The Top Benefits of Using a Training Surface—Advanced Technique for Performing Musicians

To make a significant improvement in your dexterity, you have to exercise your hands, just like an athlete would train the body. In this post, we’ll be taking a look at a few of the benefits that you can gain, from conditioning your hands using the Rhythmic Dexterity Pad® equipment. This training surface utilizes soft-touch materials and active rebound properties, to train the muscles of the hands via rhythmic and isometric exercises. It also makes use of a textured surface that provides kinesthetic feedback each time your fingers makes a tactile connection to the top pad. 

Rhythmic Dexterity Pad® Training Surface for Musicians

What is a training surface?

A training surface is a portable piece of equipment designed for creative musicians, to maintain agility, strength, and dexterity in the hands and fingers. In contrast to the mechanisms on a woodwind or brass instrument, or the keys on a keyboard, training the hands rhythmically on a flat surface, challenges the coordination of the fingers in a more direct way, in which the development of dexterity is felt immediately. This works by utilizing a surface with rebound properties, on which you can exert added force and pressure, to intensely activate, exercise, and strengthen all parts of the hands. The result of training the hands this way, makes pressing and manipulating keys, pads, buttons, levers, valves, and other mechanical devices on an instrument—easy in comparison. By exercising the fingers, you can develop an abundance of reflexive control and coordination, making the most complex pieces of music easier to learn.

Though the Rhythmic Dexterity Pad® equipment is geared towards musicians who require advanced reflexes for virtuosic music making and performance, it can also be used by non-musicians to develop dexterity and strength in the hands, for general or remedial purposes. This includes those who use their hands in different capacities for their occupation, people with disabilities, people with medical conditions like arthritis, and people who are recovering from injury.

Creating an environment for focus

If our hands and fingers are the tools we use to create with, to bring out the musical ideas on our instruments, it would only make sense that we have a complete understanding of how they can be used in a technical sense. The ability to control them in various physical ways according to our musical will, requires our hands to be in great shape. It also requires the need to be hyperaware of the feeling of our body at all times, to react reflexively and instantly in response to our musical imagination.

One of the main benefits of training your hands on the Rhythmic Dexterity Pad®, is how the act of conditioning hones your ability to focus. During a warm up on the pad, your attention is primarily attuned to the rhythmic ideas you are thinking about inwardly, and the way those rhythms manifest into athletic movements of the hands.

The Art of Dexterity Rhythmic Dexterity Pad® Training Surface for Musicians

A training surface provides you with the ability to express rhythm and choreographic movements of the hands in a comfortable and non-fatiguing way. This works by combining musical-rhythmic ideas from diverse genres of music, with the movements and tactile processes established by professional pianists. Intricate rhythms stimulate the hands in a myriad of ways, to develop physicality and coordination.

With a simple piece of equipment, musicians can explore the notion that each of the ten fingers can express all of the subtleties of rhythm, nuance, tempo, and musical phrasing. In essence, this combines rhythm and athletic movements of the hands into a system, which gives musicians enormous reflexive control. Reflexes that are conditioned and formed before approaching the deeper creative work done on an instrument.

By using a training surface, you can enhance the coordination of the fingers, and develop high levels of strength, agility, and dexterity—in a ways that simple exercises like scale and arpeggio formulas on an instrument cannot. It also feels great for the hands, and it’s extremely noticeable when you are back to creating on your main instrument, just how articulate and agile your hands are. 

An Awareness of Touch Types, Articulations, and Pressure

Training the hands via a conditioning surface also allows musicians to become intimately aware of the many types of physical movements that the hands are capable of making. This includes different ways of using the thumbs, wrists, and rotary movements of the forearms. This knowledge carries over directly to one’s instrument, where it is necessary to be able to move one’s hands in any choreographic fashion, dictated by the complex rhythmic movements in a composition. Musicians can learn how gradations of pressure can be applied to the fingers through downforce of the forearms and upper body, which influences the fine motor movements needed for quick finger articulation on an instrument.

The Rhythmic Dexterity Pad® Training Surface for Performing Musicians and InstrumentalistsBy becoming aware of the physical capabilities of the hands, many of the main technical aspects seen in virtuosic music literature, such as trills, ornamentation, thirds, sixths, and octaves (which often make extreme technical demands on the body) can be trained to very high levels. Artists can mirror these types of movements, and condition specific technical aspects that they find precarious in their music making. Consequently, this more direct way of working on technique, naturally develops the reflexes and dexterity of the thumbs, fourth, and fifth fingers—which are typically the weakest fingers for many instrumentalists. 

Using a training surface in parallel with learning challenging music, can ensure that physicality is kept at an optimal state. In the same way high level athletes maintain their bodies through cross-training activities like weight-lifting, and cardiovascular exercises like rowing, jump-roping, and running, musicians can utilize a form of exercise that is separate from their main musical activities. These distinct types of training methods allow both the athlete and the musician to maintain top form, as the body is prepared, and at many times over prepared for the demands of the sport. In the case of the musician, this would be the repetitive strain and stress that virtuosic music makes on the body, when playing an instrument. 

