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Perhaps one of the most obvious things one needs to know about playing an instrument is how to perform on it. This includes how to hold it, how to manipulate one's fingers and how to achieve the correct posture for most efficient playing results.



For all instruments, the best way to move the fingers to achieve a desired effect is to learn to play with the least tension in your hands and body. Maximum technique is achieved with the most relaxed muscles. This also prevents forming habits which may lead to injuries resulting from incorrect use of the skeletal frame and muscles. For example, when playing the piano, "fingering" that is, which fingers to put on which keysis a skill slowly learnt as the student advances, and there are many standard techniques which a teacher can pass on. In addition to fingering, a guitar player learns how to strum, pluck, etc; players of wind instruments learn about breath control and embouchure, and singers learn how to make the most of their vocal cords without hurting them.



There are many myths and misconceptions among music teachers, especially in the western classical tradition, about "good" posture and "bad" posture. Students who find that playing their instruments causes them physical pain should bring this to their teachers' attention. It is a potentially serious, if often overlooked aspect of learning to play an instrument. Learning to use one's body in a manner consistent with the way their anatomy is designed to work can mean the difference between a crippling injury and a lifetime of enjoyment. Many music teachers would caution students about taking "no pain, no gain" as an acceptable response from their music teacher regarding a complaint of physical pain.



Concerns about use-related injury and the ergonomics of musicianship have gained more mainstream acceptance in recent years. Musicians have increasingly been turning to medical professionals, physical therapists, and specialized techniques seeking relief from pain and prevention of serious injury. There exist a plurality of special techniques for an even greater plurality of potential difficulties. The Alexander Technique is just one example of these specialized approaches.



Theory

In order to more fully understand the music being played, the student must learn about the underlying music theory. Along with reading musical notation, students learn rhythmic techniques like controlling tempo and recognizing time signatures, as well as the theory of harmony, including chords and key signatures.



In addition to basic theory, a good teacher will stress musicality, or how to make the music sound good. This includes tone, phrasing, and proper use of dynamics.





Technical exercises

Although not universally accepted, many teachers drill students with the repetitive playing of certain patterns, such as scales, arpeggios, and rhythms. In addition, there are flexibility studies, which make it physically easier to play the instrument. There are sets of exercises for piano designed to stretch the connection between fourth and fifth fingers, making them more independent. Brass players practice lip slurs, which are unarticulated changes in embouchure between partials. Entire books of etudes have been written to this purpose.




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