3 Classical Piano Exercises for Master Playing

Lisa Witt  /  Practice / Apr 1

Want to play Rachmaninoff? Then you need these classical piano exercises!

Classical piano is all about having good technique. If you want to master your favorite pieces, there’s no going around it: you gotta eat your vegetables (meaning: practice your scales!).

In this lesson, we’ll share three types of exercises (scales, arpeggios, and Hanon exercises) in three levels of difficulty: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Remember to download a free PDF of our exercises before you start!

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Classical Piano Exercise #1: Scales

Scales are like vegetables. If you don’t do them, YOU DIE.

Just kidding! But scales are important — they train your dexterity, hand independence, and speed.

Beginner Level 🟢

As a beginner, you’ll want to start with C Major and its relative minor, A Minor. This is because both C Major and A Minor don’t have sharps and flats, so you’ll be playing all white notes. Just remember to tuck under and cross over as needed — this will take time to get used to! Once you’ve mastered playing hands separate, try playing hands together. This will be challenging!

A good question to ask is: how fast should you play scales? The answer: whatever tempo you need to play consistently! Use a metronome. Consistency > Speed 🙂

Intermediate Level 🟡

As an intermediate level piano player, you’ll be seeing more complex key signatures in the music you play. So let’s practice two keys with four sharps: E Major and C-Sharp Minor. And try to play a little faster — in the video, I play E Major at 90 bpm with two eighth notes per beat.

When it comes to C-Sharp Minor, you’ll be learning a new fingering pattern and starting on your third finger. This can take time to get used to, so take it slow.

Advanced Level 🔴 🔥

For our advanced level scale, we’ll be using a key signature with four flats: A-Flat Major and F Minor. Like C-Sharp Minor, A-Flat Major has an unusual fingering pattern, so again, start slow! Once you’ve mastered the pattern, try using a metronome and playing two notes per click.

Classical Piano Exercise #2: Arpeggios

The second item on our list of classical piano exercises are arpeggios. These beautiful patterns can be found everywhere in classical piano music, so practice them well!

Beginner Level 🟢

At the beginner level, focus on playing a C Major arpeggio or A Minor arpeggio for an octave. A good way to practice is to play the arpeggio five times on your right hand, five times on your left, and five together. Make sure your wrist is nice and flexible — it’ll be doing most of the work by rotating you through the notes.

Intermediate Level 🟡

For our intermediate level arpeggio, we’ll be playing an E Major arpeggio and C-Sharp Minor arpeggio over two octaves. This means you’ll have to tuck under or cross over, just like you do in scales. Again, make sure you do a proper physical warm-up because you’ll be moving more! Your elbow will lead the hand as its rotates.

Advanced Level 🔴 🔥

Get ready for a challenge: we’ll be doing three-octave A-Flat Major and F Minor arpeggios at this level. Remember: go slow! Being consistent at a slower tempo is better than playing fast and messy.

When playing in a key with lots of black keys, it may be easier to play higher up (closer to the fallboard) the key.

Classical Piano Exercise #3: Hanon

The last of our classical piano exercises is the notorious Hanon. Here are three levels of these exercises that have been used by piano players for hundreds of years:

Beginner Level 🟢

The first Hanon exercise includes a little skip in the first two notes. Feel free to write down fingering numbers when you’re first starting out, like this:

Intermediate Level 🟡

This intermediate level exercise works some of our toughest fingers: the ring and pinky fingers are often the weakest fingers to coordinate. They’ll be working hard during this exercise!

Advanced Level 🔴 🔥

Not only will your fingers work hard in this exercise, so will your brain! Again, feel free to pencil in finger numbers when you’re just starting out.

🎹📜 THE CANON OF HANON: Did you know that pianists have been using Hanon exercises since Charles Louis Hanon’s book The Virtuoso Pianist was published in 1873? Hanon drills are so useful and, because they include a variety of patterns, can be more enjoyable than scales. You can download every Hanon ever (240 exercises) online here.

The secret to succeeding at these exercises? Pay attention! Focus on how everything feels. Then, dial your metronome, adjust your posture, and vary your finger pressure as needed.

We hope these classical piano exercises take your playing to the next level, from beginner all the way to advanced. Now that you’ve eaten your vegetables, it’s time to conquer your next classical piece!

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Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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