\"\"
Piano Forum logo

Is Hannon still considered useful? (Read 4547 times)

Offline schiu

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 4
Is Hannon still considered useful?
« on: February 27, 2006, 01:46:45 AM »
Hi, in my ripe old age I have decided to learn the piano.  After a significant struggle, I found a good and dedicated instructor.  I have been at it for about a year, practicing at least one hour a day.

Here is my question: I understand that Hannon used to be standard material for developing technique.  My instructor believes that this is no longer the case and that the student's time is better used when technique is developed at the same time as interpretation.  In fact, he thinks that Hannon-type exercises may be detrimental by encouraging a "mechanical" approach to the piano.

I am curious to know how many of you think this way, and would like to hear you comments.

Thanks

piano sheet music of The Virtuoso Pianist Part 1 (1-20)


Offline chopinfan_22

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 245
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #1 on: February 27, 2006, 01:55:39 AM »
I had used Hanon when I played the piano when I first started. My former teacher still advocates the usefullness of Hanon. I, on the other hand, discourage the use of it. It would always hurt me between the 4th and 5th fingers, in the wrists, and forearms. To avoid seriously injuring myself, I stopped with Hanon, and went over to Czerny's School of Velocity. I agree with your teacher in saying that Hanon goes about the piano in a mechanical sort of way. My advice, if you choose to use Hanon is to only use the exercises that would help you with a current piece of music you are working on. Czerny based his studies off Beethoven's Sonatas, hoping to develop an exercise for any technical problem presented to the pianist who worked through them. I prefer Czerny over Hanon, as does my current instructor. I do believe that technical exercises are useful, but only toward pieces you are currently working on. It's useless to just plow away through a technique book to gain technique that "could be used later on." Use those exercises to compliment your main focus. Be it arpeggios or whatever obstacle you are presented with.
"When I look around me, I must sigh, for what I see is contrary to my religion and I must despize the world which does not know that music is a higher revelation beyond all wisdom and philosophy."

Offline Mayla

  • PS Gold Member
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6638
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #2 on: February 27, 2006, 01:55:52 AM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline debussy symbolism

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1853
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #3 on: February 27, 2006, 01:57:11 AM »
Greetings.

I think that to Hannon is usefull to an extent. It teaches certain movements and finger strenght. If one can't do an excercise it is better to practice it instead of blaming on the excercise's pointlessness. I think that you should practice Hannon excercise, but not spend too much time on it, perhaps 5-10 minutes, depending on your practice time. The rest of the time should be spent on technical material, etudes and pieces. You could also give some time to improvisation/composition or playing other pieces. If you can't do a Hannon excercise then practice it, or at least play through it at a slow tempo. Hope this helps. :)

Offline mcgillcomposer

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 839
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #4 on: February 27, 2006, 02:19:07 AM »
Hello,

I would like to put in my two cents concerning exercise books such as Hanon, Czerny, etc.  It has been my experience that the best book, by far, is that by Dohnanyi.  One can feel the exercise working the brain and the hand while doing it...this I don't get from Czerny or Hanon.  Just give it a try, I guarantee you will feel the difference.

- Andrew
Asked if he had ever conducted any Stockhausen,Sir Thomas Beecham replied, "No, but I once trod in some."

Offline schiu

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 4
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #5 on: February 27, 2006, 03:39:01 AM »
Thanks for the hint, Andrew.  I'll give it a try.

Offline jamie_liszt

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 356
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #6 on: February 27, 2006, 05:02:06 AM »
Alot of people play Hanon hoping to become a virtuoso at the end. IMO you will only become a virtuoso at playing Hanon, not piano. Bach preludes and fugues, Inventions etc. are more useful. once you add a new piece to your repetoire you have mastered the technique, whether its trills, tremelos, octaves or scales. So IMO if you just concentrate building repetoire you will gain alot.

