This may come as a shock to some of my older students and their parents, but I wasn’t always a fan of the book of exercises officially titled “The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises for the Piano,” composed by Charles-Louis Hanon (which we affectionately refer to as just Hanon). This was during my difficult teen years, some of which I didn’t even spend taking piano lessons (and look at me now!). I even resisted Hanon (and the advanced exercises by Czerny) in my first few years of college.
And then I injured my hands one summer, and my doctor told me, first, that I had to take probably about a year off from playing to fully heal (if I could avoid using my hands for, say, a month, maybe that’s as long as it would have taken to get back into the game. But since you pretty much can’t be a functioning member of society without hands, the recovery time was much longer). It was actually closer to two years before I started training again on my level (as opposed to playing music at my students’ level), and one of the first things I picked up was my copy of Virtuoso Pianist. It was around this time that some of my students started progressing to a point where they could handle the exercises themselves, so Hanon became pretty much a few-times-a-week – if not daily – occurrence.
Because I guess a part of me still resists Hanon, I don’t ever practice much further than a few ahead of where my students are in the book. My most advanced student currently is up to Hanon 10, so I practice to around 12.
Generally speaking, I practice until I start to get frustrated, that is, until all the musical doodles become too much for my fingers or my brain, and I start stumbling over myself at whatever high speed I have chosen to work at (I pretty much play through my exercises at about twice the speed of my students, give or take about 20 bpm).
Up until yesterday.
Because of Christmas-time recitals, I really haven’t touched my Hanon since about mid October, and at that time, I was working steadily up to Hanon 14. So yesterday, I have to note, was the first time in two and a half months that I even opened the book. And yesterday I flew through the first, oh, THIRTY exercises. I repeat – the first 30 exercises. In 2.5 months of not practicing, somehow I got better at 18 new exercises. As the kids like to ironically say, “no big deal.”
This year, I started to study this wacky form of brain yoga called Shiva Nata. Shiva Nata is basically eight hand positions that you combine in increasingly complex patterns, the learning and execution of which actually strengthens the (or creates new) neural connections in your brain. It’s crazy stuff. It’s crazy hard. And it’s the only thing that I can figure is the explanation behind powering through 30 exercises (18 of which I have never played before).
That’s kind of big. Shiva Nata has helped me to realize and understand a lot of things about myself, and I have felt its influence in teeny ways in my piano playing, but it has never been this tangible or measurable. So I just had to share. I mean, there may be another, perfectly legitimate reason for this breakthrough in my playing. But I can’t figure it out, so for now, we’re going with this.
You can read more about Shiva Nata and Me (it sounds like a play, or a cheesy sitcom), at the blog I have devoted to my own practice and my own teaching of it.