5 effective warm-up exercises to include in your piano practice

09 September 2021
By Ellie Palmer
Extensions, Hanon and hand coordinaton are all on the practice agenda today!

It's really important that we give our fingers, wrists and arms a good stretch before we jump into practical exercises.

These first two exercises below are built upon chord extensions, and using the span of these chords as a way to stretch. Both of these exercises were favoured in the past by the great American teacher and pianist, Adele Marcus. Let's jump into the first one. The screenshots below are taken from piano teacher Graham Fitch's exercise lessons over on our YouTube channel.


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1. Extensions part 1 – right hand

This first exercise requires your right hand to play a C diminished 7th chord, and lifting each finger individually for a stretch. Work through the steps below.


STEP 1: Position your hands in a C diminished 7th chord position

Thumb on C, 2nd finger on Eb, 3rd finger on Gb, 4th finger on A, and 5th finger on C. Sounding out the chord is not the aim of this exercise. All you need to do is hold your fingers in place.


STEP 2: Lift one finger up and stretch

With all of your other fingers still firmly planted in the key bed, lift your second finger up like so.

Feel the stretch through your finger and into your wrist for a few seconds. Then, bring the finger straight back down onto the note. Try this same stretch with your remaining fingers.


STEP 3: Lift multiple fingers up at the same time

For an extra workout, try lifting combinations of fingers. This is a good exercise not just physically but also mentally – it encourages your brain to think about which fingers need to be lifted and which fingers need to stay planted. 



2. Extensions part 2 – left hand

This particular exercises uses a simple left-handed C major octave chord as the base, and involves thumb work and 'finger walks'.

The exercise isn't recommended for small hands. However, you can adapt to it by simply decreasing the span of notes by a tone or so. Let's jump straight in.


STEP 1: Spread your fingers over a C major octave chord

5th finger on C, 4th finger on E, 3rd finger on G, 2nd finger on C. For those with smaller hands, try moving your 2nd finger to B for a nice maj7 chord. Notice the thumb is dangling off the end. This is what we're going to take advantage of in this exercise. 


STEP 2: Stretch your thumb out in circular motions

Stretch your thumb out in circular motions, round and round a handful of times.

Once you've stretched the thumb out, there is another stretch you can do while your hands are in that same position.


STEP 3: Take your fingers 'for a walk'

Take one finger, keeping all other fingers on the keybed, and play the notes a semitone either side. Let's say you take your 3rd finger which is on G. Lift it from the keybed and play G#, then G, then F#, and back to G while keeping all other fingers in the same position.

Repeat this with the other fingers.

You can watch Graham's full video on piano exercises here.



3. Hanon exercise No 1

Hanon exercises have been debated by teachers and pianists alike for decades, mainly due to the effects they can have on finger dexterity if played WRONG. Take a read of our arguments for and against Hanon exercises.

It's important in the two exercises below that we keep our wrists and fingers as loose as possible to avoid any strain.


Hanon exercise in D

This is the very first exercise from Charles Louis-Hanon’s 60 Hanon exercises. It is the easiest of the 60, and helps improve finger strength and independence, as well as wrist and forearm strength. Try hands separately before moving onto hands together. Only four bars are shown in the image above, but in total this exercise consists of 30 bars. Simply continue the pattern to complete the exercise.

TIP: Each time you reach the top of the phrase, drop your wrist. As you descend, gradually raise your wrist back up. Repeat this when you reach the bottom of the phrase.



4. Hanon exercise No 2 


Hanon exercise in F

This exercise is ideal for improving wrist and forearm strength. Similarly to the first Hanon exercise, there are 30 bars in total. Continue the pattern to complete the exercise. It’s about two minutes in total. This will massively aid your endurance when playing repertoire later in your piano practice.

TIP: Instead of using your fingers as the main strength in this exercise, use your forearm. This is much safer! Place your free hand just underneath your forearm, and guide your wrist as it rotates from side to side.



5. Hand coordination

This is the perfect exercise to warm up not just your hands, but your brain too!

Taken from a lesson taught by YouTube piano teacher Jazer Lee, these 10 hand coordination exercises are based on the scale of C major. It begins with some similar motion and contrary motion work, before moving to some syncopation exercises that become more and more difficult each time.

A higher-res version of the above exercises is available to download for free here. Give them a go below.


Want to continue with some more exercises? Take a look at our video piano lessons on exercises here.