21 August 2019
By Frank Huang
Pianist Frank Huang explains why he thinks Czerny exercises are a different class altogether.
Widely known as an important piano teacher in Vienna in the early 19th century, Carl Czerny composed numerous exercises for beginner and intermediate level students to develop their technique. Some notable examples include 100 Progressive Studies, Op. 139, 40 Daily Studies, Op. 337, and 110 Progressive Exercises, Op. 453. Today, Czerny continues to be a resourceful pedagogical tool. Just ask any piano teacher what technical exercises that they assign to their students, and they will most often cite Hanon and Czerny.
Here are three reasons, however, why Czerny belongs in a completely different class, and why you should incorporate his exercises in your daily routine. Be sure to check out Rhonda Rizzo’s thoughts on why you might even consider avoiding Hanon altogether and how his studies can actually be harmful, a stance that I share, before reading ahead.
1. They actually have musical value
One of the biggest reasons why I love Czerny exercises is that they provide excellent musical value, rather than just “warm-ups” in building your fingers. Consider Czerny’s Op. 261, No. 13 as an example (see below) to see what I mean.
In this particular exercise, students learn a variety of lessons: hand independence, melodic and legato playing, controlling LH support figures, and the use of multiple articulations and touches. I am a firm believer that musicianship and technique should be developed collaboratively—this study accomplishes both rather efficiently.
2. They provide a gateway to the more advanced concert etudes
We all want to get to a point where we can play Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninov etudes—the pinnacle of the piano literature. In order to reach this level, however, we need to incorporate a steady diet of scales, arpeggios, and chords, which are the building blocks of Western literature, as well as the appropriate repertoire.
I also propose that one should add Czerny exercises to the mix because they allow students to further develop these fundamental skills—setting up a good foundation for the future when one tackles more difficult etudes. Czerny’s most famous books of exercises, School of Velocity, Op. 299 and The Art of Finger Dexterity, Op. 740, are great examples of studies that one should be able to comfortably play before progressing to the next stage.
3. Something for everyone
It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an advanced student, or even if you are finally starting to gain command of scales and arpeggios—Czerny exercises are beneficial for everyone!
Unfortunately, Czerny has developed a reputation for his exercises being mechanical and monotonous, but I disagree wholeheartedly. I ask the sceptics to consider this...
In addition to his technical studies, Czerny wrote a significant amount of beautiful concert literature. Variations on a Theme of Rode, Op. 33 is one example that comes to mind. Having studied with Beethoven, he was undoubtedly influenced and inspired by his older predecessor, and would later teach some of the piano giants including Franz Liszt. Even Igor Stravinsky famously stated that he held Czerny with high regard. When you compare other piano exercises, no other composer comes close in fusing technique and musicianship together as well as Czerny. And ultimately, isn’t that the point of playing the piano?
3 Czerny Exercises books to explore
1. Carl Czerny Practical Method for Beginners on the Piano Forte Op 599
2. 101 Exercises for Piano
3. Czerny - 125 Exercises for Passage Playing, Op 261