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Topic: Piano Technique and Hanon  (Read 1015 times)

Offline mirelle

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Piano Technique and Hanon
on: January 17, 2023, 05:52:48 PM
Hi I'm an advanced pianist and I'm curious about how the development of piano technique works. My personal technique is wholly derived from practicing Hanon 4 hours a day, daily. I have read many posts and articles stating that the Hanon "exercises" do not work and are not effective at developing technique. Please read my story because I'm honestly seeking answers and not argument.

Many years ago, when I was a child,  I was mystified by the marking on my sheet music stating that Bach's prelude in c minor required a speed of 1/4 note = 144 and in another section 1/4 note = 160. I believed such a thing was inhuman. I then began my journey of practicing Hanon. I started slowly, playing the first 20 exercises at a speed of approximately 1/4 note = 88. I eventually moved on to 1/4 note = 116. In a few months I made more progress than I ever had before that point.

The mystery behind piano technique seemed to unravel. I would play Hanon, and like magic, I'd be able play anything else I had already memorized, without having had practiced that piece! What was going on? I quit piano lessons and now my entire practice routine slowly shifted to practicing the first 30 exercises while still concerting on the likes of czerny. It would take me about an hour to go through all of them non-stop. When I was finished it felt like my fingers "loosened" up; I'd be playing with great agility and ease. However one day, I tried playing the Hanon exercises at the speed that I first started to learn them, 1/4 note = 88. I noticed even greater improvement after practicing at this speed. Why? I have some theories that I'll state later.

Over the years I learned more Hanon and eventually my entire practice routine became only practicing Hanon at 1/4 note = 88 or LESS. My routine was now 4 hours long. I would put something on television, practice Hanon, and like magic I would  be able to play everything else without having to go through any of the barriers of technique that I grappled with as a teenager.

From solely playing hanon I can play most classical pieces comfortably, without strain, and with proper rhythm, at the maximum metronome marking of 1/4 note = 207.  I literally saw my progress, day by day and I myself could not believe it and many times I'd say, if I wake up tomorrow and can't do what I'm doing, if all this is just a sort of after effect of a long practice session, then I'm going to stop. Many days I said to myself this is all in my head and that if I'm not able to play 16th note alberti bass lines, comfortably and neatly, in both hands, at the 160, or 184, or 207, when I first wake up in the morning , then this is all improvement is a sham, but I improved after every session of playing hanon at these very SLOW speeds. I remember when I first started doing this I had some pains in my arm and left thumb, but after a month they all disappeared.

So, in conclusion, I don't know what happened, or if and why Hanon has something to do with it (which it probably does as that was all I have practiced for the most part), but I have some theories if Hanon is responsible. My theory is that all required of piano technique is reinforcement of finger movement, which subsequently reinforces that pathways in the brain responsible for said movement. By practicing movements slowly, and CONSTANTLY, focusing on eveness of the rhythm (i.e., 'form') that brain probably does a better job and reinforcing that adeptness of the movement which then translates to being able to do that movement at very high tempos.  And that's it! I honestly think it is that simple. I've read about all these other exercises, Dohnanyi, Brahms, Pischna, Czerny, etc and they all seem to focus on the same thing of 'playing a lot'. That leads me to think the only thing required to improvement piano technique is to play a lot. Does what you play matter? Your brain just needs to go through the finger movements a lot and eventually it will reinforce the coding for those movements. Is it really that simple? That's how it feels for me. I wouldn't know, because all I played was Hanon.

I see all these articles about how Hanon does not work, the exercises are too easy, etc...Well they worked for me and, aside from my theories, I have no scientific objective reason why. What do you all think?   

*Edited for Grammar.
*Edit: Again this is wholly about Piano Technique, not ear and music interpretation. Perhaps there is some relation between them, but again, I achieved my technique without mastering my ear first. 
 
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Offline martinn

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #1 on: January 17, 2023, 10:09:23 PM
I play Hanon, about one new a week, and occasionally go through all previous, so it is good to hear something positive about those. Still, I learn new appropriately easy pieces, about a few new every other week. If I really think, it seems impossible to solve most things just by practicing Hanon. I like Hanon as warmup, because it is easy and ’meditative’ and certainly trains my fingers and speed, but I am uncertain it can do more than that. I have played with the guidance of a teacher about half a year, and my teacher suggested Hanon.

Offline brogers70

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #2 on: January 17, 2023, 11:05:09 PM
Hi I'm an advanced pianist and I'm curious about how the development of piano technique works. ...........

