This is a loaded question and it’s a topic that may cause controversy – especially among some piano teachers. There are different perspectives on this important subject. As always, I welcome everyone’s comments and suggestions when it comes to every topic we cover so please feel free to voice your opinion.
I also understand that some students can become frustrated by having to practice tedious exercises for hours and hours when they would much rather be playing music. But are these exercises in vain or is there a purpose to them?
Exercises are an important part of developing as a pianist. In many cases utilizing Hanon and Czerny can be a great way to develop strength in your playing. These exercises can help you develop pure technique without having to deal with nuanced expression, complex rhythms, melodies and countermelodies. By using Hanon or Czerny, you can learn exercises with lots of notes much much quicker than many piano pieces which can have additional elements of complexity not found in these exercises.
What about the relative value of learning exercises instead of learning music? A lot of times musical etudes – advanced ones such as Chopin or Moszkowski or student level etudes of Heller or Burgmuller – can provide the same benefit of strength building you get from Czerny or Hanon with the added benefit of providing pieces of music you can add to your repertoire.
There really is a balance you must reach when it comes to learning exercises versus learning music. In the early levels of studying the piano learning exercises provides a great way to develop strength. Hanon exercises can help you develop finger strength very quickly. The early exercises in the book are great for beginning pianist because you don’t have to deal with finger crossings or cumbersome musical challenges. It’s an easy and simple way to start playing the piano immediately developing strength in your fingers. Younger students can quickly master these exercises and prepare themselves for learning music.
Once you master all of your scales and arpeggios you can continue building strength simply by playing music. You will challenge yourself much more and develop your technique along with continuing to work on scales and arpeggios.
So yes, there are benefits to exercises, but you shouldn’t be relying on them as your only source of technical development. They provide a great foundation for building your technique but they are something you should augment with scales and arpeggios and substantial musical repertoire.
Many times you can actually create your own exercises by taking sections of music you have great difficulty with. Take these sections and generate patterns, bring out different voices, or create rhythmic variations to challenge yourself. Exercises come in all forms and sizes and you shouldn’t be afraid to create your own!
We would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Please leave us comments or contact me directly: Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729