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Hanon's Piano Exercises are not for Warming-Up

Mizue Murakami

Woman's forearm warmed-up to play piano

I was noticing last decades, a lot of piano practitioners and learners use Hanon's piano exercises (The Virtuoso Pianist Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) for their warm-ups, including scales and arpeggios. But Hanon's exercises are meant to be for strengthening and developing independent movements. In fact, if you use Hanon's exercises for warming up, you may end up getting an opposite result from your initial intention: Warming up.

Imagine going to the gym to exercise. When you enter the gym, what do you do first? You warm-up. You don't immediately lift heavy-weights. Not only that, you certainly don't want to lift heavy-weights very rapidly. That would create injuries.

Hanon's piano exercises (including scales and arpeggios) should be used after you are completely warmed up. Or you can use it even after you practice some pieces you have been working on. You may ask, "Then, how should I warm up?" My recommendation for warming up is to play several easy pieces that you already memorized until you are warmed up very well. I don't recommend using pieces that you are working on because you'll end up using up your mental energy while warming up. When you are warming up, you don't want to work hard mentally or physically. While warming up, you still need to preserve your precious mental and physical energy for your real practice that you are going to start shortly. So, play some easy pieces for 10 minutes, or even more if you are a kind of person who needs more time to warm up slowly. Again, the slow warm-up will create real deep complete warm-up. I usually like to take at least 20 minutes for my warm-up if I have time.

How would you know if you are completely warmed up? Touch the top of your forearm with the other hand. If you feel quite a lot of warmth there, that arm is warmed up. And check the other arm also. "Why, arms?" you may say. The muscles that control your fingers are inside the forearms. So, those muscles need to be warmed up. Even if your hands feel warm, if the forearms are not warmed up, you can't be ready for practice and exercises.

Now, we talked about warming up. Let's come back to Hanon's exercises. Even though a lot of published editions of The Virtuoso Pianist say that you should increase the tempo gradually to the point where you should be playing the exercises very fast. I personally think that's not necessary. That recommendation was created a long time ago. Charles Hanon lived from 1819 through 1900. In our current time, we all know that when you lift heavy-weights, it's better to do it slowly and in a focused way. That benefits you the most from the strengthening exercises. I believe that slow strengthening exercise using Hanon's exercise is very beneficial. Even though this is about playing the piano, not about lifting heavy-weights, the concept is the same. You need to develop muscles inside the forearms for each finger so that you can move and co-ordinate your fingers independently with power and ease. Once those muscles are developed, and if you are warmed up, your performance will be ten times better.

I want to talk more about how to use Hanon's exercises slowly to benefit from it effectively. But I'll write about it in the later blog in more details. Today, I wanted to emphasize that piano practitioners and learners shouldn't be using Hanon's exercises (including scales and arpeggios) to warm up for your piano practicing. Take it easy on your warm-ups. Play something easy and effortless. And take a longer time to warm up if your time allows.


We have FREE exercise sheets from The Virtuoso Pianist by Charles Hanon in Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. We also have other piano exercises for free. Please take advantage of them.  


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