Technical warm-up exercises for piano.
When sitting down at the piano for a practice session, it can be really tempting to just jump straight into practicing the new song you’ve been working on. And of course, having that kind of enthusiasm to complete a song is really great. But as pianists, we should always try to start each practice session with a few technical exercises in order to get our muscles and our brains warmed up. If you’re unsure of how to warm up, or want to add some new exercises to your practice routine, then try out our set of exercises below.
Scales: combining half speed and full speed
This first exercise is focused around building speed, agility, and strength in the fingers, as well as helping our brain to handle fast paced rhythms. In order to demonstrate the exercise, we are first going to use a 2-octave C Major scale. The C-major scale only uses white keys from C to C. The sound of this succession will be very familiar to your ears. There are 8 (latin octo) white keys from C to the next C, hence we call the distance from C to C – or any repeating note – an octave.
Before attempting the half speed and full speed method, let’s make sure that you are comfortable playing the scale.
🎹 First, place your right hand on the keyboard, with your thumb on middle C. From here, you are going to play every white note moving upwards until you have traveled 2-octaves and are 2 C’s higher than where you started . From here, all you need to do is return back to middle C, playing all the whites notes on the way back down.
As you play, it’s really important that you look at the numbers under each note of the scale (shown in the music above). These numbers tell you which finger to use for each note. Notice that on the way up, your thumb tucks and passes under your 3rd finger, then your 4th finger, and then your third finger again. On the way down this motion is reversed; your third and fourth fingers wrap over your thumb.
Half speed / Full speed
Once you are comfortable playing the scale, try and spice up the rhythm by playing some notes “half speed” and some notes “full speed”!
🎹 Get your right hand into position again with your thumb on middle C. This time, play the first 8 notes really slowly (half speed). Then, play the next 4 notes, but play them twice as fast (full speed). You are then going to repeat this pattern of 8 slow notes and 4 fast notes until you have gone up and down the scale twice. Watch the video below to see exactly how it’s done!
The benefit of this method is that the half speed notes gives our fingers time to rest, and helps us to execute the full speed notes with rhythmic accuracy and evenness.
💡 Put the C Major scale into action by trying out Billy Joel’s hit “The Piano Man”.
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This exercise can be done using any scale; let’s try it using the A Natural Minor scale (this scale is related to C Major, and therefore uses all of the same notes). Before trying to spice up the rhythm, get comfortable playing the scale normally.
🎹 This time, start with the thumb of your right hand on the A just below middle C. Then play up the keyboard, playing every white note until you have traveled 2-octaves up. At this point, just like before, head back down the other way until you land back where you started.
💡 Did you notice that the fingering is exactly the same as C Major? Just think of this scale as C Major starting on A. Once you can play this scale up and down using the right fingers, spice up the rhythm by adding in the half speed/full speed method.
Don’t worry if you struggle with this exercise at first. It can take some getting used to! Just take it slow at first, and make sure to count out loud if it helps. Once you master this exercise, it is very fun and beneficial to play!
💡 Put the A natural minor scale into practice and try out the song “Mad World” by Tears for Fears.
Arpeggios: C Major & A Minor
This next exercise is all about improving flexibility and speed. To demonstrate the exercise, we are going to use a 2-octave arpeggio in C Major and then A minor.
First, lets get familiar with the C Major 2-octave arpeggio. An arpeggio involves playing the first, third, and fifth notes in a scale. To play this arpeggios, you start on middle C, and play all the C’s E’s and G’s until you have travel 2-octave. Once you are here, you then return back down to middle C, playing all the same notes on the way down.
🎹 Using your right hand, try playing the arpeggio. Start of with your thumb on Middle C. Make sure you read the finger numbers under each note as you play.
Notice that as you go upwards, your thumb passes under your third finger. This is quite a stretch, so make sure you turn your hand counter clockwise and raise your elbow out from your side a little if needed. On the way back down, your third finger reaches over your thumb; again make sure you turn your hand counter clockwise to help with the stretch.
Now try this exercise using the A Minor 2 -octave arpeggio.
What are the first, third, and fifth notes in the scale of A minor? A, C, and E. Well done if you got it right!
🎹 Start with the thumb of your right hand on the A just below middle C. Play all the A’s, C’s, and E’s until you have traveled 2-octaves up. Then come back down.
💡 Did you notice that both arpeggios use exactly the same finger numbers?
As you start to feel more confident, slowly increase your speed, but make sure your touch and rhythm stays even and consistent!
Make sure to try out these exercises using lots of different scales and arpeggios. And remember to practice them before every practice session! You can also play these exercises with the left hand, and even try them with both hands together.
Author of this blog post:
Elliot Hogg – Music tutor from Leeds who specializes in teaching piano, music theory, and music composition.
Visit Elliot’s website.