I’m a harp nerd. I love technique. I love exercises where I can flex my technical muscle. And I love teaching technique.
Yet sometimes the response from students is less than enthusiastic. Over the years I have even had a number of new students request ‘no technique’ as part of the lesson plan, be it in the form of exercises, studies or even a focus on how to hold your hands or use your fingers. Technique is seen as unimportant, secondary (and separate) to actually playing the instrument. The comment is often made “I don’t want to be a professional harpist, so I don’t need to learn technique. I just want to play the harp”. And that is Myth Number 1- that technique is only for ‘serious’ players.
In any action or activity in life, the doing of the thing and the way the thing is done is inseparable. It is the way of doing something that is known as ‘technique’. When seen in this light it is impossible to learn to play any instrument without learning technique. And, therefore, the better you know the technique, the better (and usually easier) you play.
Myth Number 2 is closely related- technique is superfluous. Anyone can play without it. Look at all those self taught people. They didn’t learn technique- they just play. Technique (and the study of it) seems to serve no purpose. Yet the reality is that even self taught people, or people who ‘just play’ are still using technique. It might be a technique completely of their own making (I’m looking at you, Harpo Marx!). It might be something they’ve picked up on from watching some YouTube vids, or by reading a method book. But they still have a technique, a way of doing what they do.
When taking the time to focus on and perfect the way you play, you are enhancing your own natural technique. While there is an ideal in every technique, the ideal has to be applied to real live people. Everyone’s hands have their own particular quirks, and a good teacher will take those into account while heading the student towards the ideal. As Captain Barbossa from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ might say technique is “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules”. But they are guidelines that draw on the experience of countless fabulous players before us, and if we ignore them, our playing will very definitely suffer in some way.
Myth Number 3 is that technique is boring. Ok, well sometimes it is as interesting as a plate of vegetables, meaning that it isn’t a sugar coated, deep fried piece of yumminess. But technique is colourful, has lots of different textures, you can do lots with it, and it is terribly good for you. What matters is how that plate of vegetables is served up. That’s where an inspiring teacher is as good as cheese sauce on broccoli.
Tune in for Part 2 of this series to hear about 3 reasons why you should practice technique.