 That leads me to think the only thing required to improvement piano technique is to play a lot. Does what you play matter? Your brain just needs to go through the finger movements a lot and eventually it will reinforce the coding for those movements. Is it really that simple? That's how it feels for me. I wouldn't know, because all I played was Hanon.

I see all these articles about how Hanon does not work, the exercises are too easy, etc...Well they worked for me and, aside from my theories, I have no scientific objective reason why. What do you all think?   

Why not post yourself playing a piece of repertoire in the Audition Room? Nothing succeeds like success.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #3 on: January 18, 2023, 07:02:12 AM
Very interesting post!
Hi I'm an advanced pianist and I'm curious about how the development of piano technique works. My personal technique is wholly derived from practicing Hanon 4 hours a day, daily. I have read many posts and articles stating that the Hanon "exercises" do not work and are not effective at developing technique. Please read my story because I'm honestly seeking answers and not argument.
I think what matters at the end of the day is acquiring the hand coordination and also the ability to do so musically. In that way, Hanon is not so different from practicing scales. The issue, I believe, is that Hanon is not that musical. Just as practicing a ton of scales should, in theory, make you able to play scales at a very fast tempo eventually, but those scales may be soul-numbingly boring to listen to. I have heard the same complaint about students who over-practice Hanon. But, practicing any physical movement regularly will improve the consistency and speed at which you can execute it.

Many years ago, when I was a child,  I was mystified by the marking on my sheet music stating that Bach's prelude in c minor required a speed of 1/4 note = 144 and in another section 1/4 note = 160.
When I started playing the piano, I was amazed at the speed at which concert pianists could play passages on the piano. I figured -- if only you could learn their hand movements, you should be able to execute the same on the piano. By observation, picking up tips from pianists online, etc. I managed to learn to play at a fast tempo as well. So, there are a lot of paths to achieve the same end goal. I didn't practice Hanon at all. I believe that working on the coordination, by whatever method suits or interests you, is what is necessary at the end of the day.

When I was finished it felt like my fingers "loosened" up; I'd be playing with great agility and ease.
Yes, it's generally referred to as warming up. This is commonly observed. However, I don't think Hanon or other exercises are necessary for this. I used to do this often by improvising, playing my scales, paying attention to the finger movements, or playing through pieces in the classical repertoire. However, I don't think you should need to warm up to play pieces; if so, I think it's a sign that you're not paying enough attention to the playing mechanism and relying on chance. You should be able to play without mistakes and comfortably, cold. There is more comfort after you're warmed up, but ideally you should be able to play whatever you can when warmed up, without prior preparation. The difference should not be that large.

However one day, I tried playing the Hanon exercises at the speed that I first started to learn them, 1/4 note = 88. I noticed even greater improvement after practicing at this speed. Why?
Slow practice can be effective. Especially once you can play at a certain tempo comfortably, I find that slow practice and paying attention to comfort is what results in a lot of improvement in a lot of situations.

My routine was now 4 hours long. I would put something on television, practice Hanon, and like magic I would  be able to play everything else without having to go through any of the barriers of technique that I grappled with as a teenager.
Sure, but wouldn't it be better to play anything off the bat without having to practice random exercises for 4 hours a day? Also, what level of difficulty are we talking about? Can you play through the Liszt etudes? Or Clementi sonatinas? There's a massive difference between the two. Also, how musically can you play?

My theory is that all required of piano technique is reinforcement of finger movement, which subsequently reinforces that pathways in the brain responsible for said movement. By practicing movements slowly, and CONSTANTLY, focusing on eveness of the rhythm (i.e., 'form') that brain probably does a better job and reinforcing that adeptness of the movement which then translates to being able to do that movement at very high tempos.  And that's it! I honestly think it is that simple. I've read about all these other exercises, Dohnanyi, Brahms, Pischna, Czerny, etc and they all seem to focus on the same thing of 'playing a lot'. That leads me to think the only thing required to improvement piano technique is to play a lot. Does what you play matter? Your brain just needs to go through the finger movements a lot and eventually it will reinforce the coding for those movements. Is it really that simple? That's how it feels for me. I wouldn't know, because all I played was Hanon.
All that's needed to reinforce a particular set of movements is to play them a lot over a period of time, while paying attention to form. However, you will learn whatever you practice. If you practice playing mechanically, your playing will reflect that. If you develop fine touch sensitivity, your playing will reflect that, and so on. If you look at pianists' hands, you will see that all of them play somewhat differently. Why is it different? Because the small (or large) differences in approach which they, and their teachers, had, practiced and refined over thousands of hours. That's why it's important to reinforce better movements as opposed to simply relying on chance to fix technique. Of course, some people may have supremely good intuition for piano playing and not require to be taught technique at all, but they are a tiny minority.


