Why Keyboard Players Should Still Practice Hanon Exercises

Hanon exercises are the source of much debate in the keyboard community. Some teachers love them and others think they’re useless. Students seem to universally dislike them, at least when they are starting out. It’s not hard to see why; they’re repetitive, they don’t sound cool, and it can be hard to see the practical application. But I believe (and have experienced!) that if you use and adapt Hanon exercises to suit your goals, you will find them incredibly useful.

I play keyboard professionally, but exclusively in a pop setting. I don’t play classical and I rarely play jazz. Pop, country, rock, and blues are my bag. It may seem weird that I practice Hanon, a traditional classical exercise, but let me explain. Here are a few reasons I practice Hanon every day and some ways you can use Hanon to enrich your practice.

By the way, Hanon Online has 240 exercises available for free. No excuses, y’all.

Hanon Exercises Make Easy-To-Remember Warm Ups

Many musicians (not just keyboard players) neglect to warm up before they play. Even three minutes can make a big difference – just get your fingers moving and your brain into a good headspace.

Once you start practicing Hanon, you’ll quickly memorize the first couple exercises. Use these as quick warm-ups before a gig! You can even turn the volume down (if you’re using a digital keyboard) and run through them.

Use Hanon To Practice Mindful Playing/Practicing

People who argue against practicing Hanon exercises complain that they become mindless after a few runs through the exercises. To me, that’s a problem with the player, not the exercise.

When an exercise becomes mindless, it becomes useless. Being mindful when you’re playing and practicing is an important skill to develop. It will make your practicing more efficient and your playing more natural.

I’ll explain how I use Hanon to improve my everyday keyboard playing, but I stress that all of this would be useless if I wasn’t practicing mindfully.

Use Hanon To Get Control Of Your Fingers

When I’m hired as a keyboard player, I’m primarily playing chords and simple leads lines. Occasionally I have a keyboard solo. It’s very rare that I’m playing music that requires difficult runs or very technically challenging parts.

One day, I went back to some old classical pieces that I was once able to play. I realized quickly that I had lost a lot of dexterity and accuracy that I once practiced daily.

Working through Hanon exercises with great attention to detail and accuracy will improve your dexterity and control, no question.

Here’s how I do it:

  • Start your metronome. Always practice Hanon with a metronome. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.
  • Start at an unnaturally slow pace. So slow that it’s difficult to play with the metronome.
  • Move up until you’re working your fingers hard. When you slip up, restart.
  • When you feel completely comfortable with one exercise, move on to the next one.

By practicing Hanon exercises with attention to detail and at differing tempos, you will build your accuracy quickly. I noticed a difference in literally days.

Practice The Exercises In Every Key

Hanon detractors often argue that because the exercises are only in C, it makes them less applicable to real life situations. This is true. You are limiting yourself if you choose to play these exercises in C and only C. But why would you do that?

Hanon exercises are just patterns. You can take a pattern in C and put it in F#. Put it in D. Put it in A. Apparently, in the Russian conservatory they made students practice Hanon in every key.

Practicing Hanon in every key will put those keys under your fingers. Have you ever tried to improvise in a key you’re unfamiliar with? It’s a lot harder than, say, C. Working your fingers around every key nearly every single day will help.

Hanon Exercises As Time Building Practice

A big part of my daily practice is time building, working on keeping excellent time and working on my feel and groove.

Believe it or not, Hanon exercises can help you with this. For one thing, working through Hanon carefully with a metronome is great for your time. This is especially effective if you do the exercises at very low tempos.

You can also work your subdivisions (and thus your time and groove) with these exercises. Hanon exercises are all running eighth notes, but just like you can transpose these patterns, you can change the rhythm.

Try working through Hanon like this:

  • Start the exercise with quarter notes, bpm at around 50.
  • Once you’ve gone through the exercise, do it again with eighth notes.
  • And again, with triplets.
  • Next, sixteenth notes.
  • Now try fitting five notes into a beat.

You can see how this can give your subdivisions a workout! Try doing them one after another without stopping. Also try going from quarter notes straight to groupings of 5.

This is useful stuff; being able to pull off a lick in 5 in the middle of a solo is pretty hip.

Hanon Exercises Are As Useful As You Make Them

As you can see, I don’t use Hanon as a mindless practice tool. I use Hanon exercises as a place to start when I want to work technique.

It’s also not the only technique I practice. I still do scales every day, I still practice montunos and finger independence exercises. But I also do Hanon every day and I find it incredibly useful.

You don’t need to stick to the book with these exercises. Have fun with it, innovate, and get creative!


DaveWhy Keyboard Players Should Still Practice Hanon Exercises


Join the conversation
  • that - September 5, 2017 reply

    I read this piece of writing fully on the topic of the resemblance оf latest
    and earlier technologies, it’s amazing article.

  • Flint Long - October 12, 2017 reply

    I’m a professional concert pianist. I have been doing Hanon almost everyday for 56 years! It helps my jazz, my Bach – everything. Even my Boogie- Woogie. This was a well written article and I agree with it 100 per cent! To me, playing is a joy, because I can feel the body mechanics of my fingers growing in strength, coordination and independence. The little hammers ( my fingers ) jump for joy. I tell my students, and I want you to remember this, “After you do your Hanon, the piano just about plays itself!” .

    Max - October 25, 2018 reply

    Calling Flint Long! Do you do many different Hanon exercises in all keys, or are you one of those people who just warms up with Hanon No. 1 in C Major for a few minutes every day and then says, “Right, I’ve done my Hanon” ? Thanks

  • Mark Katz - August 6, 2019 reply

    Great stuff. In terms of sequencing these exercises,is it best to stay on 1 until you can do each in 12 keys, or do you go through the first 20 in c, and focus on timing?

  • Andy thomas - November 12, 2019 reply

    Yes. Well said.

  • Deirdre - May 24, 2020 reply

    hi, great article! I am working on getting my piano technique back after a long gap of 20 years. As you get older it is really important to keep your finger muscles agile and to build up strength. Hanon is great for this, particularly in different keys. Also, when people suggest playing Bach etc to develop technique I fundamentally disagree. The great thing about Hanon is that they are easy to learn and theee is that there is no real emotional connection messing with your head as you play. You just get on with your Exercises and you don’t mind speeding up or slowing down your metronome – you just want to get it done. Emotional blocks are very difficult to overcome with music sometimes which is another great reason to practice exercises like this every day. I am currently up to number 40.

  • AntoLovesPiano - May 2, 2021 reply

    Hi! Great article! I loved the part of becoming a mindful keyboardist, especially by going through Hanon exercises a way to regain lost dexterity.


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