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I've been playing the piano long enough now that I thought it might be helpful to learn a few exercises for improving dexterity and/or "warming up" when one first sits down at the piano. My level is what might be classified as "upper beginner". (I have completed the first three grades set out in the classic John Thompson books as well as a few pieces on the side. My technique is pretty solid for the most part, I've been told.)

Currently I am only familiar with one Hanon exercise, which I was taught, but a (small) range of fairly basic ones, I think would be helpful. Hanon and Czerny are, from what I've heard, the two classics when it comes to piano exercises. Could anyone recommend any specific exercises that would benefit my playing at my current level?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Multi-octave arpeggios are a great way to warm up. They do require good technique and dexterity as well, so practising them will help you in a lot of ways.

(A good method my teacher recommend to improve arpeggio-playing technique is to play them staccato and focus carefully on your timing, then go back to playing them normally).

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Cheers, I'll have to try them. I tend to do a range of white & black notes two-octave scales in parallel/contrary motion to warm up presently, so that would complement things nicely I suppose. – Noldorin May 6 '11 at 17:22
I've also been taught to play "short arpeggios". A typical set in C major would go (C E G C' E G C' E' G C' E' G') and repeat (where the prime indicates a higher octave). If this isn't clear, it's essentially the right hand's opening in Moonlight Sonata movement 3. – Babu May 7 '11 at 16:25
@Babu I had to play those as well, they're also good training. – Matthew Read Sep 3 '11 at 0:55

In addition to Hanon, arpeggios and scales, I'd also suggest Mikrokosmos by Béla Bartók for improving sight reading. It is by far the most widely used exercise book for sight reading, as Bartók's pieces are extremely hard to memorize (they don't really follow musical patterns).

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Thanks! It seems these pieces vary greatly in level, and a good few would be suitable/playable for me. Will definitely check them out. – Noldorin May 9 '11 at 0:29
OMG, I listened to some of these pieces on YT and now I'll have to crawl into some hole and listen to Wohltemperierte Klavier for 3 hours straight just to get my sanity back :O I suppose it may be actually great music, but somehow I couldn't make myself play it... – neuviemeporte Jun 8 '11 at 21:25

I typically do not play exercises for warm up. Whether this is good or bad I don't know. I am self taught since I lost interest around the age of 14 and gained back the interest later.

What I start off with is usually one of

  • Play whatever fast song I am working on very slowly focusing on perfection. Then later I play at correct speed and practice like I normally would.
  • Play whatever slow or normal song I am either working on or is not quite up to practice. Again focusing on perfection and even slowing down these songs.
  • Forget about warm up (this is not as profitable but I do it anyway for fun)
  • I will sometimes practice scales or for fun do play chords around the circle of fifths or chords around some other circle. But I don't usually start off with this, I just do it when I feel like it.

+1 for Matthew. I think his idea of arpeggios is a great idea.

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This sounds like a "fun" way to warm up. I actually kind of like your idea of warming up by playing a known piece very slowly; I may well try it. Saying that, I might do it after more formal exercises... I know much more accomplished pianists than me who use them to warm up. – Noldorin May 7 '11 at 0:22

Many amateur pianists I've spoken to swear by good old scales. I'm playing them now. In my case, I'm finding that playing them is improving my ear for keys, quite aside from the benefits for dexterity and plain old warmup.

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Well, this has been my method for a long time now, and I can't really complain I suppose. :) I just wonder if they're a bit limited though. – Noldorin May 8 '11 at 13:27
Have you see Cooke? He's got enough scale-related ideas to keep a person hopping for a very long time, and is kind of a hoot if you like old books. – bmargulies May 8 '11 at 13:28
No I haven't, but thanks for the suggestion. Got a link to the said book? +1 also. – Noldorin May 9 '11 at 0:24

Midi - you don't need midi equipment to use the programs.

Use a laptop or screen that can be viewed while at the keyboard if you need sheet music to follow or print sheet music from the midi application. There are thousands of free classical, jazz, pop, etc., midi songs available online. Some songs can be downloaded with multiple parts/instruments and you can mute any track (the keyboard track) and play along with accompaniment. I find it so much easier to play music after I've heard it played (especially jazz for the odd timings). I can play until my fingers get sore with accompaniment and a large song selection. No boring scales. Learn a simple song? Now hit transpose and learn it in every key. Change the tempo and play it keeping time but twice as fast. Difficult passage, slow it down and listen, loop it and learn it slow and then bring it up to tempo as written.

The applications will allow you to easily transpose keys, change tempo up or down, loop a difficult section, have built-in metronome and display a music score with automatic page turning while playing. If you write music you can sing or play an instrument into you computer microphone and some of the apps will write the sheet music.

If your keyboard is midi capable you can record. Many apps have accompaniment features that will play-along with your chord/melody changes.

I highly recommend a free package before you purchase any application as the commercial apps have too many features and can overload you with complexity at first. You only need to learn: play, forward, rewind, loop, transpose, change tempo and print sheet music to use successfully as a training tool.

A free windows midi app I've set up for many kids: Mac and Linux have too many free midi apps to list, just do an Internet search.

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nice answer ... but attached to the wrong question? – richaux Jun 7 '11 at 10:27

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