By Elizabeth Delaney
While I find that I enjoy many different genres of music, I've become keenly aware that there are benefits to studying classical music, even though I'm primarily a singer who just uses my keyboard or my acoustic guitar as accompaniment. With most classical pieces, it can take several weeks before you're truly comfortable with it. This being the case, I have discovered that if I don't like the piece I'm studying, it's extremely difficult to exercise the discipline to stick with the song. I typically like the romantic era of the classics the best. I especially like Chopin. And for me, studying something I like is often where I find that dividing line between a piece that frustrates me and one I label as challenging. Challenge is where I experience growth.
My favorite benefit from studying classical music is that it helps to develop good technique -- which can sometimes be a battle. Especially if you've developed some bad habits. Since bad habits are typically subconscious, they can be hard to overcome. The good news is that a habit is a learned thing. So if a conscious, consistent effort is made to adopt a good habit and stop the bad one, the good habit will eventually become the subconscious one, replacing the bad one. And fighting that battle is definitely worth it.
More specifically, one of the many benefits of studying classical music is that it encourages good fingering. With many pieces, this aspect of technique will make or break the piece. It's a foundational issue -- just as being able to read the notes is foundational. If the fingering is good, the song can be played cleanly more easily. The more subconscious good fingering becomes, the easier it is to think about dynamics and stage presence, which are a great way for a musician to add depth and visual appeal to what he or she is playing. And if it's an up-tempo song, clean play automatically lends itself to speed. Classical music is the most difficult to play. So when a musician begins mastering songs in that genre, these skills are wonderfully transferable. Also, as someone who enjoys songwriting and recording music, I find that studying classical pieces has inspired ideas for creating songs with a fuller and even more creative sound.
Improved Damper Pedal Use
Another benefit specific to keyboardists or pianists is more effective use of the damper pedal. Something that I've noticed about classical music is that, since it's typically more complex than contemporary music, it's much easier for an incorrectly used damper pedal to make a classical piece sound dissonant where it should have a solidly melodic sound. It can also add a crispness where appropriate. These benefits will lend themselves to musicians having a more precise, professional sound.
Studying classical music also encourages an enhanced ability to focus. Not only is it physically demanding, but it's also mentally demanding. It's the ultimate multi-tasking experience. In fact, if I'm working on a classical piece, I'll often work on that before any other piece. If my mind is tired, I don't do as well. And it's amazing how easy the less demanding things become after I've worked on a classical song.
Some of the longest songs ever created are classical pieces. If there's any doubt, consider all the symphonic pieces written down through history. This being the case, studying classical music enhances endurance. Both physically and mentally. In addition to classical music, something else I've found helpful is a book by Charles Lewis Hanon entitled, The Virtuoso-Pianist. This book has 60 finger exercises that strengthen fingers, especially fingers four and five (the weakest ones on the human hand) and makes them more agile. Perfect for gaining the victory over those pieces of music that sit on that thin dividing line between frustrating and challenging. These exercises will also help cultivate endurance -- which is often needed in a live concert setting.
In closing, improving your technique enhances clean, quality playing, which is a reward that brings the skill and satisfaction of being able to play more complex pieces. Not only will this increase your confidence as a musician, but it will also cause an audience to be more receptive, and potentially bring about more opportunities to play out.