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I don't have access to a piano every day of the week, but want to keep my flexibility. Searching on the Internet, I found many kinds of contraptions and devices that claim that they help keep and improve dexterity and strength. Including:

  • Finger weights, where small weighted rings are worn on each finger
  • Buttons that fit in your grip, where there is pressure when each one is pushed

Does anyone have experience with such or other devices, and do they really help?

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This came as a surprise, but as far as strength is concerned, I felt a positive difference in my playing after using a Powerball.

I'm guessing, but I'll let others confirm or correct this, that this could be useful for other instruments as well, such as guitar.

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I'll look in to this, but it seems to increase wrist strength instead of finger strength. Am I mistaken with this? What is the difference of this from a dumbbell? – TiansHUo May 5 '11 at 4:16
1  
Well, they indeed sell this as a fitness device aimed at increasing wrist and forearm strength, but I noticed that I could last longer when playing demanding bass lines (e.g. boogie). Dumbbells target higher zones if I'm not mistaken, although it depends on how you use them. The main difference with dumbbells I think is that I feel no strain after using a powerball, even the next day. – Anthony Labarre May 5 '11 at 6:07

Out-side the box, personal experience: Any exercise will do.

  • Raquet-ball: Only one hand gets much work, but gets your whole body moving and blood circulating. This game works well because it is intense. (wear eye protection, it really is necessary)
  • Moving rocks: There are lots of large rocks on our property and I move them around to make walls or steps or what-not. This is more of an all day sort of thing.
  • Hammer-drill: Concrete screws require a hole to be pre-drilled. This I find to be the most helpful. It is also satisfactory because it's not going anywhere, almost no matter how much weight you put on it. (assuming you have good concrete or blocks). The hammer-drill required to pre-drill the hole creates a vibration that tends to strengthen the body parts involved.

After any of these activities, my piano skill is improved.

The general concept is, over-use is really just that you are under-using the rest of your body. The human body has tremendous capacity, but is often never used due to the comforts we provide ourselves with (air-conditioning, TV, computer).

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I almost always have a piano. But the best exercise for my fingers when away from it, is "playing" piano exercises on my leg. Position your hands so that they are comfortably over your body surface. Bend your elbows to a comfortable angle. When standing, my front pants pockets are in the right place for me.

Hanon exercises are great. All you need is the fingering. For example, the first exercise is simply 1 2 3 4|5 4 3 2|1 2 3 4|5 4 . . . and so on.

Another good one is 5 3 4 2|3 1 4 2|5 3 4 2|3 1 4 2 . . . And the reverse: 1 3 2 4|3 5 2 4|1 3 2 4|3 5 2 4 . . .

Go slowly with some force behind it. Go fast with less force. Go evenly with the metronome in your head. Or a real metronome if you have it.

Be sure to stretch your forearms as needed during your workout.

In addition to the "playing"/tapping above, spread your fingers out wide on your pants or shirt, grip lightly and close your hand against the light resistance. keep your fingers spread while closing. Sometimes close fingers in sequence from little to forefinger and reverse. Similar to milking a cow.

Good luck.

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The exercise I find most useful to improve speed and muscle tone, on a piano or away from one, is a technique that I believe was (is) used by the Russian school: I know it as legato technique.

  • take a succession of notes you want to improve on (be it a Hanon exercise, a scale, or a section of the piece you actually play)
  • press the first finger in the succession down (on your leg, a table, or a keyboard); make sure to have all the weight of your hand on that finger: you don't want to tense up your arm in putting that weight, but it must be fully anchored down by the weight of the hand + arm
  • while holding that first finger down, play (or press) gently the second note once (down and up again), exaggerating the move of your finger, doing a gentle tap, with your weight still on the first finger you played
  • play that second note another time and this time release the first finger at the same time (i.e. in a legato fashion, hence the name of the technique), transferring the weight from that first finger to the new one
  • repeat the same approach for the entire succession of notes you want to practice on

This is very slow, about one second per sound you play (i.e. about 2 seconds per new note). It does miracles especially on fast successions of notes. Transferring the weight as I described it and doing the whole exercise slowly is key for the technique to work well.

It re-enforces the muscles no matter what and even helps with accuracy in the case where you can practice on a real piano. I typically only use it for successions of notes that have no or very few chords.

If the description isn't clear enough, let me know and I will make a small video to illustrate.

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