponding scales. Lang Lang suggests that these patterns should be varied, using different phrasing and articulation (which he gives examples of), rhythms, and so on.
Further exercises are included which extend the hand position; these are based on well-known Hanon patterns, with a recommendation of transposing to each key. It’s good to see Lang Lang recommend this more creative, off-the-page approach, which will surely add musical relevance and effectiveness to the warm-up process.
A “dexterity warm-up” is included next, using an interesting pattern I don’t recall encountering previously, and the section ends with a crossing-hands arpeggio-based exercise that I think could be useful for mastering keyboard geography, as well as loosening the shoulders and wrists.
Overall, Section 1 succinctly offers a series of highly useful exercises which not only warm up the fingers, wrist and arms, but which also reinforce and cement awareness of all the major and minor tonal centres.
The second section of the book focusses more specifically on reinforcing scale and arpeggio patterns. As Lang Lang explains:
“Designed for the intermediate pianist upwards, these routines are each based around a key centre and are designed to help you really get to know each scale (major and minor), arpeggio, dominant and diminished 7th.”
For those who perhaps doubt the usefulness of scales, I have previously written the article Why Bother with Scales? which explains their importance, as well as a second post, Learning to Play with Precision, which goes into further detail.
Lang Lang, of course, has no doubts as to the importance of scale patterns, writing in his introduction here:
“Scales and arpeggios have always been at the heart of my practice routine and form the basis of my technique – I can’t emphasise enough how important the are for all aspiring pianists!”
Essentially, Lang Lang here provides an 18-bar pattern which incorporates a composite of all the above-listed patterns. It’s a neat construct, and could be useful either as an alternative to regular scales work, or as an additional support to help the struggling student get to grips with these all-important patterns.
It’s worth noting here that I spotted the odd fingering suggestion (for example in some LH arpeggio patterns) best described as “unconventional”. I think that I would want to check and amend fingering where appropriate in students’ copies. Provided teachers are diligent, this need not detract from the genuine usefulness of this material, though.
This brings us neatly to the third Section, which is essentially a more advanced development of Section 2. Here, a more complex pattern (this time 21 bars, and including chromatic and contrary motion patterns) is transposed into each of the 12 key centres.
Again, the pianist prefaces the exercises with some cautionary advice:
“Increasingly you will want to play through as many of these sequences as possible. It’s vital that you remember to stay relaxed, however, and stop playing as soon as you start to feel tired.”
Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises is undoubtedly a beautifully presented book, the charisma of its author and the contemporary production values adding gloss to what might often be the least glamorous part of any pianist’s practice routine.
As for the content, there’s very little here to quibble with, and Lang Lang’s advice throughout is sage indeed.
To summarise, then, I like this book a lot! I’ll admit that I’m not convinced that all my students will all be quite so immediately enthusiastic, but as teachers it’s our responsibility to explain the benefits of technical work.
And Lang Lang proves to be a dependable and very welcome ally in this regard, leaving no wriggle-room or doubt that these daily technical exercises really are worth the effort.
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