Having the proper finger positioning is essential for beginners, as it helps prevent injury and improve technique. Below, piano teacher Ryan C. shares some piano finger exercises beginners can do to help improve their skills…
Sitting down at a piano and playing a few notes is a pretty easy task, right?
I mean, practically anyone can take a seat on the bench, place their fingers on the keys, and make some sort of sound come out.
However, the technique we use to control the muscles in our hands, arms, and shoulders plays a very important role in our ability to play the piano well.
Specifically, the muscles in our hands play a very vital role in our ability to make, as well as control, our desired sound.
I will also share some educational piano finger exercises that beginner piano students can use to give themselves a head start in their development.
What Does Good Piano Finger Technique Involve?
Great piano finger technique is based on the idea of playing “from the finger”–or using the fingers as our main driving source of power.
If you’re self-taught or new to piano, most of these ideas will be unfamiliar to you. If you’ve been playing for a long time and using different techniques, breaking bad habits may take a little time.
There’s no need to stress, as my finger technique was awful before I got into SDSU. Within a few months of being there, however, it improved substantially.
If I can do it, I’m confident that you can too!
In essence, good finger technique utilizes the following four elements:
Fingers should not be flat or floppy–knuckles should generally not be straightened.
Typically, most fingers will be slightly bent at the knuckle closest to the fingertip. The exception is the pinky finger, which can be straightened at times.
The primary power source of most playing will actually come from the finger–specifically the knuckle at the top of the hand–rather than the wrist or arm.
Relaxation of the arm, elbow, and shoulder, and a very early preparation of the thumb and other fingers while playing.
If you’re a more visual learner, check out this helpful video from eHow below:
Playing “from the finger” is incredibly important. Just think of how objects move; if you’re holding a pencil in your hand and want to move it extremely quickly, is the motion large or small?
Likewise, in piano playing, if you wanted to play an extremely fast succession of notes, would you opt for large-scale muscles or small-scale ones?
In addition, you wouldn’t use your whole arm and upper-body to rapidly move the pencil back and forth, so why would we do that when playing the piano?
With this notion in mind, it’s easy to understand why using good piano finger technique is incredibly important.
Common Piano Finger Technique Mistakes
I’ve been teaching piano for several years now, which means I’ve seen my fair-share of interesting alternatives to using proper piano finger technique.
Of course, before I knew the right way to play, I had many of these same habits. Here are a few mistakes that I’ve seen some of my beginner piano students do that should be avoided:
- Rather than adjusting their piano hand position, my students sometimes compensate with their wrists by moving them very high or very low. In either position, unnecessary tension is added which reduces speed and accuracy.
- Oftentimes, beginner students will play from the arm, rather than the finger, which makes for a very overly-rhythmic sound that tends to create accents on beats in which there are none written.
8 Piano Finger Exercises for Beginners
In no particular order, here are some of my favorite piano finger exercises that I use with my beginner students.
The following finger exercises should be done with a consistent tempo, even if it’s very slow.
1. 5 note pentascales using one finger at a time. (C D E F G)–one finger per note.
In this piano finger exercise, the student will play down one finger at a time and listen to the result.
I often have my students change dynamic ranges only using their hand muscles rather than their whole arms or shoulders.
It’s such an easy exercise, but also surprisingly difficult for those who may not have strong hand muscles.
2. Ascending and descending pentascales
After the first finger exercise is mastered, play an ascending and descending pentascale from the lowest to highest finger with both hands.
For instance, the left-hand pinky will play with the right hand thumb, and so on. Use the proper finger techniques discussed earlier.
3. Play in thirds (skip notes) between each note
After the second exercise is mastered, using a pentascales, play in thirds (skip notes) between each note. Train your fingers to play every note legato– connected.
4. Play with firm finger position
While having your hands at about playing level though not actually on the keys, prepare (bend) the knuckle closest to the finger-tip as though it were playing.
Lift your hand while keeping the finger position, then let it fall onto the key. If the knuckle collapses, try again from a lower height.
In essence, this finger exercise prepares you for the sensation of playing with a firm finger position without adding any arm weight or tension to the scenario.
By dropping your hands and arm on the keys, it allows you to focus fully on getting a solid finger position.
Play the notes in such a way that each note overlaps with the subsequent note.
For example, if you were playing a C major pentascales, you would hold down your thumb until you played your index finger, after which, you would lift your thumb and play your middle finger, etc.
This piano finger exercise is great for developing a great awareness of your fingers and learning to control each one individually.
It’s actually surprisingly difficult for beginner students to do this exercise well!
6. Hanon & Czerny Technique Books
These books are fantastic for getting student’s fingers to cooperate! Go through these with the techniques mentioned previously for maximum results.
Czerny is quite a bit harder than the early Hanon books, so keep that in mind when deciding on a finger technique book.
7. Full (1 or 2 octave) scales
Practice full (1 or 2 octave) scales while preparing the thumb well before it’s actually played.
For instance, in a C major scale, after you have played the first D with your right hand index finger, immediately prepare the thumb so that it is ready on or near the note F. Practice all scales in this manner.
This exercise in particular is one that I continue to use within my professional studies as a pianist.
If done properly, it will eliminate bumps in your scales and passagework, and allow you to play with greater speed and accuracy.
8. Play two notes at a time in one hand at a time.
For instance, the right hand thumb and middle finger play simultaneously while the other fingers relax.
It’s important to verify that the other fingers are, in fact relaxing, as they will often try to interact when they don’t need to.
The pinky finger is especially notorious for wanting to be a part of everything the other fingers are doing, even when not necessary.
In conclusion, using these piano finger exercises on a consistent basis while using proper finger-technique will greatly enhance your ability to play the piano with great accuracy and speed.
Remember that consistency is the key to changing older habits! I hope you find these piano finger exercises helpful as you learn how to play the piano!
Photo by CristianAllendesPhotos