Conservatoire Life, Practise

Technical assessments – why only once a year?

This January I had my last ever technical assessment, its crazy to think that two years ago I had my first one! I failed my first technical assessment, not because I didn’t try, but because I really struggled to play scales and arpeggios fluently. I passed on my second attempt two weeks later.

I really enjoyed preparing for my technical assessment this year, mainly because we had complete freedom over what areas of our technique we could develop.

“You will prepare a Portfolio of 4-6 studies or exercises, compiled with the assistance and advice of your teacher, and designed to advance specific areas of technique relevant to your current individual needs. In the exam you will be asked to perform a selection of these studies, to discuss them in terms of technique, and to explain the rationale behind your portfolio selection (i.e. its value to you as a means of rigorous practice and technical development).”

I found the whole process of analysing which bits of my technique I needed to develop on really interesting. My teacher and I spent a lot of time talking about which exercises would suit me best. We decided on two Hanon studies No.27 and No.28 from part II of The Virtuoso Pianist, and used Pianoforte Technique On An Hour a Day by Geoffrey Tankard and Eric Harrison – this book was actually introduced to me by Allan Schiller when I was 15/16 but I didn’t really know what to do with it then!
I worked my way through the different sections in Tankard’s book selecting exercises that would work on thumb flexibility and movement, arpeggios, strengthening of the weaker fingers, trills, octaves and repeated notes.

My favourite exercise was No.3 from the arpeggio section; it taught me a lot about thumb movement, forearm and wrist rotation and keeping the wrists soft.

Arpeggios – No.3 from An Hour a Day

My love of technical exercises and fascination with developing technique definitely came from my time studying with Melanie Spanswick. I’m always working out ways I can develop my technique and improve, which is why I’ve continued to use these exercises after taking the assessment. I know there are some musicians who see the yearly technical assessment as a one time thing that they have to pass, so they start practising scales/exercises over the Christmas holiday ready for the assessment in January. That may be the only time they actively practice their technique outside of their main repertoire each year.

I think it’s really important to keep technical work bubbling away – it doesn’t need to be a chore if you can see and feel improvement! Make up your own technical exercises, get inventive to make it more interesting. If you get bored then you won’t make improvement. If you find yourself drilling out Hanon for the sake of it and not actually knowing what the purpose is, then ask yourself why you have chosen that exercise and what it’s actually doing to help. If the answer is I don’t know then put the exercise away and pick something else that is more focused on what you need to develop.
Your routine doesn’t need to start out very complicated, maybe pick one exercise to learn a week and build up from there. It’s better to start a routine than not have one at all.

My technique is still a work-in-progress but I can see how I’ve developed over the last two years: I can now play scales much more fluently than I ever have been able to, my arpeggios are still improving and my fingers are becoming stronger and more independent – finally starting to obey me more!

Happy practising,

Where to buy

Tankard’s An Hour a Day –

Hanon The Virtuoso Pianist –

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