Piano exercises are some of the best things you can do to get better at playing piano.
It’s great to learn lots of songs, but that doesn’t necessarily make you better. The only definite way to build your skills is by doing effective exercises.
But what are the best piano warm ups?
This article is a quick guide for exercises that can make you a better pianist.
“Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist” is an exercise book that has proven its effectiveness for decades. Many well-known pianists today once practiced with the Hanon book. These exercises work on finger dexterity, speed, agility, and flexibility. There are 3 sections with 20 exercises, ranging from easy to hard. It’s recommended to go through this book page-by-page if you want to see the most improvement.
Most exercises in the book go up and down two octaves, with the left and right hands playing the same thing. The ultimate reward for practicing with the Hanon book is the ability to play harder music easier. When you go through these exercises, make sure to use a metronome.
Metronomes and exercises go hand-and-hand. They allow you to practice finger dexterity as well as develop a better internal rhythm. As you’re practicing each one, you might notice that you play a particular finger slightly out of time. This is normal because we unknowingly train some of our fingers more than others. Fixing issues like those are life-changing for pianists. You can buy the Hanon book online or find it as a PDF.
Scales get a bad rap for being tedious and boring for pianists. However, they don’t need to be. Who says you always need to play scales straight up and down with the same rhythm? Practicing scales can be more entertaining if you change things up.
Some of the things you can change are rhythms and range. For example, you could practice them with straight 8th notes, or you could swing them. You could play them in any musical genre you desire. Another thing you can do is change the time signature. Though the rhythms will be the same, different time signatures emphasize additional notes. In 4/4, there is an emphasis on each beat. On the other hand, 6/8 emphasizes the Beats 1 and 4.
When you practice scales, it’s best to do it would both hands at the same time. Doing it with both hands ensures you won’t over or under-train either one. Before putting both hands together, make sure you know the fingering. It’s a bit tricky at first because the right and left-hand fingerings are different.
For example, let’s use the C major scale. The right-hand fingering is 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5, while the left-hand fingering is 5-4-3-2-1-3-2-1. As you can see, these fingerings are the exact opposite. If you can’t combine them together right away, don’t give up. If it takes several days or weeks to play both hands together, it’s still worth it.
Learn all the major scales and don’t focus on the minor. If you know the major scales, you actually know the minor ones, too. C major has the same notes as A minor. The only difference is the starting and stopping of the scale. Let’s say you want to play the F minor scale. To do this, simple thing of the An major scale in your head, and just start on F. Once you get through all your major scales, you’ve had a successful exercise routine.
It’s great to escape the realm of traditional exercises, sometimes. An excellent place to go is the realm of improvisation. When we improvise, our minds are cleared, and we force ourselves to think on-the-spot. There are many ways to improvise. Here are some of those ways:
The progression doesn’t need to have tons of chords. You could have an effective improv session with just 1 or 2 chords. There are infinite music possibilities one can do over a single chord. Instead of quickly moving from chord to chord, your brain is tested to come up with new material over the same chord. If you do this a lot, you’ll certainly improve as a musician.
Free improvisation is also an option. This method involves you playing whatever comes to mind without having a set chord progression. It’s the most expressive way to improvise, as it has the least amount of limits.
Sometimes, it’s fun to play along with a song. Playing with a song yields lots of creative freedom because the music already sounds good by itself. Improvising over it is a piece of cake
What if I Can’t Improv?
High-quality improv is hard to come by, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Most people improvise on a daily basis, without knowing it. For example, if you talk to someone at work, you likely don’t plan out what you’re going to say beforehand. You listen and respond. The improvisation of words and notes are very similar. People who claim not to be able to improvise usually haven’t tried it. If they did, they might end up surprising themselves. If you can talk to others, you can improvise on the piano.
One of the best exercises you can do isn’t actually an exercise. It’s a sight-reading. Many pianists wonder how to get better at reading sheet music. The only way is to practice reading it often. If you only read it once a week, it’s going to take a long time before you’re at a high level. However, if you practice reading a little sheet music a day, you have much more potential. Don’t try to reading something that’s too hard.
Find sheet music that is 1 level below your sight-reading ability, and try to go through it. You might benefit from using a metronome as you read sheet music. Some people like using the metronome and others avoid it. As a rule of thumb, always use a metronome when you can.
Here are a few tips for sight-reading exercises:
Learning sheet music opens up a world of possibilities for pianists. You’ll be able to play an endless amount of songs, and you’ll be able to learn them faster. If you want to have great sheet music skills in less than a year, do sheet music exercises each day for 10 minutes.