Piano Exercises for Beginners

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In this lesson you'll learn about the main types of piano exercises you need as a beginner to develop strength and flexibility as you play. You will also get tips about daily practice routines to improve your piano technique.

Why You Need Piano Exercises as a Beginner

As you start learning piano, simply the act of

  • pressing down the keys-and
  • synchronizing your fingers-in addition to
  • learning music theory-and
  • how to read notes-as well as
  • trying to sit correctly-and
  • keep you hand position correctly...

phew!...is usually more than enough...!

But after a while it is a good idea to start working with separate piano exercises to help you to build up strength, awareness and security in your playing technique.

Piano exercises for beginnersLearn Piano Exercises for Strength and Flexibility

Movement Patterns

Piano ExercisesLearning Movement Patterns

One more plus (of many) of studying separate technical exercises, is that they will help you become more aware of the different movement patterns used when playing the piano.

To recognize a pattern of notes as a movement instead of a “bunch of notes”, helps you to both read and perform music better, as well as to play more beautiful without unnecessary tension.

I know there are pianists and teachers who consider special piano technique exercises pointless, but instead by studying lots of repertoire and making your own exercises from the “real” piano pieces, you will learn all the technique you need.

To recognize a pattern of notes as a movement instead of a “bunch of notes”, helps you to both read and perform music better, as well as to play more beautiful without unnecessary tension.

Even though I personally do not agree completely with this, it is a great way of learning a piece, to actually work on passages, aka “passage work”, in the music itself and to make up your own exercises from it.

However- this does not apply to beginner pianists, as you need to be a really good player to begin with, to be able to make such choices and to know exactly what you need to work on and how to do it. And this would be very difficult for a beginner.

3 Main Areas of Piano Technique 

1. Finger Exercises and Drills

Exercises, as opposed to Etudes, are technical exercises that introduce you to movement patterns for your hands, arms and whole body, as well as finger drills, introducing one difficulty at a time. (Not really very pretty to listen to!).

For example, Charles-Louis Hanon wrote the famous The Virtuoso Pianist which is a collection of real finger drill exercisesGet a free PDF and practice advice here. 

2. Scales, Chords and Arpeggios

The study of scales, chords and arpeggios serve several purposes: 

  • First, they get you acquainted with the basic tools or elements that music is built with. This helps you understand music theory and to read music better.
  • Second, they teach us the common movement patterns we meet when learning piano pieces. It makes a huge difference, when learning a new piece, to immediately know what fingering to use, as well as what movement is required.
  • Third, you can learn to "see" the written music as being either chords; broken or blocked, scales; or part of a scale and intervals.

3. Etudes

Even though the word Etude actually means Exercise as well, we say "Etudes" about exercises that are more like real pieces.

Etudes are pieces that contain several difficulties at the same time, for example learning how to make a melody be heard over a subtle accompaniment.

Some Etudes may be used as repertoire since they are really beautiful, and others are more boring.

But the point with an Etude is to practice technique in a more musical context, involving phrasing and musical thought, not just drills.

A good Etude book for beginners who have learned the basics is: Francis Clark's "Piano Etudes for the Development of Musical Fingers ".

How to Practice Piano Exercises

Depending on your preference, here are some ways to build your piano technique with a daily piano exercise regimen. These are just a few suggestions to spark your imagination!

Depending on your needs and personality, make your own adjustments as you see fit; but try to work- if not every day- at least a few times a week with some form of technical exercises. 

A. The All-At-Once Method

Each day you set aside certain minutes of practicing piano exercises, in addition to learning new pieces, maintaining old repertoire, learning by heart, sight reading and improvising.

If you practice 60 min. sessions in a day it could for example look like this:

  1. 10 minutes scales
  2. 10 min. technical exercises
  3. 10 min. work on an etude.
  4. 10 min. learn notes etc of a new piece
  5. 10 min. learn a few measures of a piece by heart
  6. 10 min. play through repertoire (any piece you know well and preferably by heart)

B. The Different-Every-Day Method

During the week you might like to focus more on one different aspect each time:

  • Day 1: Piano exercises and technique drills plus repertoire work.
  • Day 2: Scales, chords and arpeggios and learning a new piece.
  • Day 3: Etudes and memorization of an already learned piece.
  • Day 4: Improvise, make your own pieces, record yourself- play around!
  • Day 5: Perform for someone- even if only by video recording for yourself.
  • Day 6: Sight reading, watch DVD’s with great pianists; go to a concert (!).
  • Day 7: Listen to great music and read about great musicians! (By a swimming pool sipping a huge drink with an umbrella, maybe…mmm!)

C. The Don't-Wanna-Spend-too-Much-Time Method

After some time, when you have learned a few exercises you really like and feel does good for you, put together a short piano exercise “repertoire” of about 10-15 minutes.

Use this as a warm up every day (memorized to save time), and then spend the rest of your time focusing on your repertoire, or improvising etc.

If you need a book with piano exercises to build up your piano technical skills , I can also recommend Piano Aerobics from Alfred's Basic Adult Piano Course.

It is written for adult beginners and is filled with hand and finger exercises for a great workout!

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