Friday, January 5, 2007

Fun with Scales??????

Quick, what's the best business to be in in January? My
guess would be diet books, and exercise programs. But
piano workshops are pretty popular this time of year

Hopefully a piano workshop will be more FUN than a diet
or an hour a day at the gym. But piano can have its
more challenging moments. I recently got a letter from
one of our subscribers asking about scales and
exercises. He asks, "What other types of exercises can
you recommend that will help? I'm looking for exercises
that will help with harmonization."

Here was my reply to him.

Harmonization is more of a cerebral issue, while
practicing scales and exercises is more physical. What
is really challenging, helpful, and fun is to make up
exercises that address both issues. Here is what I
would recommend.

1. Keep learning the major scales with both hands.
Learn one per week. Should take you 12 weeks. Make sure
your brain is engaged with this exercise, not just your
fingers. You should know exactly what notes belong in
each major scale. Good news: no need to practice minor
scales for now.

2. Review Hanon exercises 1 - 20.

3. Now for the challenge. Learn the Hanon exercises in
all 12 keys. Start with Hanon #1 in F. Then G. Then
gradually add the more challenging keys. Do the same
for all 20 exercises. Fingering might be awkward with
some of these combinations, but this is a mental
exercise as well as a physical one. See what we're
doing here? We are combining the physically oriented
Hanon exercises with the more cerebral idea of scales
and harmony. It's a real physical/mental challenge.

So there you have 240 new exercises to master.

Sounds like a lot of work. Realistically I have haven't
yet done all 240 of the combinations myself, but I have
worked on many of them. I highly recommend this
exercise for intermediate to advanced players.
Beginners, you can relax for the time being.

For "Hanon," pick it up at a music store. It's real
name is "The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises." And the
author is C.L. Hanon. It's cheap. Get the authentic
version, not any of the dozens of reworkings.

As for piano workshops, here's where you can find a
schedule. There might be one in your neighborhood.

Keep playing.


  1. Hello I'm already 20 years old and I will start my Piano lesson this week (I wanted to learn Piano eversince but we are too poor back then)

    Anyways can I still be a virtuoso Pianist???

    I will practice alot!

  2. I don't know much about becoming a virtuoso pianist. I suppose it's possible. But we specialize in learning and teaching the instrument as a vehicle for having fun, relaxation, and tapping into creativity.

    Virtuosity isn't that important to us. It's just a by-product.

  3. I am a little afraid of Hanon exercises. There are claims that when practised according to what Hanon instructed (slow, strong, with fingers as high as possible), the risk of developing sports-related (or rather musician-related) injuries is elevated.

    For myself, after practising less than 10 Hanon exercises at one go, my fingers are tired, and my wrists are sore, such that I cannot play other pieces without trembling hands. I suspect that my hand posture is not optimal, thus causing all the stress. Hence I think Hanon should be practised under the supervision of an experienced teacher. Such a person is not existent in my case, because I am picking piano up again after decade, and wish to gain a certain level of proficiency before entering myself into weekly lessons.

    All that said, after resting the hands for a week, I do feel that the Hanon exercises helped me to loosen some of those stubborn kinks in my fingers. Hanon is beneficial (albeit quite boring), but should be applied according to ability.

    Now I stick to daily scales and arpeggios practice. They improve my technique as well, and my hands are "quieter" now, with slight improvement in dexterity. I have also a more confident touch than before, as I try my best to focus on keeping my scales as legato as possible. I am also exploring Burgmueller's progressive studies, and also those from Czerny. I think they generate more musical interest than Hanon.

    Oh my god, what a long comment. Sorry for the clutter, and if you have any advice regarding Hanon, do let me know! I have a blog too, at

  4. Those are some very good points. When I studied Hanon, I did not have expert supervision--only weekly lessons with a country western piano player who never paid much attention to my Hanon achievements.

    I didn't suffer injury. But then again, I was only 23 years old then. We can't get away from the fact that piano is a repetitive activity and we can't avoid the risk of repetitive stress injuries.

    I agree the Czerny is more aesthetically interesting. But I believe it's harder to read. I'm not a note reader myself, and when I've glanced through Czerny, man it looks SCARY.

    So now we have called in two experts to help us become better piano players, a technical pedagotian and an orthopedist. It shouldn't have to be this hard.

    I'm thinking perhaps common sense should prevail. Pick and exercise. Try it for 10 minutes. No pain? Great, do it for 15 the next day. Then bump it up gradually to where you want it to be.

    Otherwise, if there is pain and/or muscular or neurological side effects, find a specialist. Just as with a recent interest in sports medicine, there are specialists who treat musicians for their particular problems. If you find one, let me know.


  5. Hi. I see that this is a really old thread, but hopefully it will be picked up anyway. I'm trying to learn Hanon #1 in G and am unsure whether I am coming up with the "correct" fingering. Is there a principal to follow here?

  6. Old threads are good threads.

    I'm a little confused. The classic exercises in Hanon vol 1 are all in the key of C. Some students choose to transpose to other keys, and keep the same fingering as that of the key of C, sometimes yielding some awkward results.

    All the classic Hanon editions have fingering included. Perhaps you are using one of the Hanon knock offs, and if you are, I have no clue what the exercises might be. Perhaps you could enlighten me further.

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  8. I'm not practicing to my full ability and I guess I need to start doing something more like what you suggested. I love the Hanon exercises and have learned the scales long ago. I guess learned is not quite right. I did them. I think I have yet to master them. Thanks for the instruction.

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