I am a 54 yr old learning to play the piano for a year now. What are the best exercises to loosen my hands and play with arm weight?
To loosen your hands, fingers, wrists, arms and shoulders, it is vital to warm up before playing the piano. You'll avoid any sort of muscle tension or unwanted pain in any part of your body. I'm sure other pianists in this community have their own set of exercises to warm up, but you may follow and proceed with these steps:
1) Sit by your piano and pull out your arms
2) Make sure that the arms are not overextended from the piano
3) Keep the elbows slightly bent
4) Let your wrists, hands and fingers hang loosely from your arms. Shake your wrists side to side slowly for about 10 seconds.
5) While your elbows are still slightly bent, open up your hands like you're giving high-fives, and stretch your fingers like they're pointing to the sky. You'll feel a stretch at the base of your hands. Do this for about 5 seconds. Then let your wrists hang loosely. Repeat it 3 times.
6) Rotate your wrists side to side for about 10 secs.
7) Roll your arms for about 10 secs.
My colleague did a great warm up video that you can watch before playing the piano (this video may be easier for you to follow).
About arm weight: whilst playing the piano, your arms are always in motion and you will eventually and inevitably use some arm weight on a given piece. Some finger exercises can help you, like Czerny's Op. 599, No. 33.
For a lot of us pianists, the left hand is our weak hand. As you can see in this picture, the left hand plays fast passages full of 16th notes. This exercise can strengthen the left hand. Practice the left hand by itself first. You will notice three 5-finger patterns: G, C, and D. As you play, listen closely to ensure each finger is going into the keys with equal amount of weight from the arm. So start slow, then gradually speed up. When you are confident with the left hand, add the right hand.
The most important thing to remember is to warm up so that every part of your body is relaxed and ready to play the piano.
Feel free to comment and good luck!
The way to start this is to do some exercises that force you to move your arms, not just your fingers.
For example practice something like this, starting slowly don't sacrifice accuracy hitting the right notes for speed! Note this is for one hand only, and only uses one finger (3).
Keep your wrist, hand, and fingers relaxed, except at the moment you actually play the notes.
Of course you will have to leave gaps between the notes - don't try to play this legato!
Repeat a similar exercise for the left hand, of course.
You can replace the scale pattern by almost anything you like, of course.
This isn't "just an exercise" - see for example https://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/29890/torat and find some YouTube performances of it - having a long term ambition can be a good motivator!
I started classical piano in a serious manner when I turned 40 because it was part of the route to learning to play classical pipe organ (in the beginning it's a pretty good idea to devote 2 hours of piano (or harpsichord) practice for every hour of organ). A big key for both, but especially for piano, was to take a few lessons and get advice from a good piano teacher. This was especially important in getting good relaxed posture and hand position (not just to make good sounds but to (a) be able to tackle real technique demands ahead, and (b) to avoid carpal tunnel and other physical problems).
I found the general standard exercises -- like Hanon -- not of much help. But I did find that memorizing scales in both hands in all keys and running them starting with an octave at slow tempos and doing 8ths, triplets, 16ths, etc at different metronome speeds, really helped for the first 20 - 30 minutes each day.
Having a few favorite pieces to work on -- like some of the advice in the other answers -- is really a good idea. Couperin recommended that any learner get several pieces they love down really musically, while acquiring more general technique. Many of the Chopin short preludes are doable early on, and they are very pianistic.
Finally, a big help for me in every way was to go to an adult music camp each summer to play chamber music with others. This can be started after about a year, and you will meet other players in the same boat, and can work together to get one's head "up and out". This is great for rhythm also.
There is no scale or book or exercise that will give proper ergonomic movement. That is something you need to either be taught or if you are lucky, it is natural.
Since you are asking about arm weight, you are hugely on the right track for it isn't the fingers (they have no muscles) that play the piano, it is indeed gravity.
Ask your teacher to help you to incorporate these movements into your playing: In/out motion to accommodate the different length of your fingers. Forward shift. Rotation of the pronator and supinator muscles to free the thumb and pinky. The proper bench height to facilitate the elbow fulcrum. Grouping of notes and patterns. How to use the elbow to eliminate the damaging movement of curling the thumb under the palm. Use the arm to place the hand, not the other way around. How to realign the forearm so that the weight of the arm is behind every finger. Shaping to pull it all together.
Things to avoid: Pressing into the key bed-Learn to play to the point of sound. Abducting the fingers as this creates pulls on other muscles which hinder power and fluidity. Twisting the wrist. Look down at your wrists, if they are not in a straight line or you occasionally twist them left or right (ulnar deviation, radial deviation) you will never play evenly.
If you ever have cramps, have to shake your hands out, have pain, can't play evenly, can't play scales or arpeggios, miss notes, feel weak or have stiffness in the morning, you are doing something wrong. Usually one of the aforementioned movements are missing. Get them into your hands and everything will become effortless.
you can start by:
- A) practicing diatonic sequences (C-G, for an instance);
- B) practicing simple scales (C Major, A minor);
- C) practicing simple pieces (i.e. Prelude in C Major from Well tempered klavier by J.S. Bach, 1st mov. moonlight sonata beethoven).
regarding A and B. make four routines everyday, in which you dedicate 5-10 minutes to each one of the exercises. just focus on:
- 1) repeating the exercises obsessively;
- 2) starting slow and building up to play faster, with some de-acceleratioons in between;
- 3) play with metronome, or even better, assimilate the pulse of the scales naturally and internally;
- 4) articulate everything pretty well with your fingers;
- 5) keep fingers hands, pulses, and wrists relaxed;
- 6) put weight and pressure on each one of the pre-deceasing parts of your body
- 1) listen to several recordings by different people from different times, and do that following score up to the moment you have memorized the whole piece;
- 2) learn how to play the notes, follow the score, or try to do it straight from memory, if you need help there are tons of animations and tutorials on youtube from where you can learn the piece (otherwise pay a tutor)
- 3) as you go throughout learning the notes, learning the rhythm dynamics, etc., try to put a little bit of interpretation into the piece, by exacerbating details in rhythm using rubbattos, dynamics, accelerandos and de-accelerandos. remember, always keep pulse in all these things
- 4) throughout the entire process of learning the pieces, try to obsessively go into using wrists, fingers, hands and harms, in order to using its weight as an expressive element
- 5) isolate sections of the pieces and work on to build up to be able to play small fragments of the pieces, and then building up to put them together to one another