Technique Exercises

hanon coverTechnique exercises are a means to an end. A very important end. They can sometimes seem boring and unmusical, but they are an essential tool to getting better on your instrument. The best of the best players usually cite endless hours developing their technique through exercises, so it is time well invested. In the keyboard world, the best technique exercises are found in classical literature.

It is little wonder that the keyboardists who get the nod as the most virtuostic players in the rockgenre began with thorough training in classical piano in their early years

Technical development is a cornerstone of classical piano. Students are disciplined to go through daily technique study and usually  improve rapidly. After several years, they are pretty much ready to play anything (and, if they do encounter an extremely hard passage in a piece, they’ll know what needs to be done to master it, having seen something similar in one of their technical studies).

Classical players who segue into Rock and Roll (as did players like Rick Wakeman, Jon Lord, and Keith Emerson), almost have to ‘dumb down” their technique to get the right feel. Similar to classical violin players who segue into country and bluegrass fiddle. They can play the piece note for note no problem, but does it sound authentic?. Ease up on that technical precision a little, friend.

The classical repertoire is vast. it spans hundreds of years and thousands of artists, many of whomPiano player were virtuosos themselves. The proof of this is right there in the legacy of their compositions. To have even been able to play their own pieces denotes virtuosic ability.

Even if you can only spend 10-15 minutes a day on technique exercises you will see improvement. Make a chart of the exercises you practice, and keep track of your progress. You’ll see how what was once difficult is now easy, and that, compadre, is the name of the game.

If there is one criticism of classical training I’ve heard, it’s that there is too much emphasis on technique and not enough on repertoire development, but, ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. Check out any Youtube video featuring an amazing classical performer in concert, and then tell me what you think.

There are a multitude of artists who wrote their own etude books dedicated to technique only, but let me give you 3 popular ones to start with. Focusing your studies on just these three alone can sometimes get you light years ahead of where you are right now.

You will need to be able to read music to go through these books, but much of the reading is not complex.  Even if you are a “hunt and peck” type reader, you’ll  be able figure it out. You can also get a good idea of what you’re supposed to be playing by watching any number of YT videos where people are performing these etudes. You can practice each hand separately to start, or jump right in and go for the gold. I have some helpful tips on reading music if you’d like to check it out


Charles-Louis Hanon was a French composer and piano educator in the 1800’s. It was Hanon who wrote The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises. It is the Big Daddy of technique exercise books. The Capo Di Tutti Capi for achieving technical prowess. I’ve read several keyboard interviews where rock players admit they still routinely go through select Hanon exercises before each concert to loosen up their fingers and fine-tune their accuracy before hitting the stage.

This series of 60 exercises runs the gamut of things you’ll come across in musical performance. Scales, Arpeggios, intervals, octaves, etc, as well as lots of finger independence and strengthening exercises.  A must-have.

This gentleman lays it out well. BTW, this guy’s father, Morton Estrin, was Billy Joel’s piano teacher!


Ernst Dohnanyi (pronounced Doe-NON-yee) was an accomplished Hungarian composer and pianist who developed a series of finger independence exercises that can be diabolically difficult if you’ve never tried them before. This book is aimed at keyboardists  who have all the basics down, but it won’t hurt novice players to try some of the early exercises in the book right off the bat.

For our more advanced players who think of themselves as  technical wizards, these studies may be an eye-opener.  Some of these exercises can humble you right quick

The technique itself is based on keeping one or more fingers “anchored” ( held down on a note throughout)
while the remaining fingers move around them. In some of the shapes, the anchored fingers will want to lift up in the worst way, and the only antidote to that is going tortoise slow until the muscle independence starts to develop. The book, Daily Exercises For The Advanced Pianist,  is what you’re looking for

Here’s a helpful Youtube vid where the guy does a good job of explaining the basic concept:


Carl Czerny was a great Austrian composer, who also wrote some dynamite study books for technical development which are still widely used today. Below is the first in a series of YT videos where all the exercises in the book are being played at full speed, but don’t be intimidated. Learn them slowly and accurately, and in time, you’ll get them under your fingers and up to speed. Of the 3 books I’ve cited, the Czerny book is the most “musical” sounding, so the exercises can actually be fun to master

Always practice with a metronome until you’re up to speed with the etudes. I can’t emphasize this enough. I had a very good sense of time when I played in bands (I also had the good fortune to play with a lot of great drummers, which always helps) but when I jammed years later after a long layoff, I discovered my “inner clock” had been in hiatus too long, and my timing was a little off. I directly attribute this to practicing alone, without a metronome.  Get a metronome and use it. It will serve you well down the line.