*Edit: Again this is wholly about Piano Technique, not ear and music interpretation. Perhaps there is some relation between them, but again, I achieved my technique without mastering my ear first.
Technique, if defined as the ability to play what you can imagine or see on the page, is not distanced from musicality and the ear. This is because the physical set of motions isn't used to just "peck the keys" but also chosen deliberately to create the desired musical effect. This means that both can not be disconnected completely. What you may have done, essentially, is to learn to coordinate the different fingers in different ways at a fast tempo -- which is excellent, but not sufficient imo. However, this is all conjecture in the absence of a recording.

Offline mirelle

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #4 on: January 18, 2023, 12:27:42 PM
Very interesting post!I think what matters at the end of the day is acquiring the hand coordination and also the ability to do so musically. In that way, Hanon is not so different from practicing scales. The issue, I believe, is that Hanon is not that musical. Just as practicing a ton of scales should, in theory, make you able to play scales at a very fast tempo eventually, but those scales may be soul-numbingly boring to listen to. I have heard the same complaint about students who over-practice Hanon. But, practicing any physical movement regularly will improve the consistency and speed at which you can execute it.
When I started playing the piano, I was amazed at the speed at which concert pianists could play passages on the piano. I figured -- if only you could learn their hand movements, you should be able to execute the same on the piano. By observation, picking up tips from pianists online, etc. I managed to learn to play at a fast tempo as well. So, there are a lot of paths to achieve the same end goal. I didn't practice Hanon at all. I believe that working on the coordination, by whatever method suits or interests you, is what is necessary at the end of the day.
Yes, it's generally referred to as warming up. This is commonly observed. However, I don't think Hanon or other exercises are necessary for this. I used to do this often by improvising, playing my scales, paying attention to the finger movements, or playing through pieces in the classical repertoire. However, I don't think you should need to warm up to play pieces; if so, I think it's a sign that you're not paying enough attention to the playing mechanism and relying on chance. You should be able to play without mistakes and comfortably, cold. There is more comfort after you're warmed up, but ideally you should be able to play whatever you can when warmed up, without prior preparation. The difference should not be that large.
Slow practice can be effective. Especially once you can play at a certain tempo comfortably, I find that slow practice and paying attention to comfort is what results in a lot of improvement in a lot of situations.
Sure, but wouldn't it be better to play anything off the bat without having to practice random exercises for 4 hours a day? Also, what level of difficulty are we talking about? Can you play through the Liszt etudes? Or Clementi sonatinas? There's a massive difference between the two. Also, how musically can you play?
All that's needed to reinforce a particular set of movements is to play them a lot over a period of time, while paying attention to form. However, you will learn whatever you practice. If you practice playing mechanically, your playing will reflect that. If you develop fine touch sensitivity, your playing will reflect that, and so on. If you look at pianists' hands, you will see that all of them play somewhat differently. Why is it different? Because the small (or large) differences in approach which they, and their teachers, had, practiced and refined over thousands of hours. That's why it's important to reinforce better movements as opposed to simply relying on chance to fix technique. Of course, some people may have supremely good intuition for piano playing and not require to be taught technique at all, but they are a tiny minority.

Technique, if defined as the ability to play what you can imagine or see on the page, is not distanced from musicality and the ear. This is because the physical set of motions isn't used to just "peck the keys" but also chosen deliberately to create the desired musical effect. This means that both can not be disconnected completely. What you may have done, essentially, is to learn to coordinate the different fingers in different ways at a fast tempo -- which is excellent, but not sufficient imo. However, this is all conjecture in the absence of a recording.
Hi Ranjit,
Thanks for the reply! I really just wanted to put this out there for all the people that may struggle with technique since there is this grandiose mystery behind playing quickly and accurately. I've been obsessed for years with it and gauged my progress with hanon through playing the czerny etudes from the art of finger dexterity at their written speeds and above.

