A Lesson from Ballet Class, Part 1

Being a piano teacher, most of my work is after school hours, so in the mornings, I’ve taken a job accompanying ballet classes at the local university.  It’s been a fascinating experience, and I wanted to share some things that I think have some relevance to the piano lesson.

Ballet classes are typically structured in two parts – barre and center.  Exercises done at the barre are carefully designed to warm-up and work the muscles that, later on, will be engaged in the center combinations.  Passé exercises train and remind the body where it’s balance point is, which is essential in pirouettes and arabesque turns.  Plié and Relevé help strengthen the legs and ankles, preventing injury and enabling jumps.

This sequential approach to technical warm-ups is something I find very useful in piano teaching as well.  About a year ago, I started beginning each of my students lessons with a progressive warm up.  It begins with scales, continues on to arpeggios and triads, and ends with exercises, such as those in the “Dozen a Day” series or the “Technique and Artistry” books in the Piano Adventures method.

I soon discovered that this extensive and sequential warm-up is incredibly useful!  When I started, I was afraid I was spending too much time on technique (about 10 minutes of a 30-minute lesson; more with longer lessons.)  But I soon realized that those 10 minutes make the next 20 so much more productive.  Not only do technical exercises warm-up the body, they warm up the mind and the ears as well.  Everything gets better – not just the technical challenges in their repertoire, but their sight-reading and theory work as well.

So…don’t skimp on the warm-ups!  Not being warmed-up in piano won’t lead to a nasty fall or sprained ankle like it will in ballet, but the potential for injury and frustration is there just the same, and it’s easily avoidable.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of what I’ve learned in ballet class.  Pennies in the bank!

2 comments to A Lesson from Ballet Class, Part 1

  • Jason

    That’s great and I love the idea. Just curious though – what might you do with young students or beginners that don’t have a repertoire of scales etc? With my younger ones, I notice many of them “warm up” on their own; by “playing” or “banging” on the keys when they first show up. What other teachers might think of as misbehaving, I let them do it because I figure they’re getting acquainted to the instrument. Just curious your thoughts on the young students.

  • In addition to the Fabers’ Technique and Artistry books for Primer and Level 1, there are a few books I use that have warm-ups for beginners. Lynn Freeman Olson’s “Finger Starters” has some good stuff in it, as does the old “Music Pathways” method.

    Also, we can review finger numbers (“Wiggle your 2s, wiggle your 3s, etc..”), do finger pull-ups, or some of the exercises from Julie Knerr’s “Piano Safari” series, some of which were detailed in her article in the MTNA e-Journal.


    (Check out the video tutorials they put up – they’re very good!)