9 Highly Effective Ways Practicing Hanon Piano Exercises

by Lars Nelissen  - April 1, 2024

Let's Transform Hanon Piano Exercises in a Way, thus these shall Transform your Piano Technique!

5 Piano Beginner Pitfalls and How to Easily Avoid These

How to Take the Most Out of Hanon Exercises

And boost your finger technique!

Are Hanon piano exercises outdated relics or a valuable tool for pianists for improving piano technique? This question sparks debates among music teachers and enthusiasts alike. In this article, I delve into various approaches to practicing Hanon exercises, shedding light on their effectiveness and dispelling common myths.

Watch the VIDEO.

Charles-Louis Hanon

Who is Charles-Louis Hanon

Charles-Louis Hanon (1819–1900) was a French pianist, composer, and pedagogue, primarily remembered for his significant contribution to piano pedagogy. Born in Renescure, France, Hanon demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for music from a young age. He received his early musical education at the Royal Conservatory in Paris, where he studied under renowned instructors such as Pierre Zimmerman, who was also the teacher of Charles Gounod and Charles-Valentin Alkan.

Hanon's enduring legacy lies in his work, "The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises," published in 1873. This collection of exercises, designed to develop finger strength, agility, and independence, has become a cornerstone of piano technique worldwide. Hanon's piano exercises are revered by pianists of all levels, from beginners to virtuosos, for their effectiveness in building foundational skills essential for mastering the instrument.

Rachmaninoff explained in an interview with James Francis Cooke, about how Hanon exercises have developed his piano technique: Every student in the Moskou conservatory had to learn all the exercises played in all the tonalities in high speed tempos up to 100 for the half notes; i.e. 8 notes per beat. Only then was a student allowed to proceed to the next stage of learning repertoire. The great pianist Josef Lhevinne tells the same.

Yet, the Hanon exercises are debated today by some as being ineffective or even claimed to be harmful. I think that that is utter nonsense. First of all, no exercises can be harmful if employing the proper piano technique.

One thing I do agree with, and that is that the exercises are for ninety percent treating the same finger technique using different patterns of a similar passage. A few of the exercises are also involving tremolo technique, scales and arpeggios and some double notes.

Below I'll talk about more ways to transform the same Hanon exercises into highly effective exercises for all kind of different techniques. From stretching between fingers, double notes, octaves to articulation. In the VIDEO you can see some examples as well.

Hanon exercises for piano technique

9 Ways of Practicing Hanon Piano Exercises

1.

Traditional Approach

I begin with the traditional method, which involves practicing the exercises as written, focusing on finger dexterity and coordination. It's essential to engage in slow, deliberate practice with relaxed wrists and engaged arm movements.

2.

Exploring Different Tonalities

Practicing Hanon exercises in various tonalities challenges to learn scales and transposition, enhancing the understanding of music theory and keyboard feel. Using the black keys in the different scales forces you readjust the form of your hands with every step up.

3.

Incorporating Sustained Notes

By sustaining certain fingers while practicing Hanon exercises, one develops finger independence and strengthen the muscles, essential for precise and controlled playing. It also helps to learn and think in divisions and hand positions rather than note to note.

4.

Utilizing Chords As A Grid

Using chords as a framework for Hanon exercises adds complexity and versatility, encouraging us to navigate the keyboard with precision and adaptability. We must think quite a bite here in order to have the correct distance between each note as we advance up and down the scale. The distances between the notes is excellent for developing finger strength and stretch.

5.

Play The Exercises In Octaves

Playing Hanon exercises in octaves in different tonalities using various fingerings makes for excellent octave exercises. Octave exercises are often simple and dull, but using Hanon and play these in octaves makes it more interesting and effective.

6.

Working In Parallel Thirds Intervals

To play the piano exercises in parallel thirds is challenging, because thirds are difficult for most pianist. Playing Hanon in thirds creates difficult situations that require an inventive piano fingering.

7.

Working in Parallel Sixths Intervals

Working in parallel sixths is daunting, and yet they sound so beautiful. Experiment with playing the upper voice "Molto Legato" which requires a good fingering and playing with a good stretch when playing the interval of the sixth with the fingers 1-2.

8.

Experimenting With Different Rhythms

Varying rhythms within Hanon exercises promotes finger agility and encourages efficient use of arm movements, vital for expressive and dynamic playing. Work with fingerings such as dotted eighth note with a sixteenth or a long note followed by a burst of a group of very fast notes. The sky is limit!

9.

Employing Different Articulations

Practicing Hanon exercises with different articulations, such as legato, staccato, and portato, cultivates control and expression, enriching my palette of techniques. Also try to play different articulations simultaneously in both hands: left hand 'Staccato', right hand 'Legato' etc. Very good for hand independence at the piano.

Conclusion

I firmly refute the notion of some that Hanon exercises can cause harm to pianists' hands, attributing hand injuries to incorrect playing techniques rather than finger exercises themselves. I advocate for developing strong hands and encourage pianists to embrace a balanced approach that incorporates strength, agility, and flexibility.

