The Pianist’s Playbook by Allysia Abbott is an insightful guide for aspiring and experienced pianists looking to build a solid technical and musical foundation. Whether you’re just starting or working to improve your piano skills, Abbott’s book provides practical advice and exercises to help you progress. 

In this comprehensive blog post, we’ll overview the key topics covered in The Pianist’s Playbook, summarize Abbott’s main advice, and reflect on how her systematic approach lays the groundwork for developing piano mastery. From hand positioning and posture to sight-reading, musicality, and beyond, read on for a detailed look at this standout piano pedagogy book.

1. Proper Hand Positioning and Posture

woman playing Yamaha piano

Image source

When it comes to the question of how to play the piano? Many early chapters focus on establishing proper hand positioning and posture at the piano. Abbott rightly contends that with hand shape and body alignment fundamentals, it’s possible to progress technically or musically as a pianist.

She recommends beginning simple five-finger exercises to train the optimal hand shape, emphasizing a rounded yet relaxed hand with arched fingers. Exaggerating this posture at first, even to the point of tension, helps new pianists get a feel for finger curvature. Abbott then advises gradually relaxing the hands as the optimal shape becomes more familiar.

Regarding posture, Abbott provides clear instructions for both sitting and standing, covering details from bench height to distance from the keyboard. For example, she advocates finding a bench height that allows forearms to parallel the ground while keeping feet flat. This puts the body in alignment for efficient, relaxed playing. Minor adjustments like this make a tremendous difference in endurance and technique.

The specific advice on hand positioning and posture establishes a solid physical foundation to build piano mastery. As Abbott writes, “Getting the fundamentals right is like laying the cornerstone of a building “the rest depends on it being strong and totally level.”

2. Scales and Exercises for Strength and Dexterity 

girl in white sweater playing piano

Image source:

While the opening sections on posture are most directly relevant for beginners, intermediate and advanced players can gain just as much from the chapters on scales, dexterity exercises, and strength building. Abbott notes that too many developing pianists focus narrowly on learning new repertoire without dedicating sufficient effort to exercises enhancing technique.

She compellingly makes the case that regular practice of scales, arpeggios, chromatic exercises, and more will rapidly accelerate pianistic improvement. Learning theory, harmony, and music reading are also beneficial, but time at the keyboard itself speedily builds fine motor skills. Abbott even provides sample practice routines and suggestions for integrating technical development alongside repertoire.

For example, she advocates playing scales with a metronome, beginning slowly and increasing speed incrementally as hand movement becomes more fluid. Similarly, two-octave scales expand to four octaves over time. The results of this diligence are visible in increased agility, speed, and control. While the exercises may seem mundane initially, their long-term payoffs make them invaluable.

3. Thoughtful Practice Techniques

boy in blue denim jacket playing piano

Image source:

But as Abbott repeatedly stresses, simply putting in the time is not enough; pianists must employ thoughtful, targeted practice techniques. She dedicates multiple chapters to outlining step-by-step methods for memorization, sight reading, problem spot identification, and independent error correction. These practice habits make time at the piano exponentially more productive.

When first learning a piece, Abbott endorses marking trouble areas, repetitively playing tricky segments at varied tempos, analyzing harmonic patterns, and checking fingerings. Regular use of the metronome, both with hands separate and together, helps calibrate rhythmic precision and speed. Recording oneself to identify persistent issues is also beneficial.

In promoting independent error correction, Abbott shifts ownership of progress to the player rather than the teacher. She compels pianists to be highly self-critical and use practiced techniques during individual practice so lesson time can focus on higher-level musical ideas rather than basic mistakes. The priority she places on thoughtful, structured practice empowers rapid improvement.

4. Playing Musically from the Start 

man in black crew neck t-shirt playing chess

Image source:

While much of the Playbook emphasizes building technical skills, Abbott continually ties this back to musical playing. Too often, piano pedagogy stresses technique first and musicality later. Abbott argues convincingly this is counterproductive: “From day one, all practice should connect to playing musically. 

She notes that technical breakthroughs should excite pianists because of the new musical ideas they enable. She says, “Dazzling technique means nothing if it isn’t put to good use in the music.” The musical pulse should always guide practice, with tempo selected based on interpretive ideas, not just skill level.

Abbott also breaks down musicality fundamentals like phrasing, articulation, dynamics, voicing, and developing an artistic sense of time and emotion. She encourages thinking about the background of pieces and varying interpretations while playing. Maintaining this continual focus on musicality while building skills prevents pianists from succeeding with impressive technique but an unartistic, robotic playing quality.

5. Practice Inspires Confidence

One final theme throughout The Pianist’s Playbook is regular; thoughtful practice breeds confidence and consistency during performances. Many pianists experience nerves and anxiety, which detract focus, increase tension, and negatively impact shows. Yet Abbott notes the best salve for these nerves is being as prepared as possible through diligent practice.

She reflects on how intense practice sessions make performances seem easier by comparison. The human mind adapts to new levels of challenge and complexity, so achieving fast speeds and complex polyrhythms in practice settings trains pianists to handle the stresses of performing better. Additionally, Abbott views performances as celebrating the hard work completed during practice. Reframing the purpose this way mitigates fear.

While complete confidence during performances may remain elusive, thorough preparation goes a long way. Diligently applying Abbott’s advice on posture, exercises, practice techniques, and musicality accelerates skill development and gives recordings and concerts a solid chance of succeeding.


In The Pianist’s Playbook, Allysia Abbott delivers robust, practical advice and exercises for pianists seeking to establish proper fundamentals and make lasting improvements. Both amateur players and aspiring professionals will find immense value in her systematic approach covering posture, technical facility, practice techniques, and artistry.

The Playbook indeed lays the groundwork enabling pianist mastery. While steady effort and patience are still required, Abbott’s methods optimize practice efficiency. By instilling strong foundation skills and musical focus from day one, pianists following Abbott’s wisdom will undoubtedly unlock greater confidence, consistency, and capability at the keyboard.