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Barry Baker HOW TO USE KAWAI'S CA SERIES PIANOS' BUILT-IN FINGER EXERCISES

The word, "exercise," carries a negative connotation for some, although its merits are well-founded in many aspects of life.

I considered composing this entry using "chocolate cake" in every instance where the word, "exercise," would appear in order to take the edge off. Perhaps I've already succeeded in making the visceral connection...so now we can get on with it (sans word substitution)!

The built-in finger exercises found in your CA series digital piano do not require a mat nor a shower afterward. They are, however, what I refer to as "finger food:" chicken soup for the tendons. And for the mind. It's not just about "the digits." Cultivating a skilled technique involves the hands and the mind, as I see it. And the CA piano's exercise material encourages the development of both.

Scales, arpeggios, the acclaimed Hanon pieces (from "The Virtuoso Pianist"), and other related exercises encompass the CA's skill-sharpening inventory (included in the three CA model pianos: CA51, CA71, and CA91). To access this material, press the button labeled "Lesson" on the left side of the panel. Now, use the two "Menu" buttons to the left of the display screen to locate the type of exercise (which will be detailed in the display screen). The "Play" button to the right side of the panel will start the selected exercise.

This material delivers a noteworthy benefit to "going digital," as Kawai has included these exercises to help you play better and get more enjoyment from your piano.

Upon pressing the "Lesson" button (referenced above), the first five options through which the "Menu" buttons will navigate are Alfred method books. In my next blog entry, we'll be discussing these books and the corresponding material built into the piano in greater detail. Now, once you get past the fifth Alfred book in the menu, you'll be entering into the finger exercise section, beginning with scales (major, then all flavors of minor), arpeggios, chord inversions, cadence modulations, and 20 of the famous Hanon exercises from "The Virtuoso Pianist."

When an exercise is called up, the two "Value" buttons to the right of the display screen allow you to choose the key in which you'll hear the piece (each exercise defaults to the key of "C" when first selected). The exception to this rule is Hanon: The "Value" buttons in this instance select the exercise piece within the Hanon collection.

At any time, you may change the tempo of an exercise. You'll find that the default tempo for each piece is 120 beats per minute (with the Hanon pieces at 60).

Included with your CA piano is a book that has the notated score to every exercise in the instrument. Each scale, arpeggio, and so forth (in every key!) is shown--with fingering suggestions. This, unto itself, is a really nice resource.

I also like to point out that playing along with these built-in exercises can sure beat the loathsome, unmusical click of the metronome! (Although you can always press the CA piano's "Metronome" button to add "the click" while any of the exercises are playing.) Practicing with the built-in exercises can satisfy the metronomic need, as you'll be verifying your rhythmic accuracy against the instrument's recording (since you'll be playing simultaneously with it).

Let's look at a benefit for the student who's developed an undesirable habit of frequently repeating measures to "correct" mistakes as they pass by: Playing with the built-in exercise advantageously demands that the student "push forward" with evenness--regardless of whether every passing note is perfect or not. Again, the built-in recording does not wait--nor allow for the repetition of measures that were unsatisfactory.

Certainly there are times for corrective practice. But there are also times when students need to practice a piece straight through--to achieve "rhythmic fluency"--that is, no corrective hiccups (stopping and restarting). Practicing with a metronome alone doesn't necessarily bring about the result of fluency. Practicing with the built-in material in the CA piano is unforgiving! I see this as a nice plus.

Another perk to using the CA piano's onboard exercises is your ability to press the "Record" button (on the right side of the panel) instead of the "Play" button, when you've called up a selection to practice. Pressing "Record" starts the playback of the built-in exercise (just as the "Play" button did) but, now, the piano is recording your practicing right along with the instrument's built-in material.

This allows you to later monitor your practice results: Simply press the "Stop" button when you are finished, then "Play." Recording yourself here takes into account that it isn't easy to listen accurately while trying to push the right notes at the right time! Since multi-tasking is in the picture, why not critique yourself in greater detail after you've played, by way of the recording? Frequently, our listening skills are diminished while playing, so it's helpful to listen with greater precision after the performance.

And, when listening back, the balance slider allows you to completely mute the original exercise that's built into the piano. Move the slider all the way to the left and you'll be hearing only yourself playing back (without the ghostly teacher in the machine!).

Incidentally, when you select a new exercise, your recorded material on the previous exercise will be gone. The original built-in exercise will remain in the piano, but your recording will no longer exist. This is because recording in the "Lesson" mode allows for a temporary means of reviewing your progress--it's not intended to be "for keeps."

Now, a disclaimer. As my esteemed piano teacher, Richard Morris, used to warn, stop if you feel pain! Repetitiveness is an inherent part of practicing exercises. However, if it's overdone (or if one ignores warning signs), the outcome may not be beneficial at all. Get yourself in shape--within reason.

Finally, a few words about practicing strategies, as many philosophies exist. We do not necessarily advocate that you call up the built-in scales in your CA piano and practice each one in order, then progress to arpeggios in their entirety, then address all the other exercises. You may want to pay homage to the comprehensive treatment (isn't that what your first piano teacher, Mr. Tendinitis, used to enforce?), but I've encountered much sensible advice from respected sources promoting moderation--that is, a greater benefit to practicing in brief spurts than sweating out finger exercises for extended periods nonstop.

In many instances--particularly for "maintenance" once the exercises or musical selections are fairly fluent--you may find that segments of 15 to 20 minutes of practice dispersed throughout the morning, evening, or whole day if you can, will serve you better than the draining (and more potentially mind-wandering) single cinematic-length session.

My discovery over the years is that there is no practice panacea for all keyboardists; pianists have varying practice goals. Moreover, they're put together differently physiologically and psychologically. The "elongated sweat" may be best in certain circumstances for some pianists--particularly those enrolled in conservatory study or focused on achieving precise results for an upcoming piano competition.

However, for recreational pianists, please keep your practice routine reasonable, productive, and enjoyable! It's a good idea to keep your fingers fit, but you can do so within a friendly time frame--one that will be practical for you to uphold in the long-term.

Let's consider an analogy of body-building at the gym (= hours of practice at the conservatory level) versus aerobics (= recreational music for everyone). The first is a committed lifestyle that can overtake one's existence. The second is for nearly everyone, and serves as a healthful addition to many walks of life. Therefore, you're likely to find fulfillment and continued enjoyment in a practice schedule that you've made approachable and possible to maintain your loyalty to.

I recommend you find a teacher with whom you strike a chord (pun apology!) and follow his or her advice on the content and length of your practice sessions. And when you do, the CA piano will be waiting for you.

As we draw to a close, I'm going to launch into a whimsical coda: There are some who would identify the abbreviation "Capt." with "Captain." Well, this is very appropriate in this instance because your captain, or the acronym, "CAPT," is your "Concert Artist Personal
Trainer." Hokey, aren't I? But it's quite an appropriate designation given this invaluable workout feature of your CA piano.

And now for our final thought: IYWKP.

(Take a gander at our previous blog entries to unlock this cryptic collage of letters...it'll be at the end.)

Happy exercising.

— Barry Baker

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