In conclusion, Hanon exercises remain a valuable tool for pianists of all levels. When practiced with intention and variety, they can enhance finger dexterity, musicality, and overall piano technique. As I eloquently assert, "Finger exercises are excellent. What damages your hands is to play the piano in the wrong way."

What I do agree with is that the exercises are far from complete in treating piano technique. For a complete piano technique we must take piano exercises of others, like Brahms, Pischna, Philipp etc. But than still these don't explain how to work on these exercises.

In the journey of mastering the piano, let us not dismiss the wisdom of the past but rather embrace it with open arms, knowing that within these timeless exercises lie the keys to unlocking our fullest musical potential.

In my method Super Fingers I delve into all aspects of piano technique; fingers and arm technique. I explain every exercise, plus there is a video course showing everything in detail. Check it out here.

Click play to watch the video tutorial:

► Read Video Script Hey Lars, here from Piano Fantasy! Today, we're going to discuss different ways of working on Hanon's finger exercises. As you can see, I have a whole bunch of books here. See, these are all finger exercises. I all did these. And you know it's Philipp, this is Plaidy, this is Lilly, Phillipp. Then we have these. These are not finger exercises, but um, School for pedal, um,   I would call them exercises for learning better pedal. Then, we have the first two books of a whole series from Alberto Jonas, in collaboration with many of the great pianists. See, these are all the collaborators here in the book, and they're only available from Dover Edition. The first two volumes, luckily, I got my hands on the download PDF download from the other eight books. Very, very great exercises, parents exercises for the left hand. Gaby Casadesus, she is the wife, she was the wife of Robert Casadesus, the great French pianist; excellent exercises, particularly for stretching. Alfred Cortot, who doesn't know him? The rational principles of piano technique. Then we have Pischna. Yeah, it's not easy with a lot of sustained notes; it's quite difficult. Then we have the Brahms exercises. As you can see in this book, I played these a lot. And then we have the three volumes of Liszt exercises. They're good, but we didn't need Liszt for it because it makes very much quite boring exercises with a few exception exercises. But in general, they're quite boring and long and written out in all the tonalities and so on and so on, but they are really inferior, inferior when it comes to Brahms. Yes, let's go to the Hanon exercises. We all know this first one, of course. [Music] They have teachers who dismiss them nowadays, and I think it's a little bit stupid to dismiss these exercises. They're very good and really good for finger dexterity, and depending on the way you work at them, they can even be quite effective. Rachmaninov told about the system in Russia at the time that he was a student. He told that in the first two years of his study, all the students, in the first two years, all the kids, they were still young, young, very young students in the conservatory, had to learn all the Hanon exercises in all the scales. So the first way is just the way that is written, and then you do them first slowly, with the raised fingers, and do both hands Etc. This is how all the students should learn these Hanon exercises, all of them. And now his hands together and you add a little arm movement. So, like a wave, let the arm help the fingers. Yeah, so this on the white keys is actually not so difficult but still effective. Then, the second way is to add some different tonalities. This is, for some students, quite a challenge because many students don't know the scales. They don't know how many sharps and flats every tonality has. So you should first learn the scales and to know what is a G major scale, what is a flat, and so on. And when integrating also some exercises and to transpose them, you have to do to think. In the beginning, when you play it a few times, it starts to get into your system, and the more experience you have, the faster that process will go. It helps you to automate the tonalities. Take, for example, number four, let's say in D flat. Etc. Then it goes back. The third way is to practice with sustained notes. You can do this in C major and on any other scale. Let's take, for example, this. So, what I do is first to let the fifth finger be sustained. So I will not leave it until it has to play [Music] again. And you can play with these a little bit. Okay, this finger needs a little bit more, and then you stay a little bit one. Okay, and you feel here, always feel because that is what I told you, it what is most important is how you do the exercise. Important is always to have free wrists and you feel in your lower arm where the muscles of the fingers are that you activate them and you start feel a little bit warm in your muscles. See, and this back you can do it with the sum. See, what you do actually is to sustain, to make more independence in the fingers, but at the same time you use one finger as an anchor point. So because you can play all the five notes as one form, one shape of the hand, and we have to learn to sink in positions. Now you anchor the hand in this position, and the same with the left, with the right hand. And you will notice that some fingers will be more difficult to keep than others. The thumb is maybe the easiest and the fifth finger but that gets more difficult when you start to play around with other fingers. Let's say with the third finger or the second or the fourth. So do this, I do this. Now you have to be more careful, it's with the second finger and with the third finger you can do it and with the fourth finger. This enhances more finger independence. Remember to always keep supple in the wrist, concentrated fingers supple wrist and feel your muscles in your lower arm. And often students forget that and then they will all relax their arm and get spaghetti fingers. At the same time, or they concentrate the fingers and stiffen up in the wrists and then you getting tired of almost doing nothing and when you play with spaghetti fingers it doesn't make any effect you have no articulation and you have no control on sound quality whatsoever. The fourth way to do to work on the Hanon exercises is to use chords as a grid. So now we use actually the scale as a grid to take the easiest one. The first is this one. So the grid is the scale of C major. But it can also change the grid into seventh chords. For example, this. So let's say I want to stay in C major so I, I use this grid one higher is this grid, see, and another higher is this grid, see. So how we play this exercise then on it very simple. The first note of the, you skip because you also