What are piano exercises and how can they help you develop strength and flexibility at the piano?
When you begin playing piano, simply the act of pressing down the keys and synchronizing your fingers is more than enough!
You will also be busy with:
- Learning music theory
- Learning how to read notes
- Sitting with correct posture
- Keeping you hand position right.
But after a while it is a good idea to start working with separate piano technique exercises to help you to build up flexibility, strength, awareness and security in your playing.
One more plus (of many) when working with special technical exercises is that you become more aware of the many different movement patterns used when playing the piano. To recognize a pattern of notes as a movement instead of a “bunch of notes” helps you to both read and perform music better, as well as to play more beautifully without unnecessary tension.
I know there are pianists and teachers who consider technical exercises unnecessary and that by studying lots of repertoire and making your own exercises from the “real” piano pieces, you will learn all you need. Even though I personally do not agree with this, I believe it is a great way of learning a piece to actually work on passages – called “passage work”- in the music itself and to make up your own exercises from it.
However, this rarely applies to beginner pianists, as you need to be a really good player to begin with, to be able to make such choices and know what you need to work on!
Piano technique is studied in different parts:
1. Finger exercises:
Exercises as opposed to Etudes, are technical exercises that introduce you to movement patterns for your hands, arms and whole body; not only finger drills, introducing one difficulty at a time. (Not really very pretty to listen to!). One of the most known examples of piano exercises is Charles-Louis Hanon, who wrote the famous “The Virtuoso Pianist. “
2. Scales, chords and arpeggios:
Scales, chords and arpeggios serve several purposes:
Firstly, they get you acquainted with the basic tools or elements that music is built from, which helps you understand music theory and also to read music better.
Secondly, they exercise common movement patterns you will meet as you play pieces, and it makes a huge difference when you learn a new piece to quickly know what fingering to use, since you by then will know what works with what scale or chord, etc.
Piano etudes are actually exercises, but more like real pieces. They involve a few different aspects of technical work, for example broken chords and scale work at the same time.
Some of these etudes are so lovely that they are used as performance repertoire, Chopin’s Etudes for example, and some are more…. boring. But the point with the etude is to practice technique in a more musical context, involving phrasing and musical thought, not just drills.
It is a good habit to try to work- if not every day- at least a few times a week with some form of technical exercises.