Learning to play the piano (with or without a piano teacher) requires a certain set of characteristics. Will, determination, and a good ear, of course.
Dexterity is one of the most practical qualities to have if you want to learn piano. Personally, I work on my dexterity every time I sit down at the piano. When I first started my piano lessons, I had very little flexibility. I had to work twice as hard on that technique. If you’ve got “small” hands, then you'll have to compensate with flexibility, speed, and precision. It's all about finding the perfect balance.
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I often tend to compare music to sport. Both require warming up, regular practice in order to get better, and a number of physical and mental qualities.
With this in mind, I’d like to discuss working on something that isn’t very glamorous but nonetheless very important when it comes to practicing how to play the piano, your dexterity as a piano player.
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What do we mean by dexterity in terms of piano?
When you play piano, dexterity refers to your ability to move your fingers precisely and quickly, when necessary, over the keys. We could also call this flexibility. Having dexterity means that you can put complicated chords together easily and quickly, with a high degree of fluidity.
Regardless of their level or experience, precision is essential for any pianist. You can work on dexterity your whole life. In fact, even experienced pianists do.
Just like any athlete, musicians need to work daily on their dexterity, flexibility, speed, and agility in front of the piano. In order to do this, there are exercises and classes that you should be looking at.
Which types of pianists work on their dexterity?
The answer is so simple: ALL OF THEM!!! Every self-respecting pianist needs to take this step, no matter where they are in terms of ability. The moment you start to think that you're too good to practice on your dexterity is the moment what you start to lose your abilities as a pianist.
Working on your dexterity is basically one of the quickest methods to improve your overall playing. If you want to play the pieces you love, you need to work on it!
Whether you want to play your favorite piece, play and sing at the same time, or even write music for the piano, you need to work on your dexterity. If you don’t do this, you’re effectively slamming the brakes on your progress. But don’t worry! There are plenty of tools available to release these metaphorical brakes.
If you choose online piano lessons you will be offered the same kind of advice to improve on your piano playing skills.
Scales to Improve your Dexterity at the Piano
We’ve all heard someone say “they’re just a beginner, they’re still practicing their scales”. There’s a reason for this.
Why practice scales?
Scales are really useful for warming up when you first sit down at the keyboard. They'll also be one of the first things you come across when you learn to play piano or study music theory.
Scales are also really useful for building up your dexterity when you first start learning how to play the piano. You should start with C-major since it only uses the white keys. Don't get complacent, though! Crossing the thumb can still be a bit tricky. When you've got this down, you can move onto D-major, E-major, etc.
Then you can go faster. Changing speed is a great way to make some serious progress. Start with just the right hand on its own then the left hand on its own. Afterwards you can use both hands together and work on your coordination.
While scales mightn’t seem like the most interesting thing for a pianist, you’re still technically playing the piano.
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Hanon and Czerny
These exercises were designed by and named after their composers. You can get books of these exercises, too. The goal of these exercises is to improve your playing.
Hanon and the Important Thumb
Hanon was a composer and a trailblazer when it came to exercises for learning the piano. The idea’s really simple: simple exercises using only the white keys that free up your fingers, rendering them independent from one another.
You can get books filled with these exercises and you can use any exercise whenever you want, changing the speed and adding other complexities as you see fit. The thumb is really important. You have to practice moving it under your index, middle, or ring finger on a regular basis.
Czerny’s Speed Exercises
For Czerny, exercises were for speeding up, working on sequences, and using your fingers independently. These exercises also use the white keys.
While some people think these exercises are just for beginners, it's not true! It’s recommended that everyone use at least some of these exercises regularly, changing the speed, and the fingering, eventually.
The difficulty generally increases, too. Working with these exercises is very effective. Especially when it comes to piano classes.
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Advice for Working on your Dexterity
Piano techniques and Hanon, Czerny, or Van de Velde exercises can be very effective. However, there are a few tricks, too. You can probably imagine a few exercises that might help.
Why not create your own exercises?
For example, imagine a combination of notes for your fingers: let’s say 1-3-2-4-3-5 for the right hand and 5-3-4-2-3-1 for the left hand. Now repeat this pattern over and over getting quicker every time. Doing an exercise like this can help you recognize your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to fingering and also help you work on your precision.
Your imagination, creativity, and inventiveness need to come into play. Use them all at the same time to come up with exercises which work for you (or a student if you’re teaching) in terms of your needs and whether there’s room for improvement.
A skilled tutor will realize this, too. They’ll know how to work with their student’s needs.
Putting Simple Chords Together
You can also practice putting together a few simple chords before moving on to more complicated sequences without even looking at the keys. Make sure to keep your hands in the right position.
This exercise can help improve visual memory and not just when it comes to playing piano. A pianist who doesn’t have to look at the keys can focus more on the music they’re reading or even on singing and playing the piano at the same time.
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How Long Does it Take to Improve Your Dexterity when Playing the Piano?
You don’t need to put tons of effort in. Just by regularly training, you’ll start to see the benefits.
How much should I practice playing the piano? 10 minutes per day should be enough.
There isn’t a really a perfect time to work on your dexterity. You can do so before or after practicing the piece you’re learning, or before or after your piano lessons or just when you sit down to tickle the ivories. It’s important not to overdo it or not practice enough.
Between 5 and 10 minutes per hour played should be enough.
Doing so at the start can help you to warm up (don’t forget that you also use muscles to play the piano and you run the risk of tendinitis or exacerbating an existing condition).
Doing these exercises at the end can push these muscles and improve your flexibility, just like a gymnast.
Regularity is the key to success.
Flexibility can be worked on at any stage of our lives as musicians. Regular training can help you improve more quickly when it comes to reading music and therefore play longer, more precisely, more quickly, and, of course, more happily.
Just like any other skill, practice makes perfect. Of course, don’t forget to take breaks to avoid fatigue and injury. Not training regularly also is risky. You’ll stagnate and either always remain at the same level or fall behind.
What Gives a Pianist their Dexterity?
To put it simply, it’s an amalgamation of all their skills. Speed and fingering precision are important technical abilities.
Brushing up on technical skills allows any pianist to enjoy themselves. Music and playing the piano have to remain enjoyable.
Any exercise that allows a pianist to progress and improve their playing is useful. The goal is to work out an appropriate difficultly in terms of how regularly they practice and what level they want to get to.
Dexterity is therefore essential for any pianist. You want to become a better musician. Furthermore, it’ll help you get better at improvisation.
With this in mind, what other technical aspects do we need to consider when it comes to improving at the piano.
Dexterity is obviously not the only thing a pianist needs to work on. What about reading music? Listening? Feeling? Positioning? There are plenty of things you can be working on. You could say that they’re all just as important as dexterity. But that’s a story for another day.
What do you think about these top tips for becoming a better piano player?