New Age Philipp

Okay, so let’s talk about being stuck, shall we? Or, rather, to start it on a positive note, about getting unstuck. Why do people end up in this situation in the first place? Well, there are probably heavy books about this topic, and I’m risking to sound too pretentious trying to figure it out in one paragraph, but anyway. I think that the principal reason here is the fear of new things, lack of exciting stuff and the rigid habits that keep us from progressing. It is safe to play the same set of exotic scales and independence exercises for months even though it gets incredibly boring. Weirdly enough, the fear of new might become so strong that it will make boredom look acceptable, even cozy. Which sucks, because now you have to turn everything upside down, mate. But I’ve been there, and I emerged on the other end. So, to wrap up this rather longish intro — how did I break from this trap? That’s right — I jumped head-on into the most dissonant, weird and scary routine: Exercises for Independence of the Fingers by Isidor Phillip.

It’s a monumental work that’s been very popular among classical pianists and, in fact, remains one of the most recommended books on the topic of finger independence, which it clearly states in the title. It is also one of the most crazy, dissonant, finger-cribbling, brain-melting, thought-freezing, torpor-inducing, I-suck-so-much-attitude-provoking source of piano exercises I have ever used in my life. Basically, what it does is it tells you to set your hands in a fucked up position and then make sure your every single finger is being fucked up in an equal measure. And, as if this were not enough, it tells you to transpose the whole thing in all 12 keys. So, as you can see, it sounds like a perfect solution for pretty much any desperate plateau situation.

I started on the first page. It took me several days to master this finger-twister in several keys. In fact, it’s a pretty pleasant-sounding exercise, take a listen:

(Just in case: I’m only playing the 2nd bar, moving it around the circle of 5ths starting on C.)

Then, of course, I skipped to the middle of the second book (classic) and embarked on this one:

That was terrible. It sounded nothing like music and was unbearably hard to play in fast tempos. But I got through it! And guess what? Because of its insane complexity, it required my entire processing power to focus on it, so I ended up having to move my mouse cursor as my laptop screen went dark as I was familiarising with the pattern. I was finally doing the Work! The feeling of getting off the plateau gave me a huge boost of confidence and I jumped right to the second part of the book to attack this monster:

Yeah, baby. It was fun to learn. I remember spending an entire hour of my 3-hour routine just learning this incredibly fucked up pattern. And I got this one nailed too! Check out how awful it sounds:

Want a joke? They are, in fact, just two parts of one mega-pattern that is supposed to be played with two hands simultaneously! Yes, you can do it. I decided not to record as it would probably have taken me ages to get a clean take 🙈

Have you noticed the amount of occurrences of the phrase “fucked up” in this text? I guess I might have surpassed my normal threshold, and that’s not without a reason. In fact, upon closer analysis of this exercise I realised that Mr. Philipp apparently did that with of good intention, and not at all to make my brain melt. He made me play all those diminished chords because he cared about my finger dexterity and he didn’t want me to do the stretching exercises while I’m focusing on independence skills. But what if he didn’t give a fuck? What if he went all berserk? I can do anything in the name of musicality, dude! Stretch over a major 10th in order to get something that sound a ted more musical? Hell yeah!

So I did that. Or, to be precise, I undid — all the diminishing, all the flattening, all that was supposed to accommodate my poor fingers. And look, mom, what come out of it!

Isn’t it amazing? This is the same pattern, but with all minor and diminished intervals replaced with their natural versions. Here’s the left hand:

Here’s the right:

And both hands together:

Doesn’t it sound almost like a new age minimalist piece? It sure does! Therefore, I decided to call this rendition of the classic exercise the “New Age Philipp”. Of course, we can develop it further and conceive a left hand figure that might be very useful in improvisation. And — remember all those patterns I’ve been talking since forever in this blog? Well, you can just incorporate them here and make this exercise sound even less like an exercise!

I remember watching a video on YouTube with a classical pianist explaining how Philipp’s books are purely technical, absolutely non-musical and how you should think about them only as a workout for your fingers. But guess what? Seems like you just need to tweak a tool a bit, and it will become the source of inspiration.