But other people will say you must do your scales and play hanon + czerny ever day. Repeating scales is also stupid and time wasting.  But everyone will tell you something different. But in the end you should do whats best for you, if hanon improves your playing, keep it going. etc....

Offline clef

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 118
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #7 on: February 27, 2006, 09:04:45 AM »
very interesting topic....

Offline joachimf

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 91
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #8 on: February 28, 2006, 11:01:21 PM »
You could also check out Cortot's exercises. I find them pretty neat, especially the "daily gymnastics" in the beginning of the book.
"Don't give me excuses, give me results!"

Offline mike_lang

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1496
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #9 on: March 01, 2006, 02:42:44 AM »
.

Offline emmdoubleew

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 314
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #10 on: March 01, 2006, 05:40:39 AM »
There are many superior technique training books. However, if you do choose to do the hannons, transpose all the excercises to C# Major for better results.

Offline jamie_liszt

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 356
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #11 on: March 01, 2006, 06:18:11 AM »
I think I should start putting more detail into what I say on these forums. Scales are useful for your sense of touch, scales do improve technique. I just meant repeating them over and over, eg: A flat major, A flat major, A flat major, B flat minor, Over and over hoping repeating scales so many times just like you repeat Hanon will make you superior to others which is wrong and is time wasting, because after a while you get used to it and you stop using your brain, thats when you should start working on other scales, or the same scales in different ways like contary motion etc.

So I just meant repeating Hanon and scales is very time wasting, but I don't mean not to do them at all. Especially scales.

Offline plunkyplink

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 44
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #12 on: March 01, 2006, 08:23:06 AM »
I just started playing the piano again after a long hiatus and I tried the Hanon exercises just recently. They're definitely not a replacement for practising scales, triads, and arpegios. I find they're nice for warming up. Also, I find they've helped tremendously with sight-reading. I focus on reading every note in the base or treble no matter if I have it memorized and no matter how fast I'm playing, and I don't look at the keys, and I say each starting note in my head as I play. It's amazing how much it's improved my over-all reading of notes, especially speed-reading music. I find it also helps to get my ya-yas out for wanting to play everthing fast. You can play as fast as you can on those exercises, and who cares about dynamics and such! I practise about 2-3 hours a day, and spend 20-30 minutes max on them, and that seems pretty good. I doubt they'd damage your over-all playing, but, maybe your teacher has a point.

Offline mike_lang

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1496
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #13 on: March 01, 2006, 12:17:20 PM »
.

Offline bernhard

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 5078
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #14 on: April 02, 2006, 01:01:31 AM »
For some heated controversy on Hanon, look here:

http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=13583.msg147163#msg147163
(Why Hanon is a waste of time – or not -  summary of arguments and many relevant links)

For the alternative view on Dohnanyi, look here:

http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,15701.msg171057.html#msg171057
(debunking Dohnanyi)


Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline alwaystheangel

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 587
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #15 on: April 04, 2006, 01:27:43 AM »
you sure are passionate about finger exercises, bernhard.
"True friends stab you in the front."      -Oscar Wilde

Offline steveie986

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 387
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #16 on: April 04, 2006, 05:53:27 AM »
Some rather obvious comments:

Hanon can be very useful if played the right way. That is, you don't mechanically plow through them but you have to LISTEN very very carefully to ensure the absolute evenness of the notes you are playing. The whole point is to develop equality of the fingers. Start out by playing pianissimo. Also try staccato, then dotted rhythms, etc... But always LISTEN. Sometimes you can feel your fourth and fifth fingers "buckle" and produce a slightly uneven note. That's a sign for you to stop and go back and redo.

Offline bernhard

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 5078
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #17 on: April 04, 2006, 11:28:43 AM »
Some rather obvious comments:

Hanon can be very useful if played the right way. That is, you don't mechanically plow through them but you have to LISTEN very very carefully to ensure the absolute evenness of the notes you are playing. The whole point is to develop equality of the fingers. Start out by playing pianissimo. Also try staccato, then dotted rhythms, etc... But always LISTEN. Sometimes you can feel your fourth and fifth fingers "buckle" and produce a slightly uneven note. That's a sign for you to stop and go back and redo.


