9

I am a self-taught pianist (or keyboardist, whatever you prefer). Some time ago I came across The Virtuoso Pianist but, because I never played under the eye of a professional, I was turned away by the following comment on Wikipedia:

One pitfall is that practicing the Hanon exercises with imperfect technique will reinforce the technique errors via endless repetition.

Because of that I never went further than looking through the (pretty scary) sheet. On the other hand, I am not planning to play pieces like "Hungarian Rhapsody" or other impossible stuff, so I am wondering if I should care that much about perfect technique.

Nevertheless, is practising this set going to be fine for someone who had never undertaken any musical education? If you think this information might be useful for you, I've been playing for four years already (with quite a lot of long breaks) and I am capable of playing "Turkish March" (rarely without mistakes I am afraid) or Lost Painting (game music), and these two are more or less the full capacity of my skills.

10 Answers 10

7

There is another question here asking about Hanon's place in practice in a more general sense; those answers will give you a better understanding of what other pianists think of these exercises.

I don't think that the exercises will be particularly useful to you. Hanon exercises are great for helping you isolate particular "riffs", if you will, that are difficult to play. The idea being, if you repeat them ad naueseum, you'll be able to play them. In the end, any given Hanon exercise will be useless unless you're playing music with figures that are similar to the exercise. Hanon attempts to offset the specificity by making tons and tons and tons of the exercises. Regardless, I believe that going through the entire book is a waste of time. It's much more rewarding for me to attempt to learn music instead of dry exercises.

In any case, the Wikipedia article is 100% correct; playing Hanon exercises with bad technique will reinforce that bad technique. Hanon is a little bit special because it ensures that your hand movements are repeated to the extent that if you have atrocious technique (your wrists dip below the keyboard, your forearms are tensed, you play with flat fingers), you will accelerate the development of RSI. That being said, if you keep everything in moderation (don't suddenly go on a 4 hour Hanon binge), you'll probably be fine.

As a side note, that quote from Wikipedia is also somewhat misleading; playing AT ALL with bad technique will reinforce bad technique. Hanon will just make it hurt, too!

  • What you say reminds me of this book - pianopractice.org Nevertheless I suppose this also works, and I love not wasting time on mindless practice, but I feel like my fingers could use some "straining" and training and I thought Hanon would be a fine choice. – Maurycy May 5 '11 at 22:22
  • Oh, it's perfect for that purpose. But what's the point? You can have the most supple fingers in the world, but if you're not playing music that requires it, the effort is for nothing. And as soon as you stop, you'll begin to lose the suppleness. I prefer training to play a piece, as opposed to training for training's sake. (This reasoning is similar to why I don't lift weights; it's conceivable that I'm just really good at rationalizing laziness :P) – Babu May 7 '11 at 16:21
  • haha, good one :). I think these arguments really strike my heart so I suppose I must be a good laziness rationalizer too ;). – Maurycy May 8 '11 at 8:58
  • Incidentally, I've been finding that good technique can drive out long-engrained bad if taught well. I'm self-taught and was guilty of all the things you mentioned till recently. Over two actual lessons, a teacher helped me correct posture and hand shape and gave me exercises that would be hard to do with e.g. flat fingers. So far it's -- I don't know how to put it -- "physically compelling". My hands are finding the new technique so much easier that I've been rapidly unlearning the old. :) – Luke Sawczak Nov 3 '18 at 11:22
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This question has been answered fairly well already, but one or two things are missing. First, the purpose of Hanon, or Czerny, or any of the other "finger exercise" books, is not to train you for when you run into figurations that are similar to the exercises. As the preface states: "In this volume will be found the exercises necessary for the acquirement of agility, independence, strength and perfect evenness in the fingers, as well as suppleness of the wrists..." Could you acquire these things through study of musical compositions? To a degree, yes, but Hanon (and other technique books) give your fingers a sustained level of work to do, with each exercise focussed on strengthening a particular potential weakness (trilling with the 4th and 5th fingers, for example). I can personally attest that playing daily through book one of Hanon, as a warm-up to working on other musical tasks, has given me a level of finger agility and strength I would not have achieved by simply jumping straight into the repertoire.

