Hanon, The Virtuoso Pianist. When and how to study it

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Hanon yes or no? Is it useful to study the 60 exercises of Hanon, The Virtuoso Pianist? In this lesson we will see when is the right time to start Hanon and how to study it correctly, avoiding wasting time but also working wrongly and risking injury.

Che cos’è l’opera di Charles Luis Hanon, Il pianista virtuoso

Hanon, The Virtuoso Pianist is a collection of exercises in piano technique. Collections of studies normally put the various elements of piano technique into short compositions that have musical content, perhaps simple but still meaningful. Hanon, on the other hand, offers exercises of pure mechanism, pure movement.

It is therefore easier for the student performing the Hanon exercises to concentrate on the mechanism, as there is no music to interpret. Reading the exercises is also very easy, as the two hands play exactly the same notes at octave intervals.

The first part of Hanon, The Virtuoso Pianist, is the most interesting because it offers a series of about 30 exercises devoted to five-finger technique. In the middle part, it covers scales and arpeggios. The third and final part is devoted to more advanced technique: rebated notes, octaves, scales in thirds and sixths, trill and tremolo. Let us now analyze each part of the volume in detail.

Hanon part one, the five-finger technique

The first part of the volume is the most interesting and the first you should study. Following patterns that change slightly from exercise to exercise, the hands moves over the white piano keys working all the fingers and especially the 4th and 5th fingers, which are the weakest. An abridged version of the first exercises follows.


In the volume you will find the exercises written in full, with fingerings for both hands. It will not be difficult to read the first exercises, and eventually even to memorize them because each exercise follows a definite pattern, with a geometric movement that is repeated the same for the entire exercise.

When to study Hanon part 1

Many music teachers propose Hanon from the very beginning of studies, or almost. I am of a different opinion, I think Hanon is not good for first-year students, for two reasons.

During the first year, the piano student already has to deal with working on hand independence and learning to read music, with the two keys of violin and bass. Adding even such tedious and demanding work as Hanon seems excessive to me, almost punitive for those already struggling to take their first steps.

Anticipating the study of technique too much is also risky because a beginning student does not have full control and awareness of what is happening in his or her hand and risks playing with tensions that can cause discomfort, even tendonitis, in the long run. For beginning pupils, Hanon therefore risks being useless if not downright harmful.

I normally suggest the Hanon exercises to second- or third-year students, who have already developed a basic technique, are playing more interesting pieces, and therefore do not go through a bit of school work such as five-finger technique with discomfort. Let us now go on to analyze the middle part of the volume.

Hanon part two, scales and arpeggios

Continuing on, Hanon offers major and minor scales, each of which ends with a cadence IV V I thus allowing chords to be worked on as well. The idea of placing scales alongside their related chords is certainly interesting, especially those who want to play modern or jazz music should always be clear about the relationship between a scale and its major chords.


A limitation of this section, if we look at it from a beginner’s point of view, is that it only proposes scales on four octaves, whereas for beginners it is recommended to proceed in stages: study the major and minor scales on one octave, as they are written, for example, in the appendix of Beyer op.101, then continue with the scales on two octaves and only then move on to the scales on four octaves.

After major and minor scales, Hanon continues with some exercises on the chromatic scale. This section is very thorough, in fact we find scales played octave apart, by thirds, by sixths, by right and opposite motion. You really cannot approach the study of the chromatic scale in a more systematic and comprehensive way than this!

The next section offers arpeggios of the major and minor triad chords, and the diminished seventh and dominant seventh chords. These exercises are certainly useful because they present all the fingerings of the chords addressed, however, the section on arpeggios is not complete. In fact, major seventh chords, minor seventh chords and semi-diminished chords are missing, all important chords especially for those who want to study improvisation.

When to study the second part of Hanon

The middle part of the volume is certainly useful, but while the section on the chromatic scale is complete, the same cannot be said of those devoted to scales and arpeggios. To address these aspects of technique more systematically, therefore, the student will have to rely on other, more comprehensive books.

The exercises in the middle part should be tackled after working extensively on the first part of Hanon. These exercises are particularly useful as a reference for the fingerings of arpeggios and chromatic scales. I recommend studying the second part of Hanon The Virtuoso Pianist beginning in the third year of study, or later. We now turn to the third and final part of Hanon, The Virtuoso Pianist.

Hanon part three, the most advanced technique

The third part of the volume is very varied and deals with more complex and advanced piano technique: repeated notes, trill, wrist movement, scales in thirds and sixths both complete and broken, octave technique, arpeggios in octaves, held notes and tremolo.

These exercises are extremely tiring and require total control of the gesture. To play them correctly you must be able to remove any tension from your hand, wrist and arms. Even playing with extreme fluency, some of these exercises are extremely fatiguing.

A curiosity: in the introduction Hanon claims that it takes about an hour to perform all 60 exercises in the collection. In my experience, even a pianist in good technical shape takes no less than an hour and a half, if not two.

Quando studiare la terza parte di Hanon, The Virtuoso Pianist

The third part of Hanon should be tackled by experienced, very advanced students. Doing these exercises incorrectly can easily have very negative consequences, leading to the onset of tendinitis. If you are not absolutely certain that you can tackle these exercises in the correct way, I advise you to avoid them.

Personally, I tackled the third part of Hanon during the period when I was studying between six and ten hours a day, in preparation for some Conservatory exams. Now that I devote much less time to studying, I avoid the third part of Hanon completely.

Conclusions. Hanon is gymnastics for the fingers? Better ice skating…

Hanon exercises are often presented as a kind of “gymnastics” for the fingers. This approach is misleading in my opinion, as Hanon study should not be understood as fatigue work, with the aim of strengthening the muscles, but rather an opportunity to work on relaxation and softness.

Hanon pattinaggio sul ghiaccio pianoforte

Rather than thinking of it as gymnastics, Hanon should be conceived as something much closer to yoga. As you play the exercises, try to relax your neck, shoulders, arms and wrist. Go slowly, ignore metronome cues at the beginning of the exercises, which apply only to the most experienced concert performers.

Concentrate on your body, seek total softness and relaxation; the sound should be legato and even, like a singer’s vocalizing. When you have learned to perform the exercises totally smoothly and without accumulating fatigue during execution, you can try to play them a little faster.

Again, everything should happen in a relaxed and natural way. Imagine skating on ice, your fingers running faster but without friction on the keyboard, effortlessly, with agility and beauty.

Finally, when you are at an even more advanced stage of your studies, you can try to study the first 20 or 30 Hanon exercises in all twelve major keys. This study will be interesting from a technical point of view but also useful for your ear; in fact, you will get used to carrying simple musical phrases in other keys, a very useful exercise also for those who want to play jazz music and learn to improvise.

I hope this analysis of Hanon The Virtuoso Pianist has been helpful to you, if you have any questions or just want to let me know your thoughts, I will be happy if you would like to write to me using the appropriate section further down the page. Thank you!

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