Yes, rather obvious. Or are they?

Well let us ask some questions and make some comments that should be very obvious but apparently are not. (Never underestimate the power of conditioning to foster unthinking behaviour):

Quote

Hanon can be very useful

Useful to whom? Useful for what? How much is “very” and how this “very” compares with other approaches? Surely if  - as I believe – the only thing Hanon is useful for is for the playing of Hanon itself, it can only be useful to people who wish to include Hanon in their performances. To other people – who want to play real music – the third question must be answered, for if the “very” of Hanon pales – as I believe – with the “very” of working on repertory, then a person who is not interested in performing Hanon would be better off using her/his time in more productive ways.

Quote
[…] right way. That is, you don't mechanically plow through them but you have to LISTEN very very carefully to ensure the absolute evenness of the notes you are playing.

Right. This is going to be a very enjoyable task. And what aim exactly is being sought here? Ah yes, to ensure evenness of notes. But surely this is not the appropriate language to use. It will lead to misconceptions and unrealistic views of piano playing. You see, you cannot ensure even the relative evenness of the notes. Let us go down that road, shall we? First the pitch is uneven since you are playing different notes. Next you will have unevenness of geography, since black notes are in a different tridimensional space (that is, assuming you are being a good boy and doing Hanon in all keys). Then you have unevenness of decaying (the high register in the piano has such a short decay that dampers do not need to be applied to the strings up there – just open your piano and check it out). Then you have the unevenness of volume inbuilt in the string itself.

But perhaps most importantly, why would you want to ensure absolute evenness? Which piece of music calls for absolute evenness? Surely you should be striving for unevenness, the sort of unevenness most appropriate to bring out a particular musical conception. Ah, but for that you need a musical context, and in Hanon there is none. Or at least Hanon did his best to subtract as much musical context as possible from his exercises, because (as Cortot, and as Dohnanyi, and as many others) he wanted to separate the mechanism form the musicality. And now here comes you  suggesting that you don´t mechanically plough through them.  :o

Sorry, but they are meantto be mechanically plowed through. Not only these are Hanon´s directions, as many famous pianists and pedagogues and piano philosophers (Charles Rosen to mention but one) would have you read a novel while going through this sort of exercise to relieve the boredom. ::)

You see, what you actually mean is not “evenness” (which is impossible), but “control”. Then your “obvious” statement might even make a bit of sense. But I would still disagree that Hanon is useful to develop control.

Quote
The whole point is to develop equality of the fingers.

Surely Hanon believed that. It is right there in his preface as his main aim in donating to mankind this wonderful gift of 60 virtuoso exercises ;). But now let me add an obvious observation of my own.

Have you looked at your hands recently? If not, have a good careful look and note:

1.   Your fingers are of different lengths. How are you going to make them equal? Surgery?

2.   Your thumb opposes the other fingers. How are you going to put it right? I guess surgery, but it may be tricky.

3.   Do this simple – but enlightening - experiment.

Put your hand on a table top in a playing position (only fingertips touching the table top, nice arch under the hand)

Now bend your 3rd finger back, under the hand, at the middle joint and keep your 3rd finger middle joint in touch with the table top at all times. Now try lifting the thumb up and down without letting any finger pad lift from the table top and specially the middle joint of the 3rd finger. You should find it easy and no problem.

Again repeat for the second finger. You should also find it perfectly possible to lift the second finger and bring it down without problems.

Try the 5th finger. Again, little or no problem.

Now, try the 4th finger.

Four years ago I would tell you that it is totally impossible to even move the finger a single 10th  of a milimeter from the table. In fact I would have told you, 4 years ago, that you wouldn’t be able to move the 4th finger at all in that position (because of the slips linking the tendons, bla bla bla). And no amount of exercise is always going to change that.

