Le Pianiste Virtuose en 60 Exercices, Nos. 1 – 20
It’s Musical Monday, and perhaps just playing Czerny all the time has gotten a little boring for you guys. But don’t sweat, because I’ve got something much more exciting prepared, just for you: Hanon exercises, instead!
Charles-Louis Hanon’s Le Pianiste Virtuose en 60 Exercices (The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercise) is an (in)famous collection of (you guessed it) 60 piano exercises, meant for developing finger and wrist strength, agility, endurance, flexbility, suppleness, you name it. Ask any piano teacher or pianist what the most useful book of exercises are for the piano, and half will probably name Hanon’s. Ask the ones that don’t what the most harmful book of exercises are for the piano, and chances are, they’ll probably all name Hanon’s.
But: you must have at least a year of keyboarding experience before starting Hanon practice. Starting it too early will a) dumb down your musical sense b) force you into amateurish hand postures and c) be impossible to play. If you’re here and want to learn how to play piano, Lypur’s ‘Learn How to Play Piano’ playlist is the perfect tutorial for you! Well, maybe it’s not perfect, and maybe it’s not for you, but do give it a shot. (Look, he’s even made a video about the Virtuoso Pianist and Erster Wiener Lehrmeister im Pianofortespiel!)
Like it or hate it, every pianist has encountered Hanon’s exercises sometime in their lifetime. Thus, in this series of posts, I’ll be venturing to play them all. Like a Pokémon master but without the Poké, without the mon, without the mast, and without the er.
By the way, if you’ve poked around my Czerny videos and saw that they were all filmed from the same position, and now you’re wondering how I filmed Hanon in a different position, well…
…see, I’m too lazy to buy a tripod (or a better mic/camera), but the thing with Hanon is that videos must actually show your fingers, otherwise people have no idea what’s going on (it doesn’t matter so much with Czerny, which is more about tone than fingerings). So…
You see, my piano is right under my loft bed, and if I had a way of gluing my camera to the bottom of the bunk, it would be just right for filming my fingers. Of course, I can’t glue it, so… by simply using loops of string, I can guarantee that the camera doesn’t fall and that it also remains steady (unless there’s an earthquake). Don’t ask me how Bulbasaur got up there, I don’t know. Also: the deck of cards and eraser represent my camera, because I can’t use my camera to take a picture of my camera.
But that’s enough talk: onwards to music!!
- However, Hanon’s exercises can hardly be called ‘music’, especially the introductory ones (that we cover in this post). They’re quite simple: a sequence of eight sixteenth-notes/semiquavers first played starting on C, and then on D, and then on E, blah blah blah upwards for two octaves and downwards back to the beginning. This sequence goes C-E-F-G-A-G-F-E and then repeats on D, D-F-G-A-B-A-G-F. Then, it flips itself backwards after two octaves, G-E-D-C-B-C-D-E and then repeats on F, F-D-C-B-A-B-C-D, until it gets back down to the original C. Simple stuff.
- Number two contains a little turn meant for training the third and fourth fingers. To fully get everything out of Hanon’s exercises, lift your fingers and strike with precision. At least, that’s what Hanon tells you to do. Always practice with a metronome; set it at 60 bpm and gradually, over several weeks, play faster and faster until you reach 108 bpm. Playing a Hanon exercise faster than 108 bpm is deleterious.
- This exercise’s beginning is very similar to number two, but it goes down and up just once instead of turning around so many times. Hanon’s instructions are to practice these exercises in sets of three, except for the first two (which are practiced together), which is why I’m recording these videos in sets of three. (It also saves me a lot of piano-cover-closing.)
- So, when you practice Hanon, play exercise #1 and move immediately to exercise #2 without stopping. Stop at the end of exercise #2, and then play exercises #3, #4, and #5 without stopping. Stop at the end of exercise #5, and then play exercises #6, #7, and #8 without stopping; et cetera, et cetera. The ending of this exercise is the exact same as the ending of exercise #1. That doesn’t mean anything at all because when you only have eight notes, it’s hard to make exercises with a great amount of variety…
- Up ’til now, it’s been quite intuitive what the flipped notes would sound like, but here, the flipped notes seems nothing like the original! What’s going on? Well, we would expect the flipped exercise for this to be G-B-C-B-D-C-E-D, and then F-A-B-A-C-B-D-C. The actual flipped exercise is C-D-C-E-D-F-E-G, then B-C-B-D-C-E-D-F, then A-B-A-C-B-D-C-E. …WAIT A MINUTE! If you look closely, aren’t they the same? Take away the ‘G’ from G-B-C-B-D-C-E-D and take away the ‘F’ from B-C-B-D-C-E-D-F and you have the exact same notes! Now everything makes sense.
- Look at Bulbasaur staring all creepily there. The exercise pattern changes just before the flip so that you don’t have to play the same note two times: don’t forget to change when you’re playing it!
- Pay careful attention to the fingerings here! You’ll notice yourself get confused over whether to play next to your thumb with your index finger or middle finger, especially because only one hand does this at a time! Were you confused at that sentence? Well, so was I, but a helpful (?) reminder of which finger to use: it’s always 3-4-5, regardless of whether it’s your right hand or left hand, whether you’re going up or coming down. Just keep that in mind and you’ll be just fine, unless you get run over by a car in which case you would need to go to the hospital
- How do you remember how to play each exercise?
