Piano Basics- Scales and Arpeggios

I am well aware that for many people, the idea of playing scales, and other warm up exercises is about as exciting as watching paint dry. However, there can be no substitute for technique and good playing basics, like ensuring that scales and arpeggios are played correctly, and in a suitable manner as to ensure correct warm up of the hands, fingers, and joints. Many pianists have come to grief, by simply sitting down at the piano, and getting straight into a full routine to play a complex work, without the former warm ups suggested.

Now, the pianist may well get away with this for quite some time, even possibly years. although more likely than not, they will experience quite debilitating injuries in due course.

The tendons of the hands are placed under considerable strain when complex works are played, and the problem is exacerbated by people with small hand spans, as they need to stretch more to play the more complex works.

Particularly with beginners, by laying a solid foundation, and understanding the scale and note patterns, the student will be able to appreciate the more complex playing techniques in later years, and tackle them with greater ease as well.  Many great piano teachers have spoken about the piano being about simplicity, in that even complex processes are made up of simple steps, often joined together by rapid playing. Whilst this is simple in its own right, it will become even simpler when attempted and done after a suitable warm up, every time.


Scales and Arpeggios are also mentioned in Wallace Tate's Magic Touch Piano Manual, describing the Bowman Method.

Can I Overcome Difficult Injuries, and Still Play the Piano at Concert level?

The short answer, in many cases is, Yes. I say this, as many pianists have suffered numerous injuries in the past, typically in the areas of tendonitis or muscular injuries.

However, with the right information, and methodical approach, you can overcome your limitations.4

I know this is a big statement to make, but let me explain it this way…

I was fortunate to have met Professor Lionel Bowman, before he passed away, and also have come in contact with Mr Wallace Tate, a man who studied the methods of Professor Bowman in great detail.

Mr Tate, over a period of several years. monitored the methods that Professor Bowman had created, and utilised his talent for translating complex moves into easy to follow steps, in a manual with fantastic illustration, and example material, to help both the student and teacher, maximise their comprehension, understanding and application of the Bowman playing method.


Mr Bowman experienced great difficulty in his late thirties as a concert pianist, in terms of repetitive bouts of tendonitis and other muscular problems. However, after being unable to play for some months, he took the time to learn the anatomy of the arm, hand, wrist and fingers, and really study, by process, trial and error, the methods that would not only allow him to play again, but to do so pain free. The results were nothing less than astonishing, to say the least.

Whilst the initial point was to be able to play the piano again, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for all Professor Bowman's students as well, as they have reported massive improvement in their playing as well. Now, more people started to take note.

It was well into the process, that Professor Bowman then gave a master class at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and had a DVD recording made of the class, which has become an essential element of The Magic Touch Course, presented here.  It is through these methods, and subsequent teaching that Professor Bowman further refined his technique, and most people who have actively utilised his method have had substantial success, not to mention an improved tonal quality to their playing as well as less discomfort.

The method is based on the increase of strength and tone in the fingers. This is explained in this classical piano article.

Application of Basic Principles- Double Octaves and Chords

Application of Basic Principles- Double Octaves and Chords


Double Octaves and Chords



If the student has a thorough working knowledge of the principles outlined in Chapter 1 of the Magic Touch, he should have no difficulty in applying them to the following extracts from the standard repertoire.

The first chapter is available as a complimentary download on the right hand side of this page. Please enter your email and name, and it will be on its way to you.




♦ Double octave or chord passages should be learned first of all through the posture of the thumbs. Prepare and release firmness for each octave or chord. Release upward upon sound of black notes. Lower the wrists as far as they will go through sound of white notes. The follow through is essential. Slide hands and arms forwards to play the black notes, and back to play the white. Test wrists up and down often.


♦ Upon sound of every octave and chord, allow hands to rotate towards fifth fingers, and release notes other than those played by the fifth fingers which then support the hands and arms on the key bed. Test the lateral extension and contraction of the hands repeatedly. Employ a legato pedal.


♦ Double octave passages can be practiced as broken octaves, i.e. Thumbs alternate with fifth fingers.



Disjunct Movement



The fear of negotiating risky leaps in double octave passages may be overcome if, at first, one uses the practice of silent finger substitution. This, in effect, reduces the width of the interval and locks the hand into the movement. Later, when these practices have become automatic, one is able to ignore them and play with confidence at increasing speed. The group (a) exercises are devised as a kind of formula for simple interval practice. The derivation of the (b) group compound interval exercises is obvious.








The formulae may be practiced at gradually increasing pace, beginning on any notes, and the range of the (b) group can be extended. Although substitution is not possible beyond a moderate tempo, it will be found that, at speed, the technical advantages remain.

Introduction to The Magic Touch

Lionel Bowman


Between 1978 and 1985 Lionel Bowman paid a number of extended visits to Australia, to give concerts, master classes and individual lessons to a large and enthusiastic following of piano teachers and students at colleges, universities and conservatoria. Participants in these courses were impressed by the extraordinary beauty and technical superiority of his performance, by his inspirational power, and by his unique skill in imparting the secret of these qualities to others. In response to frequent requests for published information and instruction and the obvious need for a more permanent record of it, Professor Bowman and I discussed a plan for me to compile the essential material of his teaching as it now appears in this book.

