Piano Technique 101

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Authored by Stephany Tiernan, Zahili Gonzalez Zamora

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Course Code: OPIAN-200

Next Semester Starts
January 9, 2023

Level 2

Level 2

3-Credit Tuition

$1,515

Non-Credit Tuition

$1,265

This course will open for enrollment in April 2023.

This course will provide you with the tools necessary to build a powerful and dependable piano technique that will enable you to perform with the least amount of physical effort and the most amount of control over all aspects of piano playing. It will focus on posture, breathing, movement, and sound production applied to musical and technical exercises designed to strengthen finger independence and control over dynamics, phrasing, articulation, virtuosity, tempo, and pulse.

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Upon completion of this course, you will be able to play the music you are hearing and feeling with greater mastery and control over all the aspects of music-making at the piano or keyboard.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Discuss the history of piano technique and how it developed as the keyboard instruments changed over time
  • Make decisions regarding the development of your own technique related to the keyboards you are playing
  • Develop your own technique, demonstrating exercises and concepts directly applied to sound production and musical examples
  • Practice good posture, which will allow you to move more freely and develop a more responsive technique
  • Use pedal tones to accompany simple melodies
  • Play with less tension in the arms and more fluidity and speed in longer passages and wider registers
  • Prepare improvisation using practice techniques to the predetermined scales and/or chords you will use when improvising
  • Improve your control of velocity and dynamics on the keyboard with the least amount of effort
  • Use all three pedals on the piano properly
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Syllabus

Lesson 1: Building a Foundation

  • Historical Perspective: ‘The Meaning of Technique’
  • Fundamentals of Piano Technique
  • Musical Applications through Interpretation
  • Musical Applications through Improvisation
  • Assignment 1: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 2: Finger Technique and Independence

  • Historical Perspective: ‘The Early Clavier Methods’
  • Finger Technique and Independence
  • Musical Applications through Interpretation
  • Musical Applications through Improvisation
  • Assignment 2: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 3: The Thumb in Scales and Melodic Passages

  • Historical Perspective: ‘The Beginnings of the Piano’
  • The Thumb
  • Musical Applications through Interpretation
  • Musical Applications through Improvisation
  • Assignment 3: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 4: The Arms and Body in Motion

  • Historical Perspective: ‘Mozart and the Early Piano Technique’
  • Using the Arms
  • Musical Applications in Interpretation
  • Musical Applications in Improvisation
  • Assignment 4: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 5: Musical Applications and How to Practice

  • Historical Perspective: ‘Hummel: The Culmination of the Viennese Era’
  • How to Practice
  • Musical Applications in Interpretation
  • Musical Applications in Improvisation
  • Assignment 5: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 6: Virtuosity and Finger Technique

  • Historical Perspective: ‘The Dynamic Beethoven Technique’
  • Virtuosity and Finger Technique
  • Musical Applications in Interpretation
  • Musical Applications in Improvisation
  • Assignment 6: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 7: Wrist Technique and Playing Chords

  • Historical Perspective: ‘Czerny: Technique Personified’
  • Wrist Technique
  • Musical Applications in Interpretation
  • Musical Applications in Improvisation
  • Assignment 7: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 8: Wrist Technique and Building Speed

  • Historical Perspective: ‘The Early Methodology’
  • Wrist Technique and Building Speed
  • Musical Applications in Interpretation
  • Musical Applications in Improvisation
  • Assignment 8: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 9: Combining Finger and Wrist Tones

  • Historical Perspective: ‘The Lyricism of Chopin’
  • Combining Finger and Wrist Tones
  • Musical Applications in Interpretation
  • Musical Applications in Improvisation
  • Assignment 9: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 10: Developing Pedal Technique

  • Historical Perspective: ‘Liszt and Virtuoso Technique’
  • Developing Pedal Technique
  • Musical Applications in Interpretation
  • Musical Applications in Improvisation
  • Assignment 10: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 11: Choosing Repertoire for Applying Technical Concepts

  • Historical Perspective: ‘The Schumann Circle’
  • Choosing Repertoire for Applying Technical Concepts
  • Musical Applications in Interpretation
  • Musical Applications in Improvisation
  • Assignment 11: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Lesson 12: Practice and Record Final Project Performance

  • Historical Perspective: ‘The Beginnings of Modern Technical Methods’
  • Practicing a Final Piece and Applying Technical Concepts
  • Musical Applications in Interpretation
  • Musical Applications in Improvisation
  • Assignment 12: Performing a Notated Piece and an Improvisation

Requirements

Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements

Completion of Berklee Keyboard Method or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.

Students should be able to:

  • Play a song showing hand independence
  • Read music using both treble and bass clefs
  • Play music from a chord symbol-notation format (lead sheet)

Required Textbook(s)

Hardware Requirements

  • Piano or keyboard (88 keys)

After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu for any questions.


General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of  Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection

Instructors

Stephany Tiernan

Author & Instructor

Stephany Tiernan is a composer, pianist, author, teacher, educational leader, and Steinway Artist. She has been active in the presentation of new music since the 1970s and is chair emerita of the Piano department and a professor at Berklee College of Music. She has been teaching composition, analysis, and piano for more than 40 years and has influenced many of the successful composers and pianists of today. The author of a book and video on contemporary piano technique called Contemporary Technique: Coordinating Breath, Movement, and Sound (Berklee Press/Hal Leonard), Tiernan developed this technique as a continuation of the groundbreaking work of Madame Margaret Chaloff. This approach to piano technique has been used by thousands of pianists worldwide.

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Tiernan has performed much of the world’s greatest contemporary piano music in many of its prestigious halls. Performances have included music by Charles Ives, John Cage, Henry Cowell, and many others. Her piano compositions, including a piano quintet, are featured on her album, Hauntings: Scream of Consciousness. Dedicated to the art of improvisation, her collaborations with internationally acclaimed jazz pianist JoAnne Brackeen resulted in their widely acclaimed piano duet recording, Which Is Which, which eliminates the boundaries between classical and jazz piano playing. Read Less


Zahili Gonzalez Zamora

Author & Instructor

Zahili Gonzalez Zamora's musical career path and thirst for constant professional growth brought her on a long professional journey from Cuba, to Canada, to Southeast Asia, to the U.S.A. In 2017, she graduated from Berklee College of Music, summa cum laude, with a dual-degree in Jazz Composition and Jazz Piano Performance. In September of 2019 she joined the Piano Dept. at Berklee. 

Zahili has written and arranged pieces mostly within the Afro Cuban jazz genre. Her rich musical background, career experience and extraordinary improvisation skills render her a leader in the modern Latin jazz idiom and an influential, emulated musician.

Her Afro Cuban Jazz Trio, MIXCLA, features new original tunes and arrangements by her, which have quickly turned the attention of major agents locally and internationally. The trio has since headlined at the 59th Monterey Jazz Festival, the 2016 Stave Sessions, by Celebrity Series of Boston, the 2015 Montreal International Jazz Festival, Scullers Jazz Club in Boston (2018 and 2020), and other highly respected venues and Festivals around the world. With her trio MIXCLA, Zahili's newly released album has thus far advanced in the world of Jazz, adding to her accolades two nominations to the Boston Music Awards (2018 and 2019), under the Jazz Group category, and a finalist place at the DC Jazz Prix Competition, in Washington DC. 

Other accomplishments as a composer include, the Duke Ellington and the Wayne Shorter Awards for her outstanding creativity and musicianship, and the 40th annual Downbeat music award, 2017, under the Outstanding Performance category.  

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Piano Technique 101 can be applied towards these associated programs:

Associated Certificate Programs

Associated Degree Major

Questions?

Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.