It is true that, to gain the benefits of this type of exercise, and not to succumb to any potential downsides, you need to be aware of what good hand position is and continuously asses the level of tension in your hands, wrists and forearms. Clench your fist. Feel what happens to your flexors in your forearm? You don't want that feeling when you're playing. Now open your hand flat and hold your fingers out straight, working to extend your fingers like you were about to palm a basketball. Feel the tension level in your extensors? You don't want that either. Your hand, at the keyboard, should look as it does resting at your side, without any tension. The fingers are naturally curved. If you play through the Hanon exercises slowly, with your hand in this position, your wrist neither too high, nor too low, and continually ask yourself "is there tension in my playing apparatus?" You'll be fine. One other thing, use your forearm to rotate your hand in the direction of the figurations, instead of locking your hand in place and using just your fingers. Rotation is one of the great (and lesser known) keys to good, supported technique. Go slowly. Don't expect to feel massive improvements overnight, but if you do this every day for 15 minutes at the beginning of your practice, you will see big improvements in your finger strength and independence. Then, next year, play them in all of the keys and you'll feel another jump. After that, learn your major scales, then your minor scales, then arpeggios. There's a never ending well of tools to build and extend your technique.

There's a reason why musicians work diligently and with specific exercises to develop their technique. It's the same reason why a sprinter hits the weight room and works to strengthen his entire body, instead of just running on the track every workout. Building strength, suppleness, and independence in your fingers is very important and Hanon is a legitimate tool for that purpose.

8

I think that until you get a good teacher you might not really know if you are using proper technique or not.

The purpose of teacher is not getting you through a piece so that you can manage to play it. Some people can do that on their own with enough time and dedication (like you have).

The teacher is there to make sure you have the correct posture and don't injure yourself, to notice from the outside things that you or others without the training might not, to teach you about technique, encourage, challenge, and lots of other stuff.

You can continue the way you are, but if you are worried about technique I suggest you consider getting a teacher. Whether it is a matter of that you simply don't want a teacher or a financial issue think about seeing one not necessarily weekly or even on a regular basis, but just to get an outside opinion on your technique.

When you feel a little bit more aware of any issues that you might have you might feel more confident with your technique, enough to be able to play those or other exercises without (or at least with less) fear of reinforcing bad habits.

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    It's a good plan. I meant to take one or two sessions with a teacher just to learn a bit about the proper techniques, but I never really had time/dedication to carry on with this. I will have to reconsider this someday though. – Maurycy May 5 '11 at 22:17
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I have a 30 year old copy of Hanon, which I only worked right through about 3 years ago. I try to play the piano every day but only in the past week got the opportunity (and speed) to play through all 60 exercises every day.

Most of the criticisms of Hanon seem to be aimed at part one, the first 20 exercises, which are repetitive, but are meant to prepare you for the other two parts which include longer exercises, the major and minor scales (all one exercise), arpeggios, scales in thirds and some brilliant trill and tremolo exercises.

I play publicly in a church for worship and in a Jazz band. When I play Hanon I receive more compliments on my playing, both from the public and peers. It's as simple as that.

When I practise Hanon, I feel my playing is sharper, freer and that if I feel inspired to play something I am more likely to be able to play it and not as restricted by technical or physical limits.

I doubt you're going to rush to a teacher now, so I would recommend you start slowly, follow the written instructions and fingering, observe qualified pianists on Youtube etc to copy their technique.

Don't rush to play through all 60, but adopt Hanon as a habit, play for whatever time you can allot to them every day and impreove technique and speed naturally.

I describe Hanon exercises as "boot camp for piano". If you are attracted to them then go for it, but observe the same level of care as if you were going through an assault course. In return you will improve directly and collaterally, in technique, reading and facility in different keys. (incidentally, playing the exercises in different keys takes you up another league).

The advice below is exactly what I tell my pupils:

Play gently and carefully. I have two, one has been with me for 10 years, is learning for fun, has relatively little time to practise, but uses it diligently. For her, the Hanon's 60 is a useful repository of scales etc in one place, and I can call on specific exercises to tackle particular that arise with technique etc. Once a year or so I ask her to practice through the first 20 exercises just to cover the ground.

The other pupil started recently and wanted to progress as quickly as possible. He is diligent, practises for an hour or more at least 3 days per week, as work and voluntary activities allow. Using the 'boot camp' principle, After 9 months he can now play through the first 20 exercises in an hour if he so wished. He has been using a beginner's piano book to get the hang of playing tunes and is studying a music theory book alongside all this. He is about to begin learning his first Bach invention.

If I change my mind about using Hanon I'm not to proud to say so, but so far it's a useful tool, and like all tools needs to be used appropriately for the job.

