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Your views on fingering exercises or exercises of mechanism

Andante cantabile

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For some time I have been doing some of these exercises included in the Universal Method, mainly as part of the warm-up. I am sure they do no harm, but I wonder whether they are actually productive of skills that etudes or pieces do not give me.

The type of exercise I have in mind typically consists of a few bars of a more or less repetitive nature, and it is meant to give you more nimble fingering and a better tone, obviously highly desirable outcomes.

I am not talking about page-length exercises aimed at getting you into scales, arpeggios, diminished sevenths and the like, or exercises that teach you techniques such as slurring, staccato, subtones, etc.

What has your experience been with exercises of mechanism?
 

jbtsax

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Each of those "exercises of mechanism" tends to focus on a particular set of finger movements. They are very effective way to build technical skill because they isolate a finger pattern and provide repetition. As far as putting them in a "warm up" per se, my view is that once facility is mastered on a given exercise, then it is time to move on to the next. Repetition every day of something you can already play is like running on a hamster wheel. You are doing work, but not moving forward. My idea of an effective technical warm up would include things like running all of the major, minor, various jazz scales or modes around the circle of 5ths. Not all at the same time, but progressing from one to the next.

One of my teaching tools has been to help students to identify passages with challenging fingering patterns in solo literature or etudes and to write out a repeated exercise similar to the "exercises of mechanism" to work out the difficulty. I try to convey to them that it is important to practice what you can't play rather than what you can in order to become a better player. Even though the latter is a lot more enjoyable.
 
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Wade Cornell

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Excellent advice from jbtsax. Would only add a note of caution. Before you move on make sure that the element of time is as precise as possible. I developed a very bad habit of running exercises of all sorts without much reference to time which meant that the easy fingerings went faster than the harder bits. Took years to correct this habit. Had to go back to basics and reteach my old brain and fingers. Within and between exercises don't let the hard bits drag down the tempo and practice them until you have them up to a tempo that is even and consistent.

Another habit that can cause problems are pauses where one has made a mistake. When playing with others this is a killer. You've got to learn as early as possible to "play through", which means that you don't pause or stop but keep the music (or exercise) going even though you miss playing some notes. This is much more important than most think as it is an exercise in keeping the flow of what you are reading/hearing. Initially most players are strictly mechanical (read note, hold correct keys down). This means that the player might not have a clue what sound is going to be coming out of their horn. Good practice can lead to hearing what those notes should be and playing them with integrity. If one wants to improvise effectively this is an absolute necessity. You've got to be able to hear what you want to play and have the horn an extension of you.

Developing effective practice technique can eliminate having to go back and break bad habits. Unfortunately I know.
 
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