Problems With Hanon Exercises on Piano
Charles-Louis Hanon’s book “Le Piano virtuose” (known in English as “The
Virtuoso Pianist”) has been one of the most widely used sets of exercises among piano instructors for the last century.
The book contains sixty mechanical exercises that are intended to promote finger independence and virtuoso level
abilities in students. Hanon has many supporters, but also many detractors.
There are several problems with Hanon exercises on piano that people should be aware of before attempting to use
them to improve their abilities.
One issue is that most piano players, even professionals, do not require developing virtuoso level abilities.
The exercises are physical drills that have very limited benefit for anyone not striving to become a virtuoso.
While achieving virtuoso level skill is often a goal for many classically trained performers, many contemporary
players do not require the same level of skill.
For many contemporary players, they require only intermediate levels of skill, but focus more on developing
compositional ability instead. Even if the Hanon exercises work perfectly, devoting time to developing virtuoso
abilities is unnecessary for many students.
One of the most cited problems with Hanon exercises on piano is that they are purely physical exercises. The
exercises are designed around how your hand is moving, not what notes you are playing. Technical skills are an
important part of becoming a virtuoso piano player, but not the only part.
There is no substitute for the more musical exercises used in many other
methods. In addition, the specific movements used in Hanon exercises are rarely encountered in music. Hanon
exercises do improve your finger strength and speed, but does not develop the muscle memory required for more
Virtuoso level piano playing is not simply a matter of developing speed on the keyboard. Virtuoso level piano
players need to perfect every aspect of piano playing. This includes aspects not dealt with in Hanon exercises,
like phrasing and pedal work. Someone capable of playing through notes quickly might still be a very sloppy
performer in other areas.
Quite often, speed is less of an issue than properly sustaining or muting notes and other slower techniques. A
more commonly known issue of this nature is widely seen in guitarists. Many of the shred guitarists that play more
aggressive rock and metal music are criticized because they lack many of the more basic, more musical guitar
techniques. The speed and precision taught in these techniques is only part of developing piano skills.
Teachers using the Hanon exercises incorrectly can also cause issues. Some teachers put too much emphasis on the
Hanon exercises or try to use them as a shortcut to developing virtuoso level skills.
However, these exercises should not be used as the principle method of training and cannot provide a shortcut.
The teachers that get the best results from these techniques are the ones that use them to supplement other
techniques that also help build the musical abilities of a piano player.
On their own, the Hanon exercises only teach you how to play the Hanon exercises, not how to apply them to
playing virtuoso level piano songs. This is not
necessarily as much a problem with Hanon exercises on piano as an issue with the methodology behind the teacher
using these exercises.
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