Piano Exercises for Beginners

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In this lesson, you'll learn about the main types of beginning 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 your 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 build up strength, awareness, and security in your playing technique.

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 beautifully without unnecessary tension.

I know some pianists and teachers consider special piano technique exercises pointless, but instead, by studying lots of repertoires and making your own exercises from the “real” piano pieces, you will learn all the techniques 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 beautifully without unnecessary tension.

Even though I personally don't agree entirely with this, it is an excellent way of learning a piece; to work on passages, aka "passagework," 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 an excellent player to begin with, to be able to make such choices; to know precisely what you need to work on, and how to do it. This would be very difficult for a beginner.

3 Main Areas of Piano Technique 

1. Finger Exercises and Drills

As opposed to Etudes, exercises 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; a collection of finger drill exercises. Get 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 essential tools or elements that music is built with. This helps you understand music theory and to read music better.
  • Second, they teach us the typical movement patterns we meet when learning piano pieces. It makes a huge difference when learning a new piano piece to immediately know what fingering to use and what movement is required.
  • Third, you can learn to "see" the written music as chords, broken or blocked, scales (or part of a scale), and intervals.

3. Etudes

Even though the word Etude actually means exercise, we say "Etudes" about exercises that are more like genuine pieces.

Etudes are pieces that simultaneously contain several difficulties, for example, learning how to make a melody heard over a subtle accompaniment.

Some Etudes may be used as repertoire since they sound great, 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.

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

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 forms of technical exercises.

A. The All-At-Once Method

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

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

  1. 10 min 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 piano piece by heart.
  6. 10 min play through repertoire (any piece you know well and preferably memorized).

B. The Different-Every-Day Method

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

  • 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, watching DVDs with great pianists, going to a recital(!).
  • 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 work well 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, improvising, etc.

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