However, four years ago, I was approached by a couple from Taiwan that wanted piano lessons for their little boy. And since his previous teacher was heavy on silly finger exercises that go nowhere fast, the mother was surprised that I was not giving him loads of this rubbish to practise at home. Since it is not my policy to criticise teachers, I simply showed her what I have just described above. I had the little boy have his hand in that position, and yes, he could not move the 4th finger if his life depended on it. So, I concluded, there was little point in using exercises to develop an ability that was impossible to acquire anyway. Besides, one plays the piano pressing the fingers down, not up, so again, lifting the fingers high a la Hanon is simply not required.

At that point, the mother was very curious, and she tried it herself. To my astonishment (she did not play the piano at all) she could lift her 4th finger as high as any of the other fingers. How could she? Very simple. She was a mutant (and I say that  without implying any derogatory sense to the term). Although the greatest majority of the population will have the slips joining the tendons, she clearly did not have it (a characteristic shared by 0.000001% of the world population).

So, if you are able to lift your 4th finger in the position described above, don’t fool yourself: it has nothing to do with exercise, (the mother in question had never exercised that particular motion) you are simply one of the few mutants. Nor will it give you any advantage to be able to do so, since the piano is not really played with the fingers, but with a complex co-ordination of the whole body.

As for lifting each finger in turn in a normal position (that is, without the third finger bent under), again anyone can do it without any need for exercise. People who apparently cannot do it, cannot do it not for lack of “exercise” (implying the muscle strength to do so) but for lack of “knowing” how to will a movement. Once you get this knowledge you will always be able to do a specific motion without any need for practice or exercise. The knowledge of “willing” a motion, is of course a big mystery in physiology/psychology, and no satisfactory explanation exists at the moment for how we actually do it (which is of course the mind/body problem which has dominated philosophy now for two centuries without a satisfactory, definitive answer, and has dominated religion forever with some dogmatic and completely unsatisfactory answers).

Fortunately, we do not need answers to be able to do it. However, misguided theories (like postulating the importance of exercises, when exercise really has little or nothing to do with it) can lead you down a path where results are less than optimal, while the misguided theory gets the credit.

So, again, if the whole purpose is equality of the fingers, then why bother? It is not going to happen, is it?

Quote
Start out by playing pianissimo. Also try staccato, then dotted rhythms, etc...


These are important practice variations, but unless you have a purpose (musical) to do them, they are just a waste of time.

Without aim practice leads nowhere because you have no way to know when you did enough. It is not good saying: “Start out by playing pianissimo”, and not determining what you hope to achieve by doing that. First if you don´t know what you aim to achieve, how are you going to know when you got there? Something that could be over in a couple of minutes can go on for hours a day for years to come. Furthermore, once you establish your aim and purpose, it may turn out that the methods you are using to get there may be completely inappropriate.

It reminds me of the zen story where a zen master observed one of the monks in the temple rushing every early morning to the meditation hall and leaving late at night. The zen master asked him: “How come you meditate for such long hours?” the monk replied: “because I want to get enlightened”. The master thought about this for a while and nodded his head sending the monk on his way.

The next day, as the monk was rushing to the meditation hall, he noticed the master sitting in the garden, surrounded by a huge pile of clay bricks. He had a brick in his hands and was sanding it furiously with a piece of sand paper. The student was very curious, so he stopped by and asked: “Master, what are you doing?” The master replied: “I am polishing these bricks.” “why?” “Because I want to make a mirror.”

Quote
But always LISTEN. Sometimes you can feel your fourth and fifth fingers "buckle" and produce a slightly uneven note. That's a sign for you to stop and go back and redo.

