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Sharon Bill Author & Music Tutor

Time Stands Still


Hanon piano scale exercises practised with a metronome inevitably means that a large chunk of time is carved out of your day - every day. So why bother?

That first sentence is misleading because it carries with it a negative tone which really isn't the case (or at least from my perspective at the piano) - I actually enjoy the time… eventually. First of all though you have to work through the initial frustration of getting the notes wrong in the repetitive patterns. Then you have to overcome back ache, wrist ache, finger ache and any number of other mild aches from muscles you didn't know you'd got. Even now you're not quite finished. Once you've got your fingers around the exercises you then need to gradually build up the tempo, very slowly, notch by notch on the metronome.

If you think you've cracked it you're still not quite done. Now try the very same exercise in dotted rhythms and then try it staccato. Hanon himself contrived sixty fiendish exercises, each one having about a dozen variations of his own suggestion, not including the couple that I just suggested. My maths isn't up to much but by my reckoning that's nearly one and a half thousand possible scale exercises. Each exercise is in the key of C so why not transpose them all into the various major keys? This then multiplies the whole by another twelve. That makes nearly seventeen hundred possible scale exercises. Why not try them into the minor- or even various versions of the minor key? We're talking of a few thousand technical exercises now. I would imagine the hours have just flown by!

So why bother?

If you really had done that many technical exercises at the piano your finger strength, dexterity, co-ordination, control and general mastery of the keyboard would be immeasurable. If you'd transposed each and every exercise into all major and minor keys your knowledge and familiarity of tonal structure would be astounding. All of these skills are then ready to be transferred to any piece of music you choose to pick up. Sight reading in tricky key signatures would be an absolute breeze and no doubt many passages that might otherwise surprise you with their difficulty will now just fall under your fingers!

Perhaps it's at this point in the discussion that I should clarify that I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't completed these thousands of exercises myself. I scratched the surface of the book many years ago in my early piano student days but can't claim to have earned my stripes - yet…

I'm returning to my student status and I've dug out my once arch enemy, Hanon, and I'm hoping that we'll become good friends now that age has mellowed me and I can appreciate fully the bounty he had to offer once before. I actually enjoy playing scales which have all of the above advantages. In fact I love them so much I've made YouTube videos demonstrating how to construct and play all major and minor scales. Once you get past the initial awkward stage and you become reasonably familiar with the note patterns there's a calming quality to be found in just rattling up and down the piano. They're especially good for when you're in a grumpy mood (not that I ever am) - an extra fortissimo is always good for the soul. Playing loudly is also good for building finger strength. Maybe the way I play Hanon will be a good litmus test for what mood I'm in, although I'm not sure how empirical the study would be. Loud could mean joyous as well as angry! Either way it's good therapy, it's good for your fingers and it'll improve your playing immeasurably. Get crashing up and down that piano keyboard!