I have just finished playing through all 60 exercises in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Last year as a result of playing the acoustic guitar for a 6 hour live gig on St Patrick's Day using poor technique and inadequate amplfication, I developed RSI in my left hand and a pain in the base of my thumb. When I practise Hanon every day the pain disappears. I'm not saying it's Hanon specifically that does that, but that it seems to be no more harmful than other approaches and readies me to play the improvisations I would like to play from my head.

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I think that a more intermediate training book would be a good idea before starting Hanon.

"101 daily exercices for piano" opus 261 of Czerny could be a good start and would give you more agility and assurance in Mozart for instance. I think that some editions are in the public domain.

What the comment in Wikipedia refers to is: if you have a bad sitting position, bad habits with your arm, wrist and hands for instance, the more you play piano, even very good exercices, the more difficult it would be to correct them anyway.

2

I have played piano since I was 5 years old; I am now 62. I have played and studied classical and jazz. I have played in college stage band. I have taught conservatory piano, though I have mainly played (and earned my living by playing) pop and rock in various nightclub bands. I am now retired from performing and teaching, though I still practice daily.

I started playing Hanon when I was in my 20s and on the road. I learned about it through various recommendations in Keyboard magazine. It helped me enormously. I found that after practicing these exercises my hands and fingers were more supple and that I played everything with more dexterity and accuracy.

I do not buy the 'musicality' argument (rote repetition does nothing for musicianship) for one second. If you are musical you are musical. Your musicality will not be hindered one iota by playing these repetitious exercises. On the contrary, there is a very good chance it will improve due to your increased technical proficiency which will allow you to focus more on your musicianship.

1

Here is a quote about how to use such exercises from the great teacher Theodor Leschetizky. Most teachers have their students do some finger exercises, whether Hanon, Czerny, or Kullak, so they will help you as well. Here is his method:

"It is best to play all finger-exercises at first only with a light touch; after two or three days one may try to get more tone, always endeavoring to play evenly (with equal strength of tone) with all the fingers.....the [measurer] for the exertion of force at any given time is the ear. One must HEAR whether the tones finally sound equal in force. After some practice, the fingers will accustom themselves to the necessary degree of pressure."

Also worth noting that Beethoven wrote some exercises for his students that were similar to Hanon in some respects, but he never got the time to expand it to a full book.

(Note: the above quote can be found in the book, "Famous Pianists and their Technique p282).

1

I'm a professional piano player and I hope I will give my opinion as such. And please excuse my English if I make mistakes, this is not my language. The hanon can be very helpful to every piano player. But if you try to play it you must do it very slow. Slow and with more sound. And you mustn't play it faster if you feel any pressure. Playing technical exercises does not suppose to be hard. The thing you have to do is to find the most natural position of your hands. And the problem of the many of the self-taught pianists is not that they don't have piano teachers, is the amount of time, and the results that are expected. I have played piano for 17 years, hours and hours every single day, and until two years ago I wasn't able to play the Hungarian rhapsody 2 properly. But back to the question one of the advantages that you have as a self-taught pianist is that you have the desire, you're not forced to play, and your hand is (I suppose) already grown, so the thing you have to do is to be very patient and play everything very slow, with lot of sound. That's the way to find the most natural and comfortable position of your hands. Every person is unique, so the most natural position for your hands will be unique too. And I can say from experience that sometimes the teachers are not helping, on the contrary they can do lot of harm. And when the thing you are playing becomes comfortable, then is the time when you start playing it faster. Just don't skip the whole process, it is becoming faster in time

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It's quite interesting to note that most critics of Hanon have never gone through the entire book, hence their ignorant utterance. I'm a self taught pianist. I started playing at the age of 28 and I went through the 60 exercises by Hanon for a year. If you can hear or see me playing you would assume I started at a very early age due to my technique. Thanks to hanon exercises I now play with the big boys in choir competitions and I am the most sought after pianist in my country.

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Anyone who says Hanon isn’t necessary has never really performed. I’ve played classical piano since I was five years old. But it’s not my primary career. So available time is always an issue. But Never am I better, and able to play complex pieces of music than when I have the time to devote at least a half hour daily to the Hanon exercises.

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    "Anyone who says Hanon isn’t necessary has never really performed." Far too categorical. Hanon's exercises were written after the end of Liszt's performing career, so you are saying Liszt never really performed. The name of any celebrated performer since Hanon's time who never used his studies would also refute your statement. For example, you are saying Arthur Rubinstein never really performed. – replete Nov 3 '18 at 7:33

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