The contents have been gleaned from vast quantities of notes and audio and video tapes taken from his lecture demonstrations, master classes, workshops, and numerous consultations with him.

Although the manual is not addressed to beginners, teachers will find the relevant procedures invaluable in the instruction of pupils at all levels. Many points of technical and musical interest may be extracted from the book. Nevertheless, the content should be considered as a whole, and studied and practiced accordingly. Although it may have some special applications for pianists who have particular problems now, it will help others to avoid developing such problems later in their playing lives. In addition to this therapeutic effect for all pianists, the miracle is that the Bowman approach also produces a more beautiful sound than that which can be produced by more physically demanding techniques.

Although the book is not focused on the development of virtuosity, it will be found, that through the use of correct muscular procedures, the playing of al passages becomes workable and comparatively effortless. Thus, the student is able to play more comfortably and musically.

No sound, or series of sounds, is ever played without conscious effort while learning. Every sound is controlled with musical intention in slow motion. The way of teaching is essentially one of conscious musical activity through muscular control. Thus, relaxation in this method equals control – not as the word implies, flop.

Over a period of some ten years, I have taught these techniques to teachers, individually and in groups. Gratifying successes resulting from the application of these musical and technical practices have been reported:


(a) by teachers who found the approach creative, rewarding and satisfying, even when working with pupils previously discouraged by seemingly insurmountable technical hurdles;


(b) by pupils at all levels who found to their delight that they could produce sounds of the quality of professional pianists and play with ease and ever-increasing technical capability, musical awareness, and depth of meaning, and who found themselves looking forward eagerly to lessons as a continual source of encouragement, discovery and fascination;


(c ) by parents appreciative of sudden and dramatic development in the quality of their children’s playing and in their attitude to lessons and practice.


I shall be forever grateful to Lionel Bowman for his kindness, patience and generosity in showing me these technical and musical procedures which have given me access to a new world of pianistic joy and inspiration. I am thankful that through other dedicated teachers I have been instrumental in sharing this experience in turn with their pupils. If my endeavours through this book are successful in assisting some of that vast army of perpetually striving pianists, I shall be well rewarded by the realisation that a great debt has been paid.


Many pianists suffer pain and injury resulting from unsound practice habits; this is indeed regrettable. Any sign of strain should be heeded as a timely warning and remedial action taken

without delay. The following is pertinent.

As a young student, Lionel Bowman practiced with considerable discomfort, as he persevered to overcome the problems imposed by a narrow hand span. Nevertheless, he continued to practice and build a formidable concert career. Eventually the pain became unendurable. The years of physical abuse had taken their toll, causing irreparable damage to ligaments, tendons and muscles.

After this crisis he evolved a series of exercises in muscular coordination founded on the elementary principles of anatomy. He based his teaching on these ideals, and this enabled him to slowly adopt the new ways himself. As a result of these natural and correct procedures, Lionel Bowman felt completely comfortable physically and playing became easier, the tone quality improved immeasurably, and he and his students became fearless, instead of fearful of performance.

Furthermore, he became aware that what we call relaxation in playing should be described as control. This fact will become clear to students as they understand what follows in this book. In very general terms, we are trying to help the average to talented pianist through a set of simplified muscular exercises, to find the way to artistic fulfilment.

Dedication to Overcoming Trouble and Difficulty in a Pianist’s Career

The Magic Touch…

It gives me great pleasure that Wallace Tate has produced this record of my teaching, a task that has never been attempted before. I heartily endorse The Magic Touch, and hope that pianists will find it both an inspiration and a practical help on their musical journey.

Emeritus Professor Lionel Bowman

Stellenbosch University.

May, 2000

The above are the words of Lionel Bowman, a man whom I hold a great respect for, not least due to his dedication to resolving a deeply troubling issue that he experienced in his late thirties and early forties.

Many pianists have experienced similar problems, over their playing careers, to varying degrees, and I should note, this can apply equally to laymen pianists as well. It is not only an issue for the professional player.

In Lionel's case, he found the pain so debilitating, and the discomfort so great, that he temporarily gave up the piano. However, unlike many who may have given up for good, he took the time and opportunity to study the anatomy of the hand and arm, as well as the fingers, and experimented with various techniques, till he established the 'Bowman Method' that he had been using and teaching ever since.


Whilst it was initially intended only as a way for him to play gain, he found that the sound of the result of his playing was better, and he was able to play pain free as well. Once he then taught the method to his students, their playing had improved as well, and many were able to avoid the problems he had experienced himself.


This was a great inspiration to himself, as well as his students. The work, written by Mr Wallace Tate, a retired Director General of the West Australian Music Board, as a result of countless visits by Professor Bowman to Western Australia, was created as a means to convey the Bowman method to as many pianists and teachers as possible.

The presentation is presented as a manual, substantially illustrated, as well as accompanied by a DVD or online video series. The material is very well presented and aimed at all levels for all piano players. Naturally, the absolute beginner may find it difficult, but there is where the assistance of a good teacher will pay handsome dividends. 

To learn more, see the Manual below.