And, to conclude this post, a little piece makes use of the above patterns — both in left and right hands:

By the way, if you are by chance in listening to some longer pieces that I record, feel free to check my Spotify page or my SoundCloud stream, or just google me and check out my releases on all the streaming platforms in all possible universes. I do them — releases, not universes (unless you’re a quantum physicist on the free ride through the Web) — I do them pretty often, and it’s not just piano. But that’a topic for another plug!

Voilà, I hope this was helpful for you guys and that you have learned something! If you don’t have these books, definitely go buy them, they are awesome, and, by all means — harmonise till it hurts! (Metaphorically, not proverbially, keep your fingers safe.)


So yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this blog, hasn’t it? Of course, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been practicing all this time. I have — profoundly, frenetically, exhaustingly, desperately, stubbornly, angrily, revealingly, understandingly, finally, productively…

I’ve been going through things, as you can see. Stages of that dumb process we all know under a benign name of “getting stuck”. I knew it was happening when I realised that I’m trying to extend my breakfast while involuntarily trying to postpone the beginning of the practice session — because I was facing the fear of not knowing what to begin with, also known as “hitting the wall” and — even more bitter-sounding “reaching plateau”.

I recognised that deserted, lifeless Martian valley the moment I arrived there. When I found myself sitting at the keyboard and playing the intricate left hand figure, repeating in all keys around the cycle of 4ths while trying to control the feeling of hopelessness the whole exercise was causing in me — I knew that was it. I got stuck. I hit the wall. I reached plateau. And today I am finally writing this post I’ve been planning for months while crawling across the desert, passing by the burned skeletons of the musicians who gave up, I was dragging my weak body like the main character of Jack London’s “Love of Life”, forcefully feeding myself with dissonant exotic scales and finger-twisting I. Philipp’s exercises that have zero music to them. I was advancing at the speed of one inch per hour towards the faraway hills behind which, I hoped, lay the ocean, and, feeble and exhausted, I finally got there. I emerged on the other end.

Luckily, during my desperate journey I kept a little diary, writing down things that helped me stay alive, and in the next series of posts I am going to share them with you. I cannot guarantee that they will save you from the Great Torpor when it arrives, but I’m hopeful they will help alleviate the pain and help you make your way through that desert plateau. I might probably also have used the trendy phrase “flatten the curve”, but it just doesn’t work in the context of plateau.

Expect some new material soon! And in the meantime — feel free to listen to my new album that I released about a month ago. It’s on my SoundCloud and like, everywhere. Now, practice! 👉🏻

Scoring the same trailer twice, announcing the new album (and other ways to avoid the consistent piano practice)

Hey, what’s going on people? I’m so sorry to have left this blog in the free flight mode for over a month now. Doesn’t mean I haven’t been practicing though 🤓 So yeah, I have a ton of things going on (and this is one of the reasons why I had to disappear for a while). I know this is a piano practice blog, but may I just share some of my recent projects here?

So I had a chance to take part in some scoring competitions and here’s what came out of it. (For the record — scoring competitions are perfect for persons like me who struggle to combine editor and composer skills, as, by entering a competition, you normally get access to high-quality material it would have otherwise taken ages for you to create yourself 🙈).

All of them are scores for the Native Instruments’ library trailers.

The first one is called Before and After Humans:

Those heavenly voices you hear here come from the NKS library that the trailer was promoting. I just pitched them a bit (and wrote the rest of the music).

The second one is the one I actually did twice — it literally had from the very start two versions that I equally liked, so I submitted my first one (20 minutes before the deadline, as I always do) and then, the week after the deadline was long past due, I went ahead and scored the trailer the second time. The first version goes like this:

And here’s the second one:

I overdid them both a bit in terms of length, so I still had to spend some time editing my own footage in order to make up for the extra timing, but with the gorgeous NI reel doing the main visual job, it went much quicker.