Immediate Feedback

A powerful concept surrounding a training surface, is the feedback it gives to your hands. When you’re exercising or improvising with rhythm, you gain an extremely strong tactile feedback. This happens as you simultaneously hear the rhythms you are playing, and feel them at the same time. You can hear immediately when a rhythm is uneven, and you can feel it directly through your fingers, as you’re developing your sense of touch. 

The Art of Dexterity Rhythmic Dexterity Pad® Training Surface for Musicians

A conditioning surface allows you to experiment with various types of touch, articulation, and levels of pressure, in a safe and non-fatiguing way. For instance, when more pressure is exerted into the surface (as in the case of an isometric exercise), you can exercise all of the muscles within the hands, the palms, and the fingers—in very intense ways.

Injury prevention

By pre-conditioning and strengthening the hands, musicians can ensure that their hands and fingers will have a facility that is ready to adapt to complex music. This makes time spent creating music on an instrument more efficient. Often times, musicians who stick to poor warm up routines or who are tense when they play their instruments, are more prone to developing repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel or tendonitis. These injuries can have a devastating impact for musicians and their careers, forcing them to take time off from playing and performing in order to recover.

The Art of Dexterity Rhythmic Dexterity Pad® Training Surface for Performing Artists and Instrumentalists

Repetitive strain injuries can be prevented by understanding the capabilities of the hands and how to properly use them on an instrument, in combination with a training system that keeps the muscles in optimal form. For musicians who find themselves with repeated strain injuries due to rigid practice habits, or simply from over-practicing on their main instruments, using a training surface can be a great addition to a warm up routine. It can also help to maintain one's physicality over the course of a musical career.

Periodically removing sound for supplemental exercise 

One interesting facet of using this equipment, is that it removes the aspect of sound that you always have when you create music on your instrument. In contrast to commonplace warm ups that many beginner musicians use, such as scale and arpeggio formulas, exercising on a conditioning surface temporarily separates the process of listening to pitch, and focuses more directly on the feedback from intricate rhythmic ideas, and calisthenic movement. Removing sound in this case, does not mean emotion is removed, as you can still feel the emotion from a powerful rhythmic idea. Additionally, by thinking deeply about certain stylistic rhythms, and training the fingers to respond, you can develop an extreme tactile sensitivity to touch—a critical area of skill that supports any type of music creation on an instrument. 

To illustrate this point in more detail, when musicians are learning or creating on an instrument, there are many processes involved that fight for the artist’s attention:

  • Reading and analyzing a composition (or learning a composition by ear through transcription).
  • Understanding where the notes of a piece of music lie on an instrument.
  • Understanding and recreating emotional content, moods, and atmosphere.
  • Focusing on the abstract rhythmic phrases, denoted by phrase marks throughout the score. 
  • Focusing on the choreographic movements of the body in response to the composer’s intentions, as well as the sound produced from the instrument in response to one’s movements.  
  • Experimenting with the manipulation of colors, textures, and musical phrasing.
  • Observing pitch, tone quality, and timbre. 

These are just a few of the processes that occur every time a musician rehearses or creates on an instrument. This is why it can be extremely helpful to separate aspects of technical training, from actual music making. Using a training surface as a form of supplemental training, enables you to focus primarily on three important aspects:

  • Conceptualizing rhythm.
  • Developing an awareness of tactile sensation and kinesthetic feedback, produced by your physical movements.
  • The coordination of your hands and fingers.

By momentarily removing some of the processes that normally go on when creating music on an instrument, you can attain an extremely deep understanding of how your fingers function, and how they can be used to greater efficiency on your instrument. Implementing a healthy dose of training for the hands, allows you to form incredible reflexes that respond instantly to musical ideas. There is a whole world of physical movements, touch types, and reflexes you can gain, just by training the hands to respond to rhythm. 

 Rhythmic Dexterity Pad® Technique for Performing Musicians

Technique that is flexible

Lastly, the processes of learning, creating, and performing music on acoustic instruments are totally unique compared to the processes of making music purely inside software, or in ways where physical connection with an acoustic instrument isn’t necessary. Performing music on acoustic instruments involves the use of the body, and often times in very demanding ways. Internalizing and rehearsing music in preparation for performance, are processes that make use of high level physical and mental faculties, which are increasingly fine-tuned as the music one is creating gets more and more complex. 

One of the main reasons why a musician would want to develop a high level of physical technique that is dynamic and adaptable, is so they can more easily perform different styles of music. For many musicians, it is important to have flexibility in their daily music making, but also in their careers in general. This means, not confining themselves to one style of music or even to one particular instrument. Musicians today have skills across a diverse spectrum, from performing live on both acoustic and electronic instruments, producing music using hardware like drum machines, to composing, arranging, and improvising. Regardless of the activity, it’s important to have an advanced physicality in place, that enables musicians to easily adapt to different styles of music; to make it easier to adapt to polyrhythmic coordination and complex choreography, as well as the ability to use these skills on different kinds of instruments.

Written by: Mark Salvatore 

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To learn more about developing technique for music performance, check out The Technology of Rhythmic Dexterity and La tecnología de la destreza rítmica method books, available through The Art of Dexterity.