While you must seek to become better informed about the music you are trying to play as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the language of music and its various 'dialects' (the way the language expresses emotion, drama or whatever, at different historical periods), most amateur players and not a few more serious performers find manual dexterity difficult to acquire and difficult to maintain. The best analogy for the problem is to consider how an athlete must train every day to maintain both physical fitness and mental agility. So it is on any musical instrument. You will need to identify what you find technically difficult and discover the best exercises to overcome that difficulty. On the following pages we have gathered together 101 exercises that cover most of the common difficulties. We recommend that you start by working your way through them, after which, mark those exercises you find particularly difficult and return to them regularly to help you maintain your dexterity.
One the of the most difficult things about playing music is having the patience to play music slowly enough to get it right. Adults, in particular, have a well developed sense of what makes a piece of music work, and that includes the correct speed or tempo. We tend to want to play the piece at that speed, or close to it, right from the very start. Unfortunately, if we play the piece faster than we can manage it, we never properly learn it, and when, later, somebody points out that the piece might be easier to play if taken slower, we find ourselves having to unlearn all our mistakes. The moral of this tale is be patient - find a tempo that allows you to play accurately so that from then on all your work improving the performance is built on a solid foundation and not on sand.
The same advice is good when learning to play these exercises. Do not worry about taking the pieces at the correct speed - in fact we do not suggest any correct speed. Learn the piece at a speed at which you will give an accurate reading of the notes and of the phrasing. Then, little by little, increase the speed until you feel you have mastered the particular problem that particular exercise was designed to overcome.