Well, I memorize everything I play on YouTube because my memory is awesome that I forget everything I memorize after five minutes oh, were you talking about yourself? I mean, was I talking about you? To remember how to play this exercise, realize that it’s /exactly the same/ as exercise #5, except for the second note. Go, compare it yourself. Well, I suppose that makes them not exactly the same anymore, but…
- There’s not much to say about this exercise. I have another book of Hanon exercises by Boris Berlin (a Russian-Canadian pedagogue who became an Officer of the Order of Canada), titled (imaginatively) ‘The New Hanon’. In it, he titles all twenty preparatory exercises to “make them more interesting, especially for younger pupils.” This one is titled ‘Mountain-Climbing’; not a very interest-inspiring title, if you ask me…
- The rapid alternation between the middle and index fingers and between the middle and ring fingers is a trill. Although it’s easy to play this with your thumb and index finger, or with your index and middle finger, it’s almost impossible to smoothly execute a trill with your ring and pinky fingers. Don’t worry (or, if your teacher demands you play Hanon, do worry) – Hanon has many trill exercises to help you achieve this.
- Speak of the devil! Or, uh, of the piano finger exercises. Here’s a trill practice for your ring and pinky fingers! Have fun. (Pssst, try to play by moving your pinky and ring fingers up and down, and not your entire hand. You have to exercise those pinky muscles!)
- This is an interesting exercise (and not just because the title is ‘Seagulls’… wait, how is that interesting at all). A few tips on its practice: the first group starts with G-C, but the second one leaps over to B-D (instead of what you might expect, A-D). Then, when it gets to the change in direction, the notes are altered so you don’t play the same note twice. Finally, in the last four bars, the penultimate group starts with C-A, but the final group is C-G. Yeah, confusing. …Just like seagulls?
- Another exercise that doesn’t start on C! Remember before when I said that the fingerings would always be 3-4-5? WELL I WAS LYING because when descending, the left hand plays 5-3-2 instead of 5-4-3. Why? I honestly have no idea, because this completely ruins the symmetry that stands as the basis of Hanon’s work. Both hands are /not/ perpetually executing the same mechanical difficulties anymore!! (Well, I suppose a tiny change in fingering doesn’t really matter…)
- More trill preparation. I wasn’t lying about Hanon having many trill exercises, was I?
- Ahhh, this is perfectly symmetrical; even the change in direction and endings look the same. It’s a very nice and simple exercise that’s pretty useful for mastering coordination.
- Remember exercise #11, the one with the pinky trills? Well, this exercise doesn’t have pinky trills, but it’s just two notes off of exercise #11! Exercise #11 is C-E-A-G-A-G-F-G, and exercise #16 is C-E-D-E-A-G-F-G. Do these exercises seem repetitive yet?
- More of the same 5-4-3-4 exercises. This also stretches between your index and ring fingers (you’d normally play a fourth with your index and pinky, but this exercise forces you to use your ring finger) in preparation for exercise #20. Not much more to say than that.
- More trill practice… this exercise is really cramped in space compared to others (such as #20, haha), so make sure your fingers don’t trip over each other.
- This exercise ascending is almost identical to exercise #12 descending. Well, not really, but compare them yourself! I’m just the messenger! And the person who plays badly (badly plays?) and uploads videos for all to mock at and ridicule
- The final exercise! It’s titled ‘An Airplane Ride’! It’s like an airplane ride! I’m spending too much energy playing this! It ends on a chord! It expands your ring and index fingers! Actually, it expands the space between your ring and index fingers, and your ring and index fingers themselves will stay as skinny as they always were! That’s the end! Really!
So, now some closing notes.
Hanon intended his exercises to be played through every day for them to take true effect. I have never had the determination to do such a thing, and thus, I cannot verify whether they actually are effectual. However, if you do have this dedication, a few tips (from a complete amateur; take these with a grain of salt. and a grain of pepper. and a grain of sand. and a grain of gunpowder. and a grain of truth. and across the grain of wood. and on the grain of leather. and a grain of-YOU GET IT ALREADY):
Make sure that you always practice with proper technique; otherwise, you will develop worse and worse technique as you mindlessly reinforce perverted fingerings (wait, did I just say that). Lift your fingers up and strike with precision; articulate every note evenly and clearly. Use your fingers to play, not your wrist or your hand.
Always use a metronome to practice; set it at 60 bpm and slowly play faster until you reach 108 bpm. Practice each of the exercises in sections, only stopping at the end of exercises #2, #5, #8, #11, #14, #17, and #20.
Finally, you’ll notice that all of these exercises are in C major, all of these exercises are in sixteenth-notes/semiquavers, and all of these exercises are played legato. To facilitate skilful execution in all keys, with all rhythms, and with all touches… well, the answer is obvious, right? Play these exercises in different keys! Play them with different rhythms (maybe a swing rhythm, or four fast notes followed by four slow ones; do anything you want)! Slur them, staccato them, do anything in between. Eventually, you might find yourself as comfortable in A-sharp minor as you are in C major.
And then? After that?
After that, we’ll have to move on to part two of the Virtuoso Pianist…