It is really important to me to put this out there because yesterday I read several articles saying Hanon does NOT work because the exercises are too easy, and etc. The most enlightening thing to me is how slow-playing of Hanon seems to substantially increase Technique even more. I just watched a video of a teacher on youtube saying he has his students work up to playing Hanon at a speed of 1/4 note = 120, and I rarely say this, but I truly to believe he may be objectively wrong about his method. I think Hanon should ALWAYS be played between 1/4 note = 60<-->92 and evenness and form should be focused on. ANYONE can improve their technique substantailly by doing this if they just have faith in the process and don't give up on it. I understand that logically it doesn't make sense because one would assume taht as one is able to play quicker, higher speeds would be required for improvement. This is what I always believe and it shocked me to discover that this is NOT true (for me). And then there is always the thing that what works for someone doesn't work for someone else due to the differences in biology. Perhaps I will release video of me playing, if it really becomes an important point of this argument. The reason I'm currently not doing that is because I'm trying to keep a low social media profile now because I'm working on recording some personal music that I want released in the coming months/years; I don't want a trail so much on social media and message boards. Anyway, in conclusion, Hanon unraveled the mystery of technique (FOR ME) and I don't know how I would have done it without it as there was a time when I look at things like the moonlight sonata, czerny etudes, revolutionary etude, etc as impossible and now they are just very simple technical pieces thanks to Hanon. From my experience I completely understand why Rachmaninoff endorsed Hanon and why I will endorse Hanon from now on. Thanks again for the well-written response.

Offline brogers70

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #5 on: January 18, 2023, 02:08:50 PM
Perhaps I will release video of me playing, if it really becomes an important point of this argument. The reason I'm currently not doing that is because I'm trying to keep a low social media profile now because I'm working on recording some personal music that I want released in the coming months/years; I don't want a trail so much on social media and message boards.

In your original post, you seemed to expect that you would be met with some skepticism. Your approach based so heavily on Hanon is, to put it mildly, a bit out of the mainstream. If it really has worked for you as well as you say, it would be very interesting indeed. So, I think it's probably worth it to put out a video of yourself playing, say, the Revolutionary Etude. I don't think that a single youtube video would be likely to dramatically raise your social media profile, and it would give a lot of support to your enthusiasm for Hanon.

Offline mirelle

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #6 on: January 18, 2023, 02:53:11 PM
In your original post, you seemed to expect that you would be met with some skepticism. Your approach based so heavily on Hanon is, to put it mildly, a bit out of the mainstream. If it really has worked for you as well as you say, it would be very interesting indeed. So, I think it's probably worth it to put out a video of yourself playing, say, the Revolutionary Etude. I don't think that a single youtube video would be likely to dramatically raise your social media profile, and it would give a lot of support to your enthusiasm for Hanon.
I may eventually do so, but it won't be solely to satisfy forum. If or when I do I'll be sure to link it here with my original claim. And again, the whole point of my post was to endorse Hanon and make it claim that Hanon works exceptionally well and that my experience can potentially be extrapolated to most other individuals.

My dream is to one day be at the Cziffra/Volodos level and with Hanon I think that may be less of an impossibility than what I thought it was because my biggest barrier, that of purely mechanical technique, is almost entirely eliminated by practicing Hanon at very slow speeds. I don't know what other's experiences are, but I was also looking for people that might empathize with me and potentially provide more of an explanation for why slow, routine, mechanical practice improves technique as much as it does.

Offline brogers70

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #7 on: January 18, 2023, 03:19:02 PM
I may eventually do so, but it won't be solely to satisfy forum. If or when I do I'll be sure to link it here with my original claim. And again, the whole point of my post was to endorse Hanon and make it claim that Hanon works exceptionally well and that my experience can potentially be extrapolated to most other individuals.

I'll look forward to seeing it. The proof is in the pudding.

Offline mirelle

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #8 on: January 19, 2023, 09:35:22 PM
I'll look forward to seeing it. The proof is in the pudding.

Brogers, I just realized I forgot to address one of your points, that my method was different from the "mainstream". For years, prior to discovering Hanon, I struggled with how to play bach's famous prelude in c minor at 1/4 note = 144. I literally believed playing accurately at such a speed was something reserved only for the best. After spending many years doing my Hanon routine, I can easily, accurately, and in a relaxed manner play this piece at 1/4 note = 207. I know it seems weird to mention specifically this piece, but it is more of a personal thing due to it being a block. Similar things such as playing the parts in the appassionata where the left hand alternates between the f minor thirds and octaves, and subsequently the c minor chords and octaves. Prior to Hanon I was at my wits end trying to perfect these. I just didn't know how to get them any better. Same goes for things like playing broken octaves, or rapid, accurate octaves in the left. All these technical hurdles were eliminated because of Hanon. I just can't endorse it enough because it has completely changed my life. One thing in particular is how years ago, when I first started doing Hanon for a hour or more, I used to experience pain despite having proper posture and not being to high or below the piano. I thought it was, what many people claim to be, to be from too much practice of the Hanon exercises, and that I was therefore either pinching a nerve or developing intense inflammation in my hands. I don't know what it was, but after the first month, the pain disappeared. Granted I do live a very healthy lifestyle and eat foods to keep inflammation low, but it was just one thing I wanted to mention for others that may embark on this journey into developing piano technique. The number one thing is to make sure that when you practice hanon, your arms are not too high or low above the piano so that you don't pinch the nerves and cause carpal tunnel. Additionally you should focused on slow speeds and keeping your hands relaxed while going through them. If necessary moderate stretching of wrist, warm water baths for the hands, and even ice baths for the hands can mitigate inflammation. However, I'm at a point where I can practice Hanon indefinitely, several hours, and not feel the slightest weariness, and pain. Looking back, I think it was my hands just getting used to actually playing. And again, although my method is much different than the mainstream, I do think the improvement of technique may largely/mostly be dependent on how much you play and how you play it and not necessarily what you play.

