Robert Estrin - piano expert

Practicing Hanon Exercises in Different Keys

Improve your piano scales technique with these great tips

In this video, Robert talks about the popular Hanon Exercises and Scales and how to approach them in a different way... by changing their keys!

Released on June 3, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello. Welcome to I'm Robert Estrin with a viewer question. Matt asks, "Is there a value in practicing Hanon exercises in different keys?" What a great question. It brings up a whole lot of things I want to share with you today that might be helpful in your playing.

The Hanon exercises start off with 20 exercises all in C major, and they're repeated patterns. The first one sounds like this.

It continues like that. Eventually, it comes down with the pattern upside down.

That's the pattern over and over again and there's 20 of these exercises. The way I generally utilize Hanon, which you can actually find out about in another video of mine, is to develop strength for beginning players so that you can approach scales and arpeggios which are more difficult than Hanon exercises.

What about practicing them in different keys? Well, I would say that once you've gone through scales and arpeggios and gotten introduced to those, you might want to revisit Hanon. Why in different keys? To get the different finger patterns and get comfortable with the black keys with different combinations of fingers. Like, if you played the same exercise in D major, it would sound like this and would feel a bit different.

Going through that can certainly exercise different muscles and give you comfort on the keyboard in different places. My father, Morton Estrin, who was my teacher, he once recommended to me a really radical idea of practicing all your major scales on the piano with C major scale fingerings. The C major scale.

What would happen if you tried to play the C major scale fingering on a D flat scale which has completely different fingering? It feels very unnatural.

Why would you want to do such a thing? You would never want to play a D flat scale with that fingering. Well, sometimes in music, particularly in counterpoint, complex fugues, you have to use all sorts of fingering that is very unnatural with crossings that are awkward. So by practicing with fingering that is not optimal, it gives you the feeling and the security of being able to reach in ways that you're not accustomed to generally.

For example, in the second movement of the Bach Toccata in E Minor, you have something like this in the middle.

In writing like that, you may have to use different types of fingering that you might not be comfortable with but there is no better choice in that context. So by practicing exercises or scales with fingering that is not the best fingering, it can help to prepare you for opportunities to play music where there aren't better choices for fingering.

Thanks for the great question, Matt. Once again, I'm Robert Estrin here at Keep those questions coming in. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Fernando * VSM MEMBER * on April 10, 2020 @9:44 am PST
Hi Robert, I’m a 61 years old beginner in piano, looking for an appropriate approach to
Hanson exercises. What do you recommend? Should I use the metronome all of the time? Should I use them also for sight reading or just learn the patterns and focus on hands? Should I stay with one exercise until kind of “dominate it” before going for the next one?
Nawal on September 23, 2019 @7:52 am PST
Do you know any video lesson that teach hanon exercise in scale other than C. I have completed C major and want to learn D and above
Robert - host, on September 23, 2019 @11:52 am PST
The purpose of the first Hanon exercises is to develop strength and independence of the fingers. From there, you can start learning all of your major and minor scales and arpeggios.
Nawal on September 24, 2019 @7:40 am PST
Thanks a lot. I am a beginner . Which Piano should I buy. Is P-45 Yamaha nice?
Hank on June 14, 2015 @4:57 am PST
For how long should you practice Hanon everyday?
Robert Estrin on June 14, 2015 @12:32 pm PST
You can use Hanon as a 10 minute warm up at the beginning of your practice. Once you progress to scales and arpeggios, you can utilize them instead.
Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on June 9, 2015 @4:43 pm PST
Regarding jazz harmonies, students may want to know that many of the harmonies familiar in jazz music (and the popular songs that they are drawn from) were first written in classical music, and in fact found their way into jazz directly from the classical works. For example, the music of Claude Debussy was much played in New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th Century. On another note, the "strange" chord symbols in jazz songs are in fact a kind of shorthand that makes the music easier to learn and play, once you learn the vocabulary.
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on June 6, 2015 @6:17 am PST
In my Hanon book it is indicated to start with the metronome at 60 and increase to 108. I seem to be stuck with the first 4 exercises because I have a hard time getting past a 94 beat and keeping a "clean" sound. I can go faster if I play with one hand at the time. Should I keep practicing these first 4 with both hands until I can get them up to 108, or go on with all the 20 first exercises, and maybe repeat them later and try to increase the speed?
Robert Estrin on June 8, 2015 @5:11 pm PST
Here is an article and video on how to play faster on the piano which may provide some help for you:
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on June 9, 2015 @7:02 pm PST
Thanks! Will try to increase one beat at the time, maybe also one hand at the time!
John Raftopoulos * VSM MEMBER * on June 3, 2015 @3:39 pm PST
hi! I have a question on chords. on playing jazz, I meat a lot of strange chords like 6ths or 9ths, or even worst Ebm7A# and many more! Are these chords officially accepted chords, or just one of the peculiarities of Jazz music? Thank you!
Robert Estrin on June 8, 2015 @5:13 pm PST
Some jazz is very sophisticated. There are many Classical compositions which also utilize complex harmonies. However, jazz is generally notated on a lead sheet which includes the chord symbols. In Classical music the notes are written out. So, you might not realize that many Classical compositions also have rich harmonies with strange sounding descriptions!
John Raftopoulos * VSM MEMBER * on June 9, 2015 @4:05 pm PST
yes! you are right Robert! I often, to help me memorize, try to relate almost every measure to a chord and quite often I end up with figuring strange chords...sometimes I do that easier if the composition assigns the left hand to play four 16ths which if played together constitute a chord. for example left hand plays C, G, Eb, G and if the notes are played together, they give a C minor chord. yet sometimes I get a strange chord like Eb, F, B, F, a chord which in a Jazz sheet will be written may be as F7Cb! thank you for your answer!
Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on June 3, 2015 @11:21 am PST
I practice Hanon with many different variations. I usually play the exercizes in the melodic minor scale that is used so often in jazz, and I have variations with six, seven, and nine notes instead of the normal eight. They can also be played at intervals of sixths and tenths instead of octaves. The possibilities, as they say, are endless.
Robert Estrin on June 8, 2015 @5:14 pm PST
You can also play Hanon in rhythms which I may feature in a future video.
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