Robert Estrin - piano expert

Learning Hanon - Part 1

A step-by-step approach to the most well-known piano technique method

In this video, Robert tackles the well-known Hanon method for piano, and gives you precious advice to learn and get the most out of this method.

Released on July 24, 2013

Watch also the Second Part and the Third Part of this video.
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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

Welcome to and I am Robert Estrin, your host. We had several questions about how to practice Hanon. So this is the first of a two-part series. Boy, any of you who have studied piano, classical piano, you've probably come across Hanon exercises and there are a lot of ideas about how to practice them. I'm going to share with you the ideas that were espoused to me by my father, Morton Estrin, and I've taught it pretty much the same way as he taught it to me, and I think you might find this valuable. Stay tuned for this and see what you think of this.

Okay. Hanon, The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises, is a big book. It's got a lot of things in it, including all the major and minor scales and arpeggios. But for formative study, the first exercises are excellent because they're less complex than scales or arpeggios but utilize the same finger work without the tedious and complexity of finger crossings and such. First of all, for practicing Hanon you always want to have a metronome. Why? Because the whole idea is to develop evenness and precision in your playing both in terms of timing and in volume.

So the first exercises, you start with the very first one, put the metronome on 60 beats to the minute and practice slowly and very definitely. It's a repeated pattern. You noticed by the way when I played that, I'm playing with all finger strength. My arms are not going up and down. It's all the strength of the fingers. More than that, the fingers are raised so that the notes that are played are down and the fingers that are not playing are up. This helps you to identify in your hand, and strengthened by the stretching, which notes are down and which notes are up.

Very important that the release of notes is clean. So when you play fast, you end up overlapping uneven durations of notes and blurriness. Once you go through the entire exercise and it's clean and comfortable, maybe do it about four times through to develop nice strength. Then you could do it two notes to the beat, also raising the fingers and being sure not to use the arms. Let me show you why the arms are no good. This is the way not to practice Hanon. There's no value in what I'm about to show you.

You can certainly get a lot of power that way, but the problem is you can't go fast using the arm for each note. The whole idea of Hanon is developing the strength and independence of the fingers. If you're doing it with your arms, you're not going to have any value in the exercise. So, how you practice Hanon is more important than anything. Then you go to two notes to the beat after you get it comfortable at one note to the beat. All the way up, of course, it goes to the top and then it comes down. The pattern is just a repeating pattern and then it comes descending later. Etc.

Now here's where it gets a little bit interesting because, when you go to four notes to the beat, there isn't time to raise the fingers. In fact, one of the rules of piano playing is the faster you play, the lighter you must play. Because you can't play with great strength or with so much motion when you're playing quicker. So when you go to four notes to the beat, keep the fingers very close. Keep them rounded so you don't have to go in and out because, of course, your fingers are not the same length. When they're rounded, they become right on the same line. That's why you want to keep your fingers rounded. Otherwise some fingers are not going to reach the keys, like the thumbs and maybe even the pinkies. When it's rounded, it's a comfortable position to maintain, takes no effort to maintain it, and puts all the fingers right in one line. So when you play four notes to the beat lightly, it's like this.

You can do four notes to the beat more than four times. Go through it a bunch of times until you're comfortable. The whole routine might only take you 10 minutes. Here's the key about Hanon: practice it everyday. It's a great little warm up. It doesn't take any concentration of music. There's no music here. It's strictly focusing your attention in your fingers, building strength. Because you can play more notes in 10 minutes than you will probably in the rest of your practice session in that Hanon, if you're doing things like memorization and refinement, where there's more thought than there is actual playing. So that's a great way to practice Hanon.

How many of these should you do? You should do one each week. After about 10 exercises, you really are ready to graduate the scales. There are some people who go through all the Hanon exercises. It don't think it's particularly necessary and scales and arpeggios, you want to get to them as soon as you have enough strength to handle them, which is the subject of next week's video.

Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin, here are and I'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Daniel Flores on January 20, 2016 @5:59 am PST
Thank you Robert! Explanation of Hanon exercise was extremely helpful. I was practicing it inefficiently. Wow, what a difference now.
jmcilvaine * VSM MEMBER * on June 8, 2015 @1:46 pm PST
Hi Robert, love your videos! Just turned 54 years old, never had formal music lessons, but love music! Self taught myself to play (mediocre) chords in both piano & guitar since my teens, so lots of bad habits picked up. Would like to (finally) get more serious. What's best route? Hanon 60 exercises still recommended?
Robert Estrin on June 8, 2015 @4:49 pm PST
Almost anything you play will help you get back into piano. Start with music you played before. I wouldn't restrict your playing to only non musical exercises like Hanon. You will be more successful if you enjoy what you are doing - play music!
robertfields * VSM MEMBER * on October 2, 2013 @11:27 am PST
Robert that's a great idea
When I do the Hanon
I only do the first one
But in all 12 keys
Robert Fields
Robert Estrin * VSM MEMBER * on October 3, 2013 @1:02 pm PST
That's an interesting technique. Some people play all the major scales with C-major scale fingering. There are many creative exercises you can create!
Zuhair Bakdoud, M.D. on August 23, 2013 @7:34 pm PST
I wonder if you could suggest a good metronome; I do not have one. Thank you very much!
Robert - host, on August 26, 2013 @11:22 am PST
Digital metronomes with a knob for setting speed are best. You can go to your local music store or check out online resources. Make sure they have a loud, clear tick. There are also several good metronome apps for iPhone and Android phones that are decent (although they lack the convenience of a a knob for setting speed). Be sure to un-accented beat which many metronomes default to. You just need consistent ticking for most applications.
Garry Corbett * VSM MEMBER * on July 31, 2013 @4:31 pm PST
Same comments as Ross. Marvelous teaching method !
Bravo ! Thank you so much !
justin jay on July 26, 2013 @11:02 pm PST
very useful thanks ...
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on July 24, 2013 @4:54 pm PST
Great reminder lesson! just like my mother used to teach me!
Thanks, Robert.
Ross * VSM MEMBER * on July 24, 2013 @8:55 am PST
I think you have a wonderful way of teaching and making all complicated points so easy to understand. At the risk of sounding stupid, I'll admit that no one had ever explained to me the real reason for curling your fingers(i.e. the different lengths of fingers!!). I knew it was good to do but Now I understand why it is so important!!
Humberto Cruz * VSM MEMBER * on July 24, 2013 @5:39 am PST
As usual, very useful video.
Humberto Cruz, VSM member
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