Offline brogers70

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #9 on: January 20, 2023, 01:37:07 AM
Brogers, I just realized I forgot to address one of your points, that my method was different from the "mainstream". For years, prior to discovering Hanon, I struggled with how to play bach's famous prelude in c minor at 1/4 note = 144. I literally believed playing accurately at such a speed was something reserved only for the best. After spending many years doing my Hanon routine, I can easily, accurately, and in a relaxed manner play this piece at 1/4 note = 207. I know it seems weird to mention specifically this piece, but it is more of a personal thing due to it being a block. Similar things such as playing the parts in the appassionata where the left hand alternates between the f minor thirds and octaves, and subsequently the c minor chords and octaves. Prior to Hanon I was at my wits end trying to perfect these. I just didn't know how to get them any better. Same goes for things like playing broken octaves, or rapid, accurate octaves in the left. All these technical hurdles were eliminated because of Hanon. I just can't endorse it enough because it has completely changed my life. One thing in particular is how years ago, when I first started doing Hanon for a hour or more, I used to experience pain despite having proper posture and not being to high or below the piano. I thought it was, what many people claim to be, to be from too much practice of the Hanon exercises, and that I was therefore either pinching a nerve or developing intense inflammation in my hands. I don't know what it was, but after the first month, the pain disappeared. Granted I do live a very healthy lifestyle and eat foods to keep inflammation low, but it was just one thing I wanted to mention for others that may embark on this journey into developing piano technique. The number one thing is to make sure that when you practice hanon, your arms are not too high or low above the piano so that you don't pinch the nerves and cause carpal tunnel. Additionally you should focused on slow speeds and keeping your hands relaxed while going through them. If necessary moderate stretching of wrist, warm water baths for the hands, and even ice baths for the hands can mitigate inflammation. However, I'm at a point where I can practice Hanon indefinitely, several hours, and not feel the slightest weariness, and pain. Looking back, I think it was my hands just getting used to actually playing. And again, although my method is much different than the mainstream, I do think the improvement of technique may largely/mostly be dependent on how much you play and how you play it and not necessarily what you play.

As I said, I'm looking forward to a video of your playing. It will be very interesting to see and hear the results you've obtained with this approach.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #10 on: January 20, 2023, 02:34:14 AM
I do support the use of Hanon, I think an even handed perspective about its benefits is important, it uses are not to be underestimated nor overestimated. It will help remove inefficient movements and encourage economy of playing in many cases so if these issues are a factor in your technical development then it will be excellent to help train with. It of course is not an "be-all, end-all" tool for technical acquisition and certainly pianists will benefit from studying specific pieces (like etudes) which train technical skills and musicality rather than obsess with exercises which tend to never train the expressive side of piano playing in any substantial manner. Hanon also neglects technical ideas such as but not limited to rhythmic patterns, arpeggio, chords, holding notes while playing others, playing multiple voices in one hand, bringing out voices, the various coordinations of support vs melody, x notes vs y notes playing and etc.

Also what is the obsession about playing speed? Is every single piece you play a matter of velocity?
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Offline klavieronin

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Re: Piano Technique and Hanon
Reply #11 on: January 20, 2023, 02:43:01 AM
For years, prior to discovering Hanon, I struggled with how to play bach's famous prelude in c minor at 1/4 note = 144. I literally believed playing accurately at such a speed was something reserved only for the best. After spending many years doing my Hanon routine, I can easily, accurately, and in a relaxed manner play this piece at 1/4 note = 207.

I think in all likelihood it was the many years practice rather than specifically Hanon that made the difference here. I have nothing against Hanon but I don't think those specific exercises will give you anything you can't get from virtually any other set of exercises. What is important is consistent and thoughtful practise over a long period of time - whether that's using Hanon or not is up to the individual.
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