Sure, you could buy a technique book, a book of warm-ups, and a book of “finger-strengthening exercises,” and work with all three every day. And some of you may be advised by your teachers to do so, based on your past playing experience and future goals. But if you’re a middle-school-aged pianist or older, and you’ve studied piano for at least a year, here are three reasons that you should be playing Hanon exercises every day:
1. They can serve as your daily warm-up.
Charles-Louis Hanon first published his book of exercises for “the virtuoso pianist” in 1873 as a technical workout, so to speak, and it still serves as one today. Instead of flipping through old curriculum books or sheet music, trying to decide on a gentle, easy way to warm up your hands and arms, use a Hanon exercise. Over time and with practice, the notes themselves will become practically forgotten and only the motion will remain.
2. They’re great at strengthening your hands and wrists.
Forget gadgets and devices that claim to make your hands and wrists stronger and increase your playing speed. Playing Hanon exercises daily with proper technique works to do both. And what’s even better is that each exercise works to develop different fingers, or sometimes, all of them!
3. They build technique.
Technique is so often emphasized in our piano study, but what does it mean? Pianist and writer Gyorgy Sandor once said: “Technique is the sum total of organised motions executed by the performer. These motions produce sounds that recreate the moods of the composer in the performer’s own interpretation.”
In other words, technique is essentially how we move as pianists. Therefore, it means a whole lot more than just how fast or how softly that we’re able to play. It also means how healthy, grounded, and free of tension that our movements are. Hanon exercises were specifically designed for the optimum health and longevity of the pianist by enforcing and reinforcing good, solid habits, like imagining that your arms are like “heavy, wet ropes” as they hit the keys.
The use of Hanon exercises have been criticized in recent years for its alleged creation of a generation of unmusical, mechanical piano students. Over the decades, they’ve been given by instructors to beginners, especially the young. Then students drop out of piano lessons. Criticizers have concluded that the former causes the latter. But this is a result of confusing the concepts of causation and correlation. While students who learn Hanon exercises in their piano lessons may drop out, that does not necessarily mean that Hanon exercises were the reason why.
It is an essential part of my personal teaching philosophy never to force any student into anything. If you can’t learn from the way that I teach, then I have to find some way to teach the way that you will learn. My goal is to guide every one of my students onto a path of independent musicianship, not a path where they become piano robots. Hanon exercises are mechanical. That’s no secret. That’s how they work. I tell each of my Hanon students that they will become monotonous sometimes. But that’s where their magic lies.
When Hanon exercises become simply memorized movement, that’s when you can focus on your own technique. That’s when you can think about which part of your fingers is hitting the keys. That’s when you can be sure that you’re playing from the shoulder, and not from the wrist. At the end of the day, I believe that Hanon exercises can and should be used successfully, both in lessons and by the independent musician.
Photo by GiPereira