Piano Fingering Exercises

For lots of new pianists, learning and playing new songs is the most exciting part of the learning experience. And while there's nothing wrong with learning songs, piano exercises are also a key part of developing the speed and dexterity you need to improve your skills. Exercises may strike you as boring, but they don't have to be. In this list, we've compiled a set of piano fingering exercises that will make you a better player in no time.

Eight Piano Fingering Exercises to Practice

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it's a good place to start when you're looking to develop dexterity, speed, and coordination. Let's dive in!

1. Wrist Flexibility Exercises

Especially when you first start playing an instrument, you may not be thinking of potential injuries. But the correct piano technique can help reduce your risk of developing an injury down the line. Wrist pain and wrist injuries are some of the most common issues pianists face, and the phenomenon is not limited to new players. By keeping your wrists constantly in motion as you play, you can avoid the buildup of tension, which can heighten your risk of injury.

This exercise can help you get accustomed to keeping your wrists moving as you play the piano. To start, choose a set of a few notes. They can be part of an arpeggio or part of a piece you're learning or practicing. The first time you play through your selection, practice lowering your wrist with each note played. Then, lower your wrist on every other note (and then on every third note, fourth note, etc.) After this, play the full portion of your piece (or arpeggio) while thinking of your wrist as moving in a circle. It's a little difficult to explain this piano finger exercise in text, but this video shows you how to do it. 

In time, the wrist movement will become part of muscle memory, and it will be easier to integrate it as you play. The challenge is to strike a balance between no wrist movement and too much wrist movement -- playing with exaggerated movements is inefficient and can make playing harder, but just enough movement will make your playing more fluid and more expressive.

If you're learning to play the piano and want some structure and guidance, you might want to check out an online course that helps you do so. One of these sites is Playground Sessions. Playground Sessions was co-created by legendary producer Quincy Jones, and many of its video lessons are taught by Grammy-winner Harry Connick Jr. It's designed to make learning to play the piano fun, and it does so by taking a gamified learning approach. You get instant feedback while playing, and you earn badges along the way, too. Playground Sessions incorporates music theory and piano exercises, but its main objective is teaching you to play songs quickly.

2. Finger Strength Exercises

Strengthening your fingers is essential if you want to be able to play the piano without fatigue. And while finger exercises are crucial, you can do many of them away from the piano.

One finger exercise simply involves pressing each finger to your thumb in turn. Take your index finger and press it to your thumb as hard as you can, making an "O" shape as shown in this video. 

The most important part is to keep your finger in a rounded shape. It's easy to let your finger joints collapse and make a shape that's more akin to a bird's beak. Don't do this -- part of a good piano technique is keeping a rounded finger shape. Repeat these steps with your middle finger, ring finger, and pinky. You can do this exercise on both the right hand and left hand.

A related exercise involves pressing each finger to a hard surface (like the key cover of your piano or a tabletop). Press your index finger, your middle finger, your ring finger, and your pinky down in succession as if you were playing the piano. Each time, press as hard as you can without breaking the rounded shape.

These finger exercises may not seem like much, but they're great ways to build the strength you need to play through longer pieces or to play with more force when needed. But make sure to do them regularly to build and maintain strength. You can practice them in waiting rooms or while watching TV, so they should be relatively easy to work in throughout the day.

3. Piano Scales

You may have been dreading seeing scales on the list -- lots of players see them as being incredibly dull. However, scales have their uses. If you're a new pianist, they can help you get more familiar with the keys and how they relate to one another. They also give you a chance to practice playing with rhythm and building speed. Perhaps most importantly, scales help you to develop finger dexterity, making them some of the most useful piano exercises out there.

If you're new to playing the piano, you may not quite be sure how to best practice scales. This video lesson shows you how to start. It's a good idea to practice with a metronome in order to make sure you're playing in time. You can start at a relatively slow tempo and then work your way up to faster tempos. For an additional challenge (and to learn some additional music theory), find the thirds and fourths of the scale you're learning.

Scales are great to incorporate into your piano finger exercises. However, if you're a new pianist, you may not be sure what scales to start learning. In this situation, a site like Flowkey can help. Flowkey is one of the best piano sites for beginners that we've found. You can take a course for beginners for free. And with a monthly subscription, you can access courses that will give you a solid foundation, including several courses dedicated to scales alone. This way, you can start learning the most essential scales. Flowkey will also show you several piano finger exercises and offer guidance on proper technique. When practicing more difficult pieces, the site also will let you practice one hand at a time -- you can practice the part for the left hand, the part for the right hand, and then bring both parts together once you're ready.

4. Czerny Exercises

If you've taken formal piano lessons, you may already be acquainted with Carl Czerny, a composer who is well known for creating hundreds of piano exercises. Czerny’s exercises cover just about every aspect of playing, and he even wrote an opus called"School of Velocity" made up of exercises for students to develop playing speed.