To complete my list of excuses of not publishing a new practice routine in a month, I’m going to add that I’m currently actively working on my new album that’s going to come out in 2020. Here’s a little sneak peek into what it will sound like:

Hope it was not too much for you guys to digest and somehow still relevant to the topic of this blog. I am currently organising my recent piano findings and will be back with some exciting practice posts very soon! Till then — harmonise ’till it hurts! (Not proverbially, metaphorically, okay?) 🤙🏻

Hanon gone wild

Let’s talk about Hanon today, shall we? The man that lived way before internets and yet managed to give his book such a clickbait title that it is still among the most revered sources of piano exercises. Virtuoso Pianist.  Who wants to become one? I do, I do, I do! All I need to do is just study these seemingly easy passages, be diligent, and that’s it, right? Sick! (That was me getting all 3 volumes after my first piano class and totally brushing over the author’s modest side-note about first results being noticeable after 10 years of focused practice.)

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Well, Hanon is indeed awesome and absolutely timeless. I enjoy playing these exercises on piano and on bass as well (low-end folk — in case it was an “aha” moment — you’re welcome). There are two different approaches to Hanon books: first is purely mechanical and linear: “I’m going to play these exercises every day until I vomit, and after that, I’m going to persevere”. This is fairly counterproductive and quite miserable. By the time you’re virtuoso, chances are you’re deeply screwed in terms of mental health. Then there’s a second approach (my choice): viewing Hanon exercises as a framework or a huge box of Lego blocks that you can fiddle around with any way you want and use them to build your practice in the most musical way possible — possibly also slipping into composition. To put it bluntly, it’s about making the monotony ane mechanisticity your bitches as opposed to being their bitch on your 10-year path to the virtuoso status.

Here’s how it works for me.

This is my favourite exercise from the Book 1, it is numbered 31 and has a little note that says “1-2-3-4-5, and extensions”. My favourite part about it is its sound. The two descending patterns played at a third, simultaneously moving up the scale, just sound freaking marvellous.

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But that’s just the basic preset. What are we going to do with it? Personally, I enjoy transposing Hanon. It feels super awkward and might be very frustrating at first, but, if you think of it, it is an extremely effective way to learn the scale. Much more effective then a dull scale run or even a not-so-dull scale run. Hanon exercises are very much like DNA molecules — you only need to figure out the fingering for the first two bars, the rest is just logic. Here’s the same figure in F major, for example:

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(FYI — it’s played an octave higher than written. Because I care about you ledger line haters! 😄)

By the way, if you’re too lazy to transpose things on your own, there’s a 1000-something-page book called “Hanon Deluxe”, in which it has all been done for you (it’s not a paid link). But honestly, it’s just a little bit of extra effort.

Then, of course, there are modes! Here’s the same Nº31, now played in C Dorian. I don’t care that the pattern is 150 years old, I love its sound, dammit!

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Now, sooner or later playing the same stuff with both hands does get repetitive and exercise-y (although it takes much, much longer compared to the scales and arpeggios). What’s up next? Well, considering that all Hanon exercises are, in fact, nothing else than scales taking weird routes from the lowest tone to the highest, you can harmonise them! How do we harmonise things so they sound nice? We use fancy-ass left hand patterns! (You can’t imagine how hard it was for me to not to hyperlink the word “fancy-ass” to one of the earlier left hand posts.)

Here’s the infamous Nº31 played over the C major scale harmonised with 10th chords (in this case, I went from C to F, hoping that you’ll get the idea). ☝🏻 Play it 8va, people!

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As soon as you enter the realm of harmonisation, there are no limits anymore. Quoting Trillian from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — you’re on a spaceship, Arthur — in space! Therefore, Hanon gets completely wild.


Here I’m playing the classic i — VI — III — VII progression beloved by a lot of cinema composers, using the 10th-based diatonic structures in the left hand and harmonised Hanon figures Nº31 and Nº20 that are played third above the root of each chord. Sounds fancy right?

Let’s break it down. You’ve already seen Nº31, here’s the Nº20.