skip in the original exercise the first, the second note I have to say second note. So this second note of the grid, you skip. So you place one, one, and then you finish. That's the right, have to be careful. You were more likely to strike wrong notes because of the stretchings. And what can help is with sustained thumb to work more often with that, to really anchor your hand like this and to get this stretch. See, you can do this in different tonalities. See, it's a little bit more difficult. But it starts to feel a little bit more pleasant here and you feel a little stretch here. It's very good for getting more stretch in your hand. You do this first with the hand-separate sometimes. That's even enough just to do this and mold your hand. Let's take another one, that is the diminished chord. So it's this grid, see? If we take that grid and let's say we use, when we shift to the next one, we use the white keys. You can also use different scales, or you can go chromatically. And then you let's say take this, for example. How we do that in this case? And I use it sometimes now the second finger, sometimes the thumb as an anchor point so that I will not lose my way on the keyboard, so that I lock actually in this chord all these ways. Also, you need to think a little bit more, uh, because everything is not programmed anymore. You can memorize this and all exercises, but you start to do it in different ways. You suddenly have to think again. It's also good for your brain. The fifth way to work on the piano exercises is in octaves like this, etc. It's not so difficult on the white keys but let's, uh, take it on the black keys, take it in B major with five sharps. You have to sing a little bit. It gets fun when you're using other, uh, other ones, for example, this one. I just pick a few, and I do that just because I want to practice my octaves, or I want to make a few double notes because double notes are very effective in making your fingers lose. And we get now to that, we got to point to the sixth way, and that is in thirds. You can use, uh, different kind of fingerings. In each exercise, you have to try to find what works, what doesn't work, even when it doesn't work really but it's possible is also good because in the real music not every situation is easy. We have awkward and difficult situations and by being able to just with the same fingering going over different tonalities without changing the fingering will make you more experienced with dealing with different difficult situations also in music. So let's, uh, let's take this for [Music] example, you like that? And another way, and that's the, uh, seventh way. The seventh way is, is to use the interval of the six. You can use different fingerings, sometimes you want to have more stretch, sometimes you want to focus on the legato in the upper voice like here. These are a little bit challenging and difficult ways but that's the whole idea because they also have a great effect on the fingers and they keep your exercises less boring. Then I want to go to the last two ways to work, and that is using different rhythms, but the rhythms have to be, uh, designed in a way that you activate your fingers more than usual. For example, like [Music] this, like that. Oh always is this one, this kind of rhythms that will invite your fingers to be more active and you will have to use your arm in an eff in an efficient way to do that. The last way is to use different articulations. You can play 'legato' that should be the standard, to play notes connected, but you can also play 'staccato', you can play 'portato', so from the arm, from the fingers. So 'non legato' from the arm. Take this one, you shake them from your arm, the other way is to play finger staccato. You achieve that actually by exaggerating your articulation in the fingers. Or you can use accents or you combine, you sustain the first one and then you play the other notes 'pizzicato', so like this: This works best when you sustain the first note in the thumb and then the fifth finger left Hand. And the other way around when you go back. So these are different ways; there are more ways. And then I think that Hanon exercises can be quite effective, and certainly not boring. And some people, I was reading an article, some people were claiming that Hanon would even damage your hands. This just the biggest nonsense in the world. I don't think finger exercises will damage your hands. Finger exercises are excellent. What damages your hands is to play the piano in the wrong way. For example, some of those piano gurus who tell you that you should not lift your fingers, and get stuck to the keys, glued to the keys all the time, and preferably not move too much with your arms. What you do actually is lock your system, lock your physique, your muscles, with the result that you get stiff, you get an unnatural way of playing, and eventually you get injuries. I played a lot. I used to practice for 6 hours, which was my minimum. I practiced every day, and there were days that I even practiced for 12 hours with a stopwatch, but mostly around six or seven hours I practiced in per day when I was in the conservatory. And I never had until today injuries from playing the piano until at my hands. And I lift my fingers, I play loud, and I play strong. Strong fingers help you eventually to get beautiful control on the pianissimos and so on... because strong fingers give more control over the keys. So, I'm always an advocate of working with strong hands. Anyway, I hope you learned something from this video, so don't hesitate to take Hanon and start working on it. They're excellent to work at so you can make them more interesting using these ways, although they will not still cover all the techniques and all these books which I just showed you. They don't talk about our movements, not one of them, yeah, maybe Jonas talks a little bit about arm but not in a very systematical way. So better you even you can download this book online, you can buy it on my website, the link is in the description. This is all about fingers and arm and I teach you in a very systematic way how to use your arms, and how to use your fingers. There will also be an online course available; maybe it's already available when you're watching this. Otherwise, check the link; because it will launch in the spring. There will be a workshop also to introduce the course and what is covered; go there and check it out. And don't forget to put in the comments some ideas from videos that you would like to see from me. Hit the Subscribe button if you haven't done that yet, so that you don't miss out on any videos; hit that like button so that other people know that this is a good video, and it will help my channel so that I can make more videos also in the future. Thank you for watching, and see you the next time.

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