Practice the Piano Driving Your Car
You can practice the piano driving your car. I know you’ll say it sounds insane, but it’s really not. I use one hand to steer, flexing the other hand. First of all, the piano is mostly a mental exercise, but at higher levels, it requires physical conditioning similar to that of the professional athlete and dancer.
Most beginners never get to the level that requires such athletics. But beginners would do better and have more fun if they paid even minimal attention to the physical demands of the piano keyboard. Most beginner fingers are incredibly weak.
Mechanical Finger Conditioning
The type of conditioning your fingers need is purely mechanical, mindless and repetitive movement of the fingers in certain patterns that help develop the muscles correctly. The great pianist and teacher Liszt (1870) suggested practicing finger exercises or passages while reading a book, and many did so.
I use a television mounted on a practice piano. I watch a sitcom of 22 minutes average length, and that is a “set” to me. The results are astounding, and appear slowly but surely. See if you can stand 4 sets a day. But what about when you are not at the piano?
Finger Exercise In The Car
There are many activities that take only a small portion of our brain, leaving the rest of your brain available to operate your fingers. Most of us spend some time in the car or train each day, and we are captives of the capsule. But put on a CD of some bouncy music, and you have a piano finger aerobic class waiting to happen.
First of all, it is the last two fingers that need the exercise. The thumb, index and middle finger are very strong and need no further development until the fourth and fifth finger (ring and pinky) are strengthened to an equal degree. The movement needed is as follows, where the index finger is used as an example. Watch the video below.
Move your index finger from a straight position until it touches your palm, and then back to a straight position. You are trying to flex the finger as much as possible, without straining at all. If you cannot touch your palm easily, then stop short of your palm at whatever distance is comfortable. Try this sequence with one hand, in time to the music on your CD (I like Motown classics): pinky, pinky, ring, ring, pinky, pinky, ring, ring. Not fast, but slow and steady.
Pick a song that has a steady beat, like Marvin Gaye’s "Got To Give It Up". I like to include third finger (middle) as well, because the last three fingers tend to operate as a group in piano literature anyway. Try flexing all three fingers at once some times.
Play: Pinky, pinky, ring, ring, middle, middle, ring, ring. Keep repeating or vary as you wish. The point is to keep your weaker fingers flexing toward the palm as much as possible over time. Any piece of music that adds up to eight or four beats will work. When you tire a finger, retire the hand and work the other hand until it tires and then switch back.
Never push or over exert the muscles, for tendonitis is easy to get and will effectively end your piano career for a while. You can also use the thumb and index as part of the sequence if only to relieve the weaker fingers a break. Try skipping fingers as well: pinky, pinky, middle, middle, ring, ring, index, index.
This idea is partly based on a discussion between Vladimir Horowitz and one of his students, where Horowitz told the young pianist to devise custom exercises for his own hands, and apply them relentlessly. Since the piano requires brute strength in addition to brains and heart, here is a good way to get as brute as you like. Driving is time wasted anyway.
I know people who have adopted this idea and practice on commuter trains, busses and carpools. You’d be surprised what 45 minutes a day, twice a day, will do for the strength of your piano fingers. The results are spectacular and make use of valuable time that would otherwise be wasted.