Whether you're practicing on your own or taking a course, you can access hundreds of Czerny exercises for free online -- this site offers them in downloadable PDF. For new pianists, his Opus 599, "Practical Exercises for Beginners," offers plenty of good practice material. While the exercises themselves come in the form of sheet music, there are plenty of free online tutorials that illustrate how to play each one in great detail.

The first exercise in Opus 599 is a great way to learn and improve coordination of your right hand and your left hand. This video lesson takes you through the exercise, and it includes notes on finger position, too. As with most piano exercises, be sure to play with a metronome -- you can increase speed once you're able to play the exercise correctly (and with good technique!) at a slower tempo.

5. Hand Independence Exercises

If you're a new pianist, one of the most challenging aspects of piano playing is simultaneously playing the parts for the right hand and the left. Often, players will practice one hand, then the other, and then put the parts together. But even for advanced players, it can be very challenging to play complex pieces when the right hand and the left hand are doing very different things.

One way to develop hand independence is to practice piano finger exercises where one hand plays loudly and the other plays softly. It sounds simple, but playing using different dynamics for each hand can take a good bit of practice master. In this exercise, you'll need to play a two-hand C scale. The twist is that the left hand will play quietly and the right will play loudly. Then, switch dynamics --the left plays loudly and the right plays quietly. This video offers an illustration.

If you find that piano finger exercises like this one are confusing or very challenging, you might benefit from a well-thought-out piano course. We think Skoove is a great option. This site is a lot more thorough than many we've found. You'll learn to play songs you like, but you'll also learn to sight-read and play by ear. Skoove also lets you ask real piano teachers questions if you find yourself stuck or need advice on finger position or technique.

6. Finger Independence Exercises

As a pianist, you already know that hand independence is essential, But finger independence is equally important. Your thumb and fingers must all be able to move independently of one another, and this can be difficult if your hands are small or if your hands aren't particularly flexible.

As with any other piano finger exercises, finger independence exercises can be adapted for any ability level. We'll focus on a 5-note exercise that's great for beginners. To start, take all five fingers and place them on adjacent keys on the piano. Make sure all five fingers are in the correct position. Then, one by one, let each finger play its corresponding note. When you play the first note with your thumb, watch your fingers to make sure they don't move -- some beginners will notice that they try to move their other fingers upward when one is pressed down. This video illustrates the exercise.

Once you can play through the notes in order, try mixing up the order in which you play the notes. If all fingers still stay in place, challenge yourself by increasing the tempo. This is a good exercise to do with both hands -- you may even want to go back and forth between hands. By mastering it early on, you'll be more likely to play with good technique even on faster and more difficult pieces.

7. Hanon Exercises

Like Czerny, Charles-Louis Hanon is a composer known for his exercises designed for piano students. The first exercise from Hanon's Preparatory Exercises for the Acquirement of Agility, Independence, Strength, and Perfect Evenness in the Fingers builds on the last exercise we mentioned. It helps all five fingers on each hand to stay independent of one another, and it also will help you to develop both speed and accuracy in your playing.

To play through this exercise, you may want to practice each hand individually before putting them together. As you practice, be sure to play evenly -- you should aim to play each of the notes with equal force. If you're very new to piano, this exercise may be very challenging, but it's an excellent way to develop your skills. This video does a thorough job of taking you through it.

8. Playing Two Notes At The Same Time

Earlier, we mentioned the importance of being able to play with one finger at a time. This exercise builds on that one, as it presents an even greater challenge -- you'll need to use two fingers while keeping the others still. This is a great exercise to try with both hands. To do it, place your hand on the piano with each finger on one key. Select two fingers (it's easy to start with your thumb and middle finger) and press them down simultaneously. Be sure that your other fingers aren't moving. The pinky can be especially hard to keep still. Try this with different combinations of fingers. It sounds simple, but it can be surprisingly challenging when you're new to piano. This lesson video shows you how to practice playing with two fingers at the same time.

Training your fingers takes time, and you may find that you want to take a course that makes even playing scales fun. Pianu is an affordable lesson site geared toward beginners, and like Playground Sessions, it lets you earn badges as you progress. The site's song tutorials are free, and their paid program takes you through a series of lessons. You can even start before you buy a piano -- if you have a device with a touchscreen, you can practice with Pianu's on-screen keyboard.

Final Thoughts

Developing your piano playing is ultimately rewarding, but lots of pianists avoid piano fingering exercises because they find them dull. Don't be one of them! By having the discipline to make piano exercises a part of your routine, you'll become a more well-rounded player and develop your skills much more quickly. And as we saw with the scale exercises, many of these exercises involve an element of musicality that makes them more enjoyable.

What did you think of our list? Are there any piano finger exercises that you've found especially helpful? Please let us know in the comments, and don't forget to share if you found our list helpful!                  

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