“So, do you know what today is?” I asked the unsuspecting student who was preparing to play scales. The date was January 29. George looked at me bewildered. Was this some kind of joke? “It’s Kansas Day!” I announced, triumphant. As if there was a cartoon balloon rising above his head, I could see exactly what the kid was thinking: My piano teacher is nuts.

Kansas Day, I assured George, is a very big deal. In the week prior to the big day, kids spend a staggering amount of class time coloring both the Kansas flag and pictures of Jayhawks (the Jayhawk is MUCH easier to color, let me tell you). There are lessons on the state bird (Western meadow lark) and the state flower (Sunflower, obviously). We sing the state song “Home on the Range” (the best state song ever). Growing up in Kansas, these are all activities I remember fondly.

Although I haven’t lived in the state for three decades now, come January 29 I always remember Kansas Day, just as come March I find myself chanting “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” under my breath when I hear random news of the NCAA basketball tournament. My father grew up outside of Lawrence, Kansas, aka Jayhawk Country. Thanks to Dad, I knew the “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” cheer before I could walk. Truth be told, I don’t follow college basketball or care that much about KU’s ranking (don’t tell Dad), but nevertheless, these childhood touchstones are tattooed on my consciousness.

Which may be why I’m thinking about Basketball Fingers when teaching Five-Finger Positions these days. Basketball Fingers are simply a clever name for what Jane Allen, my college piano teacher, would have called Finger-Independent Exercises. While Ms. Allen was not much interested in clever nomenclature, she was right in thinking that the more independent each finger is, the more nimble and flexible our technique at the piano will be. I must credit Ms. Allen for the concept behind the following variations.

When teaching these Five-Finger Positions, I always assign students to play each hand separately, knowing that I will get more honest and accurate work if one hand isn’t covering up for the weaknesses of the other. The held note is to be firmly sustained throughout the robust and strong staccato notes (Dribble high! I tell students.) “Double-dribble” would also work well here with each staccato note being played twice (Re-Re Mi-Mi Fa-Fa…). I teach the positions in the following order because based on the mechanics of the hand, holding Re or Fa is much more difficult than Do or Sol. Just ask George.

 

  1. Hold Do and play forte and staccato: Re Mi Fa Sol Fa Mi Re
  2. Hold Sol and play forte and staccato: Do Re Mi Fa Mi Re Do
  3. Hold Mi and play forte and staccato: Do Re Fa Sol Fa Re Do
  4. Hold Re and play forte and staccato: Do Mi Fa Sol Fa Mi Do
  5. Hold Fa and play forte and staccato: Do Re Mi Sol Mi Re Do
  6. Hold Do and Sol and play forte and staccato: Re Mi Fa Mi Re

Happy March Madness! (Rock Chalk Jayhawk!)