Well, which one is it? Are you going to listen and pay attention to the sounds you are producing, or are you going to “feel” the 4th and 5th fingers buckle? Or are you supposed to do both? And if this happens, why exactly is it bad? And if it is bad, the way to fix it is to go back and redo it? Shouldn´t you do it in a different way? After all, if you just repeat what you are doing surely you are going to get more of the same result, are you not? This again reminds me of the American I once met in Brazil who was trying to get some information form a local who did not speak English:

American: “Do you speak English?” (in a nice polite way)
Local: “…” (looks dumbfounded)
American: “Do you speak English” (a bit louder)
Local: “…” (looks like he does not have a clue)
American: “D-O   Y-O-U   S-P-E-A-K   E-N-G-L-I-S-H” (real loud now)
Local: “...” (looks around for some sort of help)
American (really loud and irritated now) “*** IT! CAN´T YOU ANSWER A SIMPLE QUESTION? DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”

So I intervened and told him: “Er, he is not deaf, you know, repeating it louder is not going to help if he cannot understand you”.

Likewise, repeating something for hours a day in the same way is not going to improve something that is wrong to start with. You must do something different.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline steveie986

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 387
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #18 on: April 04, 2006, 06:08:12 PM »
Mr. Bernhard, I want to thank you for such a voluminous dissection of the finer semantics of my very simple comments. I think you've clearly presented your views to the benefit of our friend who started this thread. Of course, I'm not going to argue with you: first, you are apparently a teacher and I'm a piano student of age 20; second, polemical arguments isn't going to help our friend who originally asked a very interesting question. We should present our different views and let him decide.

I've played piano for 10 years, and I believe Hanon can be a useful tool among many. By "developing equality" I don't mean the futile attempt to perform biologically and physically impossible maneuvers. I don't know, I could be talking about "control" but I'm not very good at semantics. All I simply mean is the ability to play notes with all four fingers and thumb that sound the same. Bernhard says that no piece of repertory music requires this sort of evenness/sameness, so there must be something futile about that exercise. But if Joe cannot play with perfect mechanical evenness, I very much doubt he can play with musical unevenness Whether or not you can fix the evenness/control problem by playing more Hanon is the subject of disagreement, but at the very least Hanon can ASSESS any deficiencies in control.

I admire Bernhard's fine lawyering in splitting hairs with regard to my statement about "not plowing through Hanon mechanically." I simply mean you don't go through the motions without ensuring evenness and understanding what you are supposed to be doing. Bernhard, however, greatly clarifies this issue for our friend by discussing Hanon's aim in separating mechanics from musicality. This is a good point.

But this is my main point: I feel Hanon has helped me develop strength and control considerably. This could be pure superstition (that is, it's actually something else I'm doing that's making me better). But I believe a 20-minute-a-day superstition can't hurt. What's fascinating about the process of making music is that it's riddled with superstition. Bizarre routines and quirky mannerisms are an inseparable part of many performers' personae. But if these "scientifically worthless" things you do can unleash your innate musicality (like 20 minutes of Hanon does for me), by all means continue. I'm not primarily concerned with Hanon's pragmatic usefulness. It accomplishes something greater: it's my mantra and my habit that helps me unlock the psychological and mystical side of musical performance.

Offline bearzinthehood

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 448
Re: Is Hannon still considered useful?
«Reply #19 on: April 07, 2006, 08:20:46 AM »
Here is what I don't like, and I'll just spit it out.  Yes, for anyone who has been playing piano for a long time, Hanon is most likely useless.  But let's say someone is just starting to play the piano, and is having trouble with Hanon #2 or something.  So they read these posts about Hanon being crap and they go, "no wonder I can't play Hanon #2, it's not because I am lacking a skill, it's because Hanon is useless and my teacher is an idiot!"  So then they stop playing Hanon and they lose respect for their teacher and they become LOUSY PIANISTS with no discipline and no direction, even though they might have turned out to be good pianists if they had never come here in the first place.

So let me just make something clear for anyone that's reading this stuff.  Find a good teacher and listen to him/her!