Holy Schytte! Making 5-Finger Patterns Fun

There’s way too many exercises out there, and so many of them are incredibly boring but also incredibly useful.

What’s a piano teacher to do, when they know the student needs skills to already be in place to move forward, but they just don’t want to take their piano medicine?

Simple: give them a way to practice that’s incredibly engaging. More on that in a minute.

Let’s take a look at some of the patterns organized by Ludvig Schytte:

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On a single page in “School of Modern Pianoforte Virtuosity”, published in Berlin in 1892, Schytte and Rosenthal have 51 really useful patterns in the key of G Major laid out. It all fits in the G Major position, but some interesting instructions are given:

  1. They should be played repeatedly, staring at the notes. (pro tip: this creates a lock between the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic experiences)

  2. The exercises should “also be played in contrary movement”. (They don’t notate this part. It forces the student to think, and invert the patterns mentally. Maybe save this for more advanced students).

  3. The patterns are meant to be played in every key. (Wait, you mean like what Jazz and Blues teachers do now? Huh?)

Many of the great piano pedagogues of 100+ years ago compiled volumes of pattern libraries like this to accompany other studies like repertoire, harmony, counterpoint, etc… and some, like the works of Hanon, are controversial. There’s also the Lizst exercises, which can totally injure anyone who plays them without professional guidance (and in some cases even with professional guidance).

Setting aside the issue of repetitive strain injury for a moment (Google “Alexander Technique” and “Taubman Institute”), let’s look at all of this in a different context: pattern recognition. There’s more than one reason for why Rachmaninov played all the Hanon stuff in every key.

It wasn’t just finger yoga; it’s also mental, and meditative.

To illustrate this, check out the works of Hannah Smith. Published over 100 years ago, Smith’s “Progressive Sight Reading Exercises for Piano” has a lot to offer when you let go of the need for singable, amazing melodies and harmonies. If you approach it like the Karate Kid, “wax on, wax off”, there are some amazing benefits to completely mindless repetition of patterns.

The Smith exercises are meant to be played only once each, at sight. They aren’t meant to be studied, must be played slowly, and there’s (drumroll….) hundreds of them! EAT YOUR HEART OUT DOZEN A DAY!!!

Warming up with a few patterns like this before diving into great music (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Palestrina, Gershwin) is a beneficial way to lift the mental weights of reading music.

Despite the benefits, going to the antique sight reading gym still has a key problem for most modern students: From Czerny to Schytte, from Smith to Bona, most of this material is hyper-boring.

Back when people had attention spans, the answer was etudes: good sounding bite sized pieces, by pedagogical composers… like Heller, Gurlitt, and Burgumuller, and also some of the pedagogical works of Bartok, and simpler, more approachable works.

But now, students often try to skip the nuts and bolts, or snooze through their method books (which theoretically have sequenced, simplified versions of these “magnum opus” technical libraries). What if we could keep them more engaged, right now? Before problems develop.

Click Here and click/tap “Get Started” to check out a lesson plan that covers the first Schytte pattern in a totally different way: with harmonies, in a backing track, that loops and invites the student to improvise inside the pattern. On mobile, students can play along with the looping tracks, and on desktop and iPad, they can even watch the cursor scroll across the notation so that with every repetition, the visual pattern is anchored more deeply to the sound and the feeling.


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