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It’s very similar and is supposed to be used for “extension of 2-4, 4-5”. But we’re not stretching fingers here. We’re stretching the concepts of piano studies. (How bold was that statement?) I played it at an octave and in C major, but I could have played it at any interval and in any key of any mode, right? Just got me another Lego block.

Here’s the bass pattern for my i — VI — III — VII progression that Hans would have sued me for if he were reading my blog, but he’s long past virtuoso stage, so we’re cool.

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And here’s the whole thing again:

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As you can see, both Hanon figures are transposed to match their underlying chord and they run a diatonic 3rd above the left hand line. As you will notice, it is also a killer workout for finger independence!

So, that was it on hacking Hanon, making monotony your bitch and becoming a virtuoso pianist in— an extended period of time. I hope it was not too long, too blatant or too geeky. Feel free to let me how your practice is going and whether you’ve managed to fit some of the recent stuff in your routine. And until next time — harmonise ’till it hurts! (Metaphorically, folks.) 🤓

Practicing finger independence without killing the musicality

Alrighty, I’m back from the little procrastination vacation during which I practiced as normal, but just couldn’t sit down and write a post about it, because there are so many new things going on! I’ve got some new books and came up with a bunch of wild left hand lines, but let’s start with something everyone struggles with. The finger independence! 🤙🏻

Of course, there is a well-known proven way to achieve independence nirvana and leave all trouble behind: just take your trusty Isidor Philipp and Carl Czerny books, put them on the note stand and spend some years perfecting each and every exercise in them — up until your brain starts melting from harsh diminished chord sounds and strenuous patterns. It works like a charm, the only problem with it — it freaking drives you crazy! (For the record — I love I. Philipp series and I do use them in my routine, but very sparsely, and I stop as soon as I notice nosebleeding.)

Being a huge proponent of the piano practice that’s also musical and meaningful, I came up with a couple of (relatively simple) independence exercises that don’t just challenge the fingers but also sound much less exercise-y. You can use them in different contexts and extend them endlessly. It was hugely inspired by the book Piano Technique by Ariel J. Ramos that I’ve read recently. Highly recommend!

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Yes, just a C minor scale cut in groups of 3 notes and played by both hands with a 1-beat offset. I recommend playing it one octave higher than you see it in the sheet music, as it has the tendency of getting muddy. The next step would be to try and play something more interesting with the left hand, rather than just mirroring the right hand pattern.

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That’s right, I’ve just switched to the minor triads. Here I’m playing the Cm scale runs over the Cm arpeggio — not really the full-sized 2-octave one, but rather the incomplete version of it. You can view it as a broken Cm 10th chord if you wish. And you know that I love 10th chords, don’t you?

Next improvement — upgrading the right hand pattern. I’m just going to copy the left hand and play 10th arp’s with both.

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I have not mentioned, but I’m pretty sure by now you’ve figured that you can use pretty much any melodic pattern of any quality within this note grouping. Of course, the bigger the intervals, the trickier it gets! Let’s try something fancy:

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Here’s the infamous Garner ballad bass pattern (normally used in the left hand, but who cares), played over the arpeggiated triad with the same 1-beat lag. It sounds awesome! (If you want to learn more about Garner bass, I have a whole post about it, check it out.) I would then go ahead and take me some II — V — I’s or a chord progression and play it using this independence framework. And then, of course, I would transpose it and throw it around the cycle of 4ths. And only then will I reverently open the I. Philipp’s Exercises for Independence of the Fingers, Part I— Just kidding! 😄

But seriously, in my opinion, it is super important for any exercise to be something that’s rewarding in the end — so that when you finally master it, you can enjoy playing it freely. Unfortunately, if you try enjoying some of the standard finger independence drills, it will most likely be very, very hard, as ther are rarely musical in their nature.

Okay, hopefully, that was helpful and you’ve found something new for your practice routine! If not — stay tuned for the next post, I think I’m going to share some fresh left hand hacks! Until then — harmonise ’till it hurts! (Not proverbially, people, keep your fingers relaxed.)