Finger Exercises to Improve Piano Play

shutterstock_2361001491 (1)Piano takes practice, just like any other skill in life. Whereas the athlete earns their edge from practice drills, time in the gym, and studying tape, the pianist earns theirs through finger exercises, scales, and pattern work. These are crucial components of a practice routine for anyone seeking long-term improvement and consistency in their Miami piano lessons. Though they take patience and discipline to learn, the payoff is worthwhile. So much so, that advancing students allocate as much as one third or more of their practice time to these kinds of exercises. They’re a great way to warm up for a practice session. Let’s look at some examples.

Classic Methods

Several classical composers over the centuries have developed finger patterns and exercises. Hanon’s Virtuoso Pianist In 60 Exercises is perhaps the most ubiquitous. These exercises are designed to improve dexterity, finger independence, and small-motor muscle control in your hands and forearms. They begin fairly easy in difficulty and increase in complexity, each one a different pattern that repeats upward then symmetrically downward in reverse.
With Hanon’s exercises – or any other composer’s for that matter – approach the exercises with patience and discipline. This is a worthwhile time to dust off the metronome and keep yourself honest with rhythm, tempo, and evenness. Attempting to prematurely play fast will only lead to bad habits that become difficult to unwind later. Instead, aim for a tempo that allows you to proceed with a high degree of mechanical accuracy. Bump the tempo every few days as needed to keep things adequately challenging.

Scales, Arpeggios & Patterns

Scales, arpeggios and other patterns are a staple of practice routines. As practice vehicles they serve the dual purpose of training both music theoretic bedrock and also finger motion. When practicing scales, attempt to form a connection between the auditory tonality and the motion in your fingers. Developing this aural-physical connection will benefit you on all other musical fronts. Meanwhile, use scale work as a means to enhance finger dexterity, especially pertaining to finger cross-overs and cross-unders.
There are major and minor scales to learn in all twelve keys. Yet, often overlooked is the fact that each scale can be practiced in countless permutations. At first, most students learn the scale in each hand independently, playing one or several octaves. In the process of putting the hands together, the scales can be practiced in both contrary and parallel motion. Each has their challenges.
Arpeggios are another such permutation, whereby the pianist melodically plays a sequence of tones that outline a chord, repeated across multiple octaves without stopping. This is essentially another permutation of scale work – the arpeggio tones were derived from the scale to begin with!
But wait there’s more! In addition to arpeggios, scale-based patterns come in other varieties. For example, playing a scale in thirds (1-3 2-4 3-5 4-6, etc) or in fourths (1-4 2-5 3-6 4-7 etc) is a great way to become more intimate with the complexity of fingering tightly clustered notes. In fact, any repeatable pattern of tones can become a practice exercise.

Invent Your Own!

When it comes to finger exercises, scale work, arpeggios, patterns – in fact, any form of mechanical piano practice – there’s no surer thing than inventing your own exercise. Doing this can represent a significant inflection point in piano improvement. After all, it requires self-awareness to develop an exercise that addresses your weaknesses or enhances your strengths as a pianist.
That being said, where can one look for inspiration? One obvious place to spot a finger exercise is in sheet music itself! Is there a particularly difficult passage in your repertoire piece? Extract it. Toy with it. Find a way to turn it into a repeatable pattern that shifts up and down the keyboard. Consider replicating it to each of the twelve keys via transposition. By that same token, look to music you enjoy listening to for inspiration. Find a melody in that pop song, or a line in that guitar solo and transcribe it on the piano. Turn that into a repeatable exercise. You can also seek the help of your Miami piano teacher.

Good Luck & Have Fun

Lessons and practice can be fun! Good luck and have fun with your exercises no matter where you derive them. Remember that the best exercises are ones that challenge you while remaining within reach for your skill level.
Still not sure how to start? Then perhaps you could use a piano instructor. Our teachers will come right to your home for every lesson, plus we offer virtual music lessons, too. Our online music lessons are being taught by local music teachers with live lessons tailored to your child! Contact us today to learn more.
By Rob Homan

Finger Exercises to Improve Piano Play

Leave a Reply