Hanon exercises for folks who don’t read sheet music (part 1)

“Hanon” is a famous set of exercises to train your fingers for the piano. Through this practice your finger technique will become faster, stronger, and more precise.

The name comes from French composer Charles-Louis Hanon (1819-1900), who bundled these finger workouts in his book The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises.

This is the first article in a two-part series that explains how to play the first 5 exercises.

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to read sheet music — I’ll explain in detail what notes to play and which fingers to use.

Let’s get started!

Exercise 1

The sheet music (just in case you know how to read it) looks like this:

Hanon exercise 1, upward

Hanon exercises are played with both hands at the same time. If you are new to an exercise, first practice the right hand alone, then the left hand alone, and finally both hands together.

The right hand (the black notes) starts at the C below middle C.
The left hand (the blue notes) starts an octave below that.

(If your keyboard doesn’t have that many keys, you can start an octave higher. It doesn’t really matter where you start, as long as it’s on a C.)

The numbers in the picture above are finger numbers. They are the same for both hands:

1 Thumb
2 Pointer (index finger)
3 Middle finger
4 Ring finger
5 Pinky (little finger)

This is how we begin the exercise, right hand only:

  • Play the C below middle C with the right thumb.
  • Skip a white key to play the E above the C with your pointer finger.
  • Play the next three white keys with your remaining three fingers: F, G, A.
  • Then go back down again with the same fingers: G, F, and stop at E.

You should have played these 8 notes: C-E-F-G-A-G-F-E

These are 8 eighth notes, so together they form exactly one measure.

Repeat this pattern until it feels comfortable.

Let the right hand rest for a little, and play the left hand part:

  • Play the low C with the left pinky.
  • Skip a white key to play the E with your ring finger.
  • Play the next three white keys with your remaining three fingers: F, G, A.
  • Then go back down again with the same fingers: G, F, and stop at E.

Again, you played these 8 notes: C-E-F-G-A-G-F-E.

This is true for all Hanon exercises: both hands play the same notes, but with different fingers.

Now try both hands together.

Did you manage that? Great! Let’s move on, because the exercise isn’t complete yet. We’ve only played the first measure so far.

Moving up

Move both hands one white key up the keyboard (i.e. to the right). The left pinky and the right thumb are now both at a D.

Repeat the pattern to play the notes: D-F-G-A-B-A-G-F

Notice that we skip the E this time!

When this measure is complete, we move one white key up the keyboard again. Repeat this for a total of 14 measures. That’s right; we’re going up two octaves.

Keep moving up until you’ve played: B-D-E-F-G-F-E-D

This was the last measure upwards.

Your left pinky should now be at the B below middle C. The right thumb is at the B above middle C.

(Or, if you prefer to look at it from the other side: The highest note — under your left thumb and right pinky — is a G.)

Moving down again

Not only does each Hanon exercise move two octaves up the keyboard (ascending), it also moves two octaves down again (descending).

We just completed the moving-up part. Now we turn around and go back:

Hanon exercise 1, downward

The climb down of each Hanon exercise usually mirrors the climb up. Noticed that we kept skipping a key as we went up the keyboard? We’ll also skip a key going down.

However, not all is the same. The hand positions will be different, so pay attention!

The right hand plays:

Pinky (5) G above middle C
Ring finger (4) Skip a key and play the E below
Middle finger (3) Play the D
Pointer (2) Play the C
Thumb (1) Play the B
Pointer (2) Play the C again
Middle finger (3) Play the D again
Ring finger (4) Play the E again

So that’s: G-E-D-C-B-C-D-E

(Recall that our starting note, G, is the highest note on which we ended the ascent. So our left thumb and right pinky are already in the right place.)

The left hand plays the same notes, one octave lower:

Thumb (1) G
Pointer (2) E
Middle finger (3) D
Ring finger (4) C
Pinky (5) B
Ring finger (4) C again
Middle finger (3) D again
Pointer (2) E again

That’s the first measure. As you might have guessed, for the next measure we move all fingers one white key down and play the same pattern:

F-D-C-B-G-B-C-D

Keep on doing this until you are back where you started. Again this is 14 measures, or 2 octaves.

Congratulations! You’ve just mastered Hanon exercise 1!

Playing tips

Play it like you mean it!

You don’t need to smash the keys through the keyboard, but do press them down firmly. This especially applies to your weakest fingers: the pinky and ring finger.

As Hanon puts it: “Lift the fingers high and with precision, playing each note very distinctly.

Important: Use the proper fingering! The exercises were specifically designed to use these fingerings — to play them with other fingers defeats their purpose.

It is best if you play along with a metronome. Start each exercise at 60 and gradually increase up to 108 (or faster if you like to show off).

You could set the metronome to 8 ticks per measure, because the exercises are all in eighth notes, so that’s one tick per note.

A new exercise may not always be easy at first, but that’s the point: if your fingers were already strong enough, you wouldn’t have to train them!

The exercises will get easier in time. At some point playing them becomes automatic and you don’t even have to think about it anymore. Hanon is also a good brain exercise!

Until then: take it slow. It’s more important to be precise than to be fast.

Read more articles on Piano Clues:

Basic Theory


Chords and Harmony


The Circle of Fifths


Arrangement, Improvisation and Composition


Reading Music and Sheet Music


How to Record Piano


Software and Virtual Instruments


Scales and Exercises


Digital Pianos


Links and Other Stuff


Comments

  1. Tony says:

    I have been playing the hanon exercises for a couple of months now and have noticed great improvement in my precision within the hanon exercises and when I play other pieces as well. I just wish that my piano teacher would have told me that practicing these exercises slow at first and focusing on perfection was the key. Remember friends, doing these exercises fast only reinforces bad piano habits and mistakes such as timing and inaccurate striking.

  2. Gwen says:

    I would like to thank you for reminding me to do it slow. I sometimes get impatient that I wanted to master the exercise immediately. And so I ended up hurting my hands, with no precision and distinction at all. God bless you!

  3. Christ says:

    wow..this is awesome..i want to master this exercise…thankyou for making this helpful clue for hanon exercise.

  4. Giorgio says:

    Thanx to pianoclues.com for this excellent website
    and
    thanx to Tony for his remark: “doing these exercises fast only reinforces bad piano habits and mistakes.”
    I thought that trying to do them fast from scratch just make you slower to learn them because of many mistakes.
    But.. it also reinforces bad habits and mistakes.
    So taking it slow at first and go up slow slow is very important

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