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These famous Hanon Exercices (or The Virtuoso Pianist)
Being active in some pianist social groups, I often read the same question: “What are the best exercices to improve the agility, speed, technique, or soften the hands?”
The answer is always the same: Scales, arpeggios, Hanon exercices.
Hanon in 2 words (according to Wikipedia)
The Virtuoso Pianist (Le Pianiste virtuose) by Charles-Louis Hanon, is a compilation of sixty exercises meant to train the pianist in speed, precision, agility, and strength of all of the fingers and flexibility in the wrists. First published in Boulogne, in 1873, The Virtuoso Pianist is Hanon’s most well-known work, and is still widely used by piano instructors and pupils. However, the applicability of these nineteenth-century exercises has been questioned by some piano instructors today.
As I’m translating this post from a previous french version, I realise that the english description on Wikipedia is completely different from the french version.
In the french version, the sentence “However, the applicability of these nineteenth-century exercises has been questioned by some piano instructors today.” is missing.
After the introduction, in the french version we can read a copy of the preface talking about all the benefits of this book (sry too long to translate and obsolete). But in the english version the main chapter title is: Criticisms.
To resume, it’s a piano exercices book, close to some sportive exercices, for piano players who want to become virtuoses. But coming from an old era, when the needs were different. However a lot of piano players continue to practice them and find them very useful.
Hanon. Ah no!
If I can suggest these exercice to some people (only a few ones), it’s because they can really be good in some cases as they considerably helped me to improve my technique (speed, agility, strength, flexibility…).
BUT, only under certain conditions. For all the others I discourage them like a lot of piano teachers today.
- First, these exercises are really boring and imposing them to a beginner often leads him to hate and abandon the piano if he thinks he thinks that’s the only way to be a good player . What I experienced when was very young. On the other hand, later, once adult, when I restart to play piano for pleasure and no longer by obligation, I started again with simple melodies I liked, which motivated me more and more to continue. Then quite quickly the pieces became more and more difficult, up to the point where I was not able to play some pieces for physical reasons. Some progressions were impossible to play, simply because my hands were not physically ready for it. The best solution to solve this problem was to practice these famous Hanon exercises, as told me my teacher. Resolved (or crazy) to progress, I began these famous exercises. I build a little planning with challenges to reach. Something like this:
Day1: exercise 1 at speed 30 (quarter note per minute)
Day 2: exercise 1 to v 32 + exercise 2 to v30 and v32
Day 3 exercise 1 and 2 to v34 + exercise 3 to v30, 32 and 34 and so on.
It quickly became an addiction to the point of having fixed to the wall all Hanon exercises of the first series.
From the first days I felt the difference. After practicing these exercises for at least half an hour, my hands were warm enough to be able to play harder pieces.
So, it motivated me even more to continue doing them. It finally allowed me to access a different level of directory 🙂
So yes, if you already have a certain level and you are blocked because of a real lack of flexibility and you have a real desire to progress and that has not been imposed but your own choice. Consider them rather as physiotherapy.
No if you are a beginner, your hands will not be ready yet to do these exercises properly, flexibility will come naturally with other exercises.
- Secondly, to be effective, you have to work in detail and precision. These must be controlled by a piano teacher. The smallest mistake is fatal and leads to bad habits that quickly become difficult to correct.
Wanting to advance faster, I burned the stages by playing faster and faster, but arrived at 90 Bpm, no way to advance. I had to resume at 30 Bpm (under the control of my teacher) to refine the precision of each movement, preserving a maximum of energy to be able to approach fast speeds.
- Third, as these are warm-up exercises, they should be done at least 1 h per day and every day. They are effective in regular work and longevity. Doing them once a week is strictly useless, it’s a waste of time. If you have less than 2 hours a day to devote to the piano, do not waste your time with these exercises, there are some others more effective.
- Finally, the most common criticism of the Hanon exercises is that having students drill on purely physical exercises results in an unmusical, mechanistic attitude toward the piano. Critics argue that practicing in an unmusical way dulls one’s musical instincts, especially when forced upon children and beginners (though in the introduction he does state that the book should be begun a year or so after beginning piano study), who need to cultivate their musicality rather than inure themselves to rote physicality. It is also argued that it is more efficacious to practice one’s musicality as one practices one’s technique; training in most art forms involves practicing technique, however repetitively, within artistic context. It is further argued that musicality drives technique; the flow of musical expression is a potent motivator to finger agility.
I totally agree with that when I compare the interpretation between the players who practice and recommend these exercices and the piano players who learn more intuitively, playing the music they like. The first ones have a very good technique but a poor musicality whereas the game of beginners learning the piano less methodically, even self-taught adopt positions more natural, less clenched and reproduce above all the emotions they feel in music.
To summarize, these exercises are reserved for experienced pianists who want to reach a very high level, who devote their lives to the piano and train more than 4 hours a day.
If you are still motivated, there is a website completely dedicated to these exercices.
And if you’re always motivated to do these exercises, here’s what helped me too:
It is to systematically turn on my webcam when I was training. That way I could check the movement of my hands and immediately correct the superfluous movements before they were anchored. It is always easier to see the faults of others because when we play, we have our nose on the score or we are focused on something else and we do not see our hands in the same way.
Here is one of the recordings made at that time: