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#595416 - 03/23/06 11:27 PM finger exercises
ahmngrn30 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/23/06
Posts: 2
Anyone know of any good finger exercises to help play the piano better? I'm just learning to play and the main problem is with my left ring finger. I can't hold this finger up when i have to use my pinky and middle finger to play a note at the same time. I can press it down fine but can't hold it up. I for some reason don't have this problem at all with my right hand.

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#595417 - 03/24/06 12:50 AM Re: finger exercises
Derulux Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5067
Loc: Philadelphia
You don't want to hold it up. You just don't want to play with it. ;\)

Take it slow, one note at a time, with your entire "playing mechanism" (hand, wrist, arm) over every note, so that you play it solid. Eventually, you will get used to how this feels, and will no longer have the problem. (Note: "Eventually" is a time period that has different lengths for each person. ;\) )
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#595418 - 03/24/06 04:52 AM Re: finger exercises
KJC Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/27/06
Posts: 74
Loc: Vancouver, BC
Try Carl Czerny's 50 Small Studies for the Upper Elementary Grade and 32 Studies for the Lower Middle Grade

You will find many of these useful. I have been extremely lazy for years in playing these, much to my teacher's irritation, but I've recently discovered how useful they really are. They are fun to play as well!

Brahms' 51 exercises: I recommend No. 17, a triplet trill exercise. You can play this as slowly as needed and then work up your speed. A metronome is very useful at least part of the time here to make sure you're not favoring certain fingers. The other exercises are not really for beginners.
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"Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking" - Goethe

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#595419 - 03/24/06 05:57 AM Re: finger exercises
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
In my limited but rapidly growing experience, Hanon is also useful if you are not used to exercises, as many of the exercises are very simple and focus on finger strength and independence.

I agree 100% with Derulux. When playing exercises, don't rush at first and play the notes as if you mean it, firmly - ie not too delicately. You need finger strength and independence. These are called "exercises" for a reason :-)

Adrian
_________________________
S&S Hamburg D, Yamaha CLP 280


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#595420 - 03/24/06 06:42 AM Re: finger exercises
Oleo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/16/06
Posts: 46
There is no need to strengthen your fingers. Nor will it do much good. Learn to use the big muscles (shoulder, upper arm), rather than the fingers.

Piano playing (and most things actually) is not about strength, or flexibillity. It is about co-ordination and economy of movement.

Read Sandor's book (On playing the piano) to get informed, and then search for someone who can guide you, since these things cannot be properly learned by oneself.

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#595421 - 03/24/06 08:19 AM Re: finger exercises
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
But Oleo, those big muscles will not deliver finger dexterity and control that specific finger exercises will. A
_________________________
S&S Hamburg D, Yamaha CLP 280


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#595422 - 03/24/06 12:07 PM Re: finger exercises
Oleo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/16/06
Posts: 46
There are no muscles in the fingers.

Therefore, you cannot build, develop or train finger strength.

You can develop forearm strength, you can develop upper arm strength, you can develop shoulder strength, you can develop core strength. All of which are important and have their place.

But you cannot develop something that does not exist in the first place.

Old teachers like von Bulow were simply ignorant of anatomy. So whatever instruction they may have left us must be carefully evaluated in view of their ignorance and our present knowledge. Simply you cannot take their words at face value.

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#595423 - 03/24/06 12:43 PM Re: finger exercises
w_scott_iv@yahoo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/05
Posts: 1120
Loc: West Virginia
There are no muscles in the fingers?? I have to confess that that is a totally foriegn concept to me. I'd like to hear an anatomist's confirmation of that so that I can start working that into my belief system. Just goes to show that (if it's true) you learn something new every day! Walt

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#595424 - 03/24/06 01:13 PM Re: finger exercises
Varcon Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/15/04
Posts: 1931
Loc: Mount Vernon, Georgia 30445
That's interesting--no muscles in the fingers. One has to develop control of the fingers and one of my teachers,who took body dissecting at Belleview in New York to study the playing mechanism, insisted on a developed hand for strength, stamina, and endurance. Exercises do just that. He had well-developed musculature in his hands as did my teacher in Chicago who also insisted on developing the playing mechanism with very demanding exercises. I'm not sure why the poster would say that as my own hands have changed with the practice of various exercises and are now larger than before. My teacher in Chicago said that when practising as Gabrilowitsch demanded that every so often the students had to buy new gloves for the developing hands. I can't 'buy' the statement:"Therefore, you cannot build,develop or train finger strength."

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#595425 - 03/24/06 01:16 PM Re: finger exercises
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
Whilst I agree that the muscles originate away from the hand, your remark is too general. Excerpt from human anatomy paper:

"Muscles on the dorsal side of the interosseous membrane are said to lie in the posterior compartment, and generally extend or supinate the hand. They can be further subdivided according to their actions (acting on the wrist joint, fingers, or thumb). The intrinsic muscles can be grouped according to the digit they move. Thenar muscles affect the thumb, hypothenar muscles the 5th or little finger, and "short finger muscles" affect mostly digits 2-5 (index finger- little finger)."

The relevant point here is that wherever the muscles lie, the ability to use the fingers independently, with great dexterity and with all the variations of forcefulness from very gentle to very firmly, is fundamental. The three elements of independence, dexterity and strength (or firmness if you like) are all of great importance in my view. And I beleive you can train these things.

I know from my own experiance that exercises help this. I do not really believe that exercises to improve the strength of arm and shoulder muscles is going to help my piano playing a lot.

Adrian
_________________________
S&S Hamburg D, Yamaha CLP 280


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#595426 - 03/24/06 01:26 PM Re: finger exercises
Derulux Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5067
Loc: Philadelphia
He is correct. There are no muscles in the fingers. I am not a professional in any field that would indicate such a thing, but I have taken a number of courses in related fields. And if you doubt me, you can look it up yourself:

Wikipedia: God\'s gift to the Common Man

Scroll down to "muscles and tendons" and enjoy. ;\)


I've found it VERY common that the majority of piano teachers know next-to-nothing about basic anatomy or physics. To me, this is disturbing, especially considering these are the two most important fields of study to know how to appropriately move the body and how to extract sound from an instrument bound by the laws of motion (and how to verbalize these things in a direct, concise, explicit manner).

So, you hear things like, "Play with the same volume, but enter the key slower." This is impossible to do...unless you could somehow instantaneously and accurately increase your mass. (What they're really telling you to do is play softer...but they don't often realize that this is what they're telling you to do because it is such a subtle change and is almost entirely imperceptible to the human ear. I say almost because you can't really discern the miniscule change in volume, but you can discern the change in decay of a sound...and that's what they're actually hearing.)

Well, enough rant...I really only came to comment on (and confirm) the "no muscles in the fingers" statement. \:\)
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#595427 - 03/24/06 01:45 PM Re: finger exercises
pianojazz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/10/06
Posts: 359
Loc: dearborn, mi
ahmngrn30 - I see this is your first post - welcome to PW. I think somewhere along the way, you have picked up some misconceptions about how to actually "play" the piano. 1 One does not lift the fingers up - never. 2. Playing the piano is not gymnastics or weight-lifting or strenuous exercise for the hand and/or fingers and the muscles (wherever they are). The key to piano playing, at least physiologically, is relaxing the hand - you want finess, dexterity, fine touch, sensitivity and control. Each note you play has three distinct phases: impulse, balance and release - notice I wrote release - not lift. The idea is to finess your way around the keyboard - not overpower it. Anyone can overpower the keyboard - it takes about 2 ounces of force to depress a key. But it takes a long time to learn to finess it and make music. You will need a teacher that can point you in the right direction - but you can easily hear the difference when the piano is played by someone who knows what they are doing.
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www.myspace.com/michaelbreenpiano

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#595428 - 03/24/06 02:49 PM Re: finger exercises
Oleo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/16/06
Posts: 46
Consider two different kinds of finger strength:

1. Get one of these big water bottles (20 l) they have in offices for people to drink. Can you lift it by grabbing the top with the tips of your fingers? To do that you must have strength in the forearm muscles (not fingers) that curl the fingers. You must also be able to keep your first joint (nail joint) curled, since if it opens the bottle will fall. This kind of strength is completely useless for piano playing, since I cannot think of any movement that uses it (except perhaps for moving the piano!)

2. Have you ever seen martial arts masters break wooden boards with their fingers? You may think that this requires enourmous finger strength. Some people actually try to develop this kind of finger strength by throwing their hands into buckets of gravel and developing huge calouses. They usually break their hands, and invariably end up with arthritis in later life. However I have met several martial artists who had no apparent superhuman strength, and their hands were baby hands, and yet they could go through a coke can with their fingers. They explained it to me. It was not about strength, it was about alignment. The power came from the hip (legs firmly planted) and was transmitted to the finger. As long as all joints were properly aligned there would be no damage to the finger (or anywhere else). But even the tiniest miscalculation could result in a broken finger/hand/arm. Now, this kind of alignment is very appropriate for powerful piano playing, and tehrefore you do not work/train towards finger strength, but towards joint alignment. Try this for a start: Do pressups on your fingertips. But not on the floor. Do it standing up against a wall. Place your fingertips on the wall and slant your body a little (by getting your feet away from the wall). Your aim is not to develop arm strength (that’s why you are not doing it on the floor), but to investigate joint alignment. The most important direction is to not let your nail joint bend. Keep it aligned. And bear in mind that writing about this stuff is often misleading and can lead to the wrong practice. So find someone who knows about this stuff and ask him/her to demonstrate/guide you.

3. Do not listen to much to people’s explanations. Watch carefully what they do instead. A pianist may be convinced that he achieves his effects by finger strength, but close observation of what s/he actually does is a much safer bet. My favourite story is about Liszt teaching students to play octaves with a rigid wrist, and yet he would shake them out of his sleeve so to speak.

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#595429 - 03/24/06 03:50 PM Re: finger exercises
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
This is missing the point. A member posted with a problem about finger independence and dexterity. This person has not been playing the piano long.

He/she needs some simple techniques to solve the problem, not advice about finding someone who can deal with joint alignment whilst sitting down.

We need to get back into the real world here.

The question was "anyone knwo of good [finger] exercises...". The answer is yes. Either buy or download Hanon, Czerny or Brahms and start doing a few of the exercises daily. You will soon improve.

Kind regards

Adrian
_________________________
S&S Hamburg D, Yamaha CLP 280


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#595430 - 03/24/06 04:10 PM Re: finger exercises
Basil Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/06/06
Posts: 105
Loc: UK
Dohnanyi's exercises are also good for practising
finger independence and dexterity but are not easy.

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#595431 - 03/24/06 04:26 PM Re: finger exercises
Oleo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/16/06
Posts: 46
You can practise Hanon and Czerny for years and not get good technique, since they are perfectly playable with bad technique. In fact, if you read Hanon’s own preface where he describes the technique you should use when playing his exercises, it is one of the worst (if not the worst) technique ever put down on paper.

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#595432 - 03/24/06 04:56 PM Re: finger exercises
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
Oleo - perhaps we can start this again.

Here is how it works.

Poster asks question.

We try to make constructive and helpful suggestions.

Whilst you are sincere in your beliefs, nevertheless we are still a bit lacking in the helpful and constructive department...

Back to square one :-)

Adrian
_________________________
S&S Hamburg D, Yamaha CLP 280


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#595433 - 03/24/06 11:57 PM Re: finger exercises
ahmngrn30 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/23/06
Posts: 2
wow thanks for all the replys. haven't read through them all yet... i know you're not supposed to lift the non playing fingers up. i just misworded that... For an example of what i mean-- When i put my right hand on a flat surface and try to lift the ring finger i can get it up fine. I do it with the left and it's hard to get my mind to focus on that finger. it's the only finger that i can't get up. I asked a few people to do the same thing and they r able to fine.... Then when i try to play something where you need your pinky and middle on your left hand the ring finger goes down as well. I can play a note just fine with it though. Holding it up is the hard part.

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#595434 - 03/25/06 08:57 PM Re: finger exercises
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
Unless you've had an injury in your left hand, you must be right handed. If this is the case, you have to think harder about doing things with your left hand because it's not used as much.

John
_________________________
Nothing.

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#595435 - 03/26/06 01:47 AM Re: finger exercises
Oleo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/16/06
Posts: 46
Choose a passage to practise. Alternate hands playing it. For every repeat of the RH do 3 repeats of the LH.

Keep in mind that most of the time, the left hand is less able then the right not because of “fingers” but because the whole left side of your body is less used. So your left hand may be slower because you are using only your fingers, while the right hand you are using your whole arm.

Think about bringing a fork to your mouth. It is not done with the hand – the hand just holds the fork. It is the arm that brings the hand (and consequently the fork) towards your mouth. But because the hand holds the fork and our attention is on the fork (the food is there!), we concentrate on the hand and the arm movement happens unconsciously. This is all right with the right hand – you are used to it. But if you try to eat with the left hand, you become very clumsy first because you are concentrating on the hand, and secondly because your left arm is not used to the movement necessary to bring the hand over to your mouth.

If you observe carefully, you will notice that your right hand moves in a dramatically different way from the left when playing a similar passage (you must make sure it is a mirror image, since our hands are mirror-images; if you are playing an ascending scale with the RH you must play a descending scale with the LH otherwise your movement comparison will not be valid).

So here are two approaches:

1. Choose a passage and its mirror image. Observe carefully how you do it with the RH, and how you do it with the LH. Work on making the LH movements as similar as possible to the RH movements (assuming your RH is your better hand and that you are satisfied with its performance). This way, the RH “teaches” the LH.

2. Spend a month consciously doing all sorts of things with your LH (eating, opening doors, combing hair, using the mouse, you get the idea). This will get the left side of your body as adept at general movement co-ordination as the right.

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#595436 - 03/26/06 02:21 AM Re: finger exercises
Palindrome Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/22/01
Posts: 3910
Loc: Chicago, IL USA
Yes, no muscles in the fingers (I had to point this out once to the head of a world-famous surgical pathology laboratory). I don't think it makes any difference where the muscles are. Your mind thinks about moving a finger, not about a forearm muscle, even if one of the forearm-located finger flexors or extensors is the thing that contracts.

And those muscles mentioned in wikipedia are in the hand, not the fingers.

With regard to the difficulty of lifting the 4th finger, it's a result of some connections between the extensor tendons on the back of the hand:




I learned this long before I studied anatomy in medical school from a book by Otto Ortmann on the mechanics of piano playing:

Ortmann book.
_________________________
There is no end of learning. -Robert Schumann Rules for Young Musicians

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#595437 - 03/26/06 03:16 PM Re: finger exercises
w_scott_iv@yahoo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/05
Posts: 1120
Loc: West Virginia
You learn every day! Now that we all know that the muscles for the fingers aren't actually located there, we don't want to make the mistake of thinking that the fingers aren't reliant upon muscle control. Just because there's a linkage invoved that many of us weren't aware of doesn't negate the value of finger specific control and strengthening exercises.

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#595438 - 03/26/06 06:28 PM Re: finger exercises
Derulux Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5067
Loc: Philadelphia
 Quote:
Originally posted by w_scott@verizon.net:
You learn every day! Now that we all know that the muscles for the fingers aren't actually located there, we don't want to make the mistake of thinking that the fingers aren't reliant upon muscle control. Just because there's a linkage invoved that many of us weren't aware of doesn't negate the value of finger specific control and strengthening exercises. [/b]
No, but you see all those wonderful tendons? When you overuse them (repetitive exercises), they swell up. When they swell up, they put pressure on the nerves in a cavity called the carpal tunnel. Guess what syndrome this leads to? ;\)
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#595439 - 03/26/06 06:38 PM Re: finger exercises
mmmmaestro007 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/15/06
Posts: 420
Loc: australia
 Quote:
Originally posted by Derulux:
 Quote:
Originally posted by w_scott@verizon.net:
You learn every day! Now that we all know that the muscles for the fingers aren't actually located there, we don't want to make the mistake of thinking that the fingers aren't reliant upon muscle control. Just because there's a linkage invoved that many of us weren't aware of doesn't negate the value of finger specific control and strengthening exercises. [/b]
No, but you see all those wonderful tendons? When you overuse them (repetitive exercises), they swell up. When they swell up, they put pressure on the nerves in a cavity called the carpal tunnel. Guess what syndrome this leads to? ;\) [/b]
carpal tunnel syndrome?
_________________________
"musical training is a more potent instrument than any other because rhythym and harmony find their way into the inner places of the soul" -Plato

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#595440 - 03/27/06 12:33 AM Re: finger exercises
Oleo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/16/06
Posts: 46

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#595441 - 03/27/06 09:29 AM Re: finger exercises
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
The risk of carpal tunnel syndrome in pianists can largely be eliminated by ceasing to play piano...

Seriously, are you suggesting that exercises should be discarded?

My own experience is that exercises have dramatically improved my ability to play difficult (for me) passages without as much laborious practice. In my experience on piano and guitar exercises are the quickest and most effective way of gaining true finger independence and dexterity.

Adrian
_________________________
S&S Hamburg D, Yamaha CLP 280


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#595442 - 03/27/06 10:52 AM Re: finger exercises
Nina Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/01
Posts: 6467
Loc: Phoenix, AZ
For finger independence, talk to your teacher about Pischna. These (exercises/activities/repetitive motions/whatever don't want to get into a fight here ;\) ) really helped me with finger independence.

Talk to your teacher. Some folks have had a cow when I've suggested Pischna, saying it could damage your hand, you need supervision, blah blah. All I can say is that they helped me noticeably, and I'm still here living a carpal tunnel syndrome-free life. Pischna isn't like Hanon, where you're encouraged to play them repeatedly, getting faster and faster. You do them more slowly and deliberately. A poor analogy might be to think of Hanon as cardio, Pischna as weight-lifting.

And did you know there are no muscles in the fingers? \:\)

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#595443 - 03/27/06 03:12 PM Re: finger exercises
Oleo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/16/06
Posts: 46
Now for the reason why Hanon (and like exercises) should be avoided:

1, Hanon, basic anatomical premise is totally false: “The central problem of piano playing is to make the fingers equal and independent”.

Not only this is most definitely not the central problem of piano playing, as it is impossible to achieve it. Therefore Hanon is a waste of time in an absolute sense because you will be employing your energies trying to solve a non-existing problem by pursuing an impossible procedure.

For instance, the fingers have different sizes. How are you going to make this equal? The thumb opposes the other fingers. How are you going to make them equal? The hands are symmetrical. How are you going to equalise them? The fingers 3/4/5 share tendons, how are you going to make them independent? Any method that promises to make your fingers equal and independent (Hanon's basic - and clearly stated - aim) is already showing such basic ignorance of the fundamentals of anatomy that these exercises are likely to be useless.

2. Hanon’s instructions are wrong. He tells you to:

"Lift the fingers high keeping everything else immobile."

Why is this wrong? Because lifting the fingers high is the wrong technique to use and leads to injury. The correct technique is to use – for instance - forearm rotation to bring the fingers up. Pressing the fingers down is never a problem and your fingers can already do it (from daily living) without any need for any further exercising.

Always acquire technique from repertory – that is, whatever technique you are acquiring it should always have a direct import and be guided by the pieces you are working on. Your technical range will increase with the increase of your repertory.

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#595444 - 03/27/06 03:52 PM Re: finger exercises
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
Interestingly, my teacher, though not decrying Hanon o rteh otehr exercises available, agrees with some of what Oleo says.

She does not agree that lifting the fingers high when doing exercises or playing, is a good idea. She instead seeks economy and efficiency of movement.

I agree that "equalising" the fingers is a pointless goal. What matters is being able to use the fingers at will in the most efficient and effective way.

But I do think that exercises help with dexterity in a marked way.

I believe that they have helped me with my repertoire and that they speed up my abaility to play new repertoire both more quickly and better. Perhaps this is an individual thing.

Nina - I loved your "have a cow" remark. I choked on my drink when I read that!

Kind regards

Adrian
_________________________
S&S Hamburg D, Yamaha CLP 280


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#595445 - 03/27/06 08:10 PM Re: finger exercises
LiszThalberg Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/06
Posts: 3288
Okay Guys...i am about level 5 or 6 and i do my Hanon every day (my teacher says its like drinking milk. you drink it every day to grow up big and strong). I tried Czerny once, his school of velocity. It was okay. I still love Hanon more. Right now I am still in school and piano is limited to 45 minutes a day (makes me sad). On weekends i play about 2 and 1/2 hours and leave about 1 hour for Hanon (yeah!!!) I am working on Le Petite Negre by Debussy also i'm working on L'orage by Burgmuller. I have a tight Scheldule but i continue to put piano first.

Peace , Debussy20

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