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The Ultimate Piano Technique Resource

Pianote  /  Technique  /  UPDATED May 6, 2024

Piano technique is so, so important, but it’s also an intimidating and frustrating topic for beginners. In fact, we can already hear the groans from the back of the room! Which is understandable—one mention of “piano technique” and hours of monotonous scales come to mind.

As piano educators, we’re dedicated to teaching what needs to be taught…but in a way that’s interesting, rewarding, and enjoyable. This article is a collection of our best piano technique content on this website, all in one handy place. It includes everything from the “why” of technique to how to make practice fun. (Yup, technique can be fun!)

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Why Piano Technique?

If you’re a fairly experienced piano player who can play songs, you might wonder: what’s the point of technique practice? Isn’t the point of learning piano to play the songs you love? 

But everyone—even expert concert pianists—can improve by practicing proper piano technique.

Piano technique isn’t just about playing fast. It’s also about dynamics and articulation. Technique is what takes you from making sound to making music. The better your technique, the more control you’ll have over your sound, the more you can do with this instrument.

> Importance of Piano Technique

Posture

Let’s start with the bare basics: how we sit at the piano. This is important because to progress in piano, you want to play as comfortably and for as long as you can.

Some simple posture tips to remember:

  • Sit nice and tall with a straight back.
  • Have your feet flat on the floor. If you can’t reach the floor, place your feet on a stack of books or footstool. You can also scooch to the edge of your seat—this can give you more control.
  • Your knees should be just underneath the edge of the piano.
  • Make sure your arms have a relaxed angle to them. Don’t hold them straight, but don’t be too scrunched up against the piano either.

Hand Posture

Pay special attention to the positioning of your hands, wrists, and arms.

  • Avoid droopy wrists! Pretend there’s an invisible puppet string holding up your wrists and a bubble underneath your hand.
  • Have your fingers in their natural, curved position. Don’t play with straight or flat fingers.

Piano posture lessons:

Scales

“Scales are like vegetables.”

Lisa Witt

Many piano students dread scales. But scale patterns are found everywhere in music. You can’t avoid them!

Scales don’t just improve your dexterity, coordination, and speed. Practicing scales in all twelve keys helps you internalize the shapes and key signatures of different keys. So, drilling your scales is both mental and physical training.

Some tips to help make scales more enjoyable:

  • If the thought of doing all twelve keys of scales overwhelms you, focus on just one or two keys per practice session. 
  • Practice scales in different articulations, such as staccato, legato, and tenuto.
  • Instead of focusing so much on the thumb tuck, try the burst exercise.
  • Make your scales musical by pairing them with a chord progression, which further strengthens your understanding of that key!
  • Practice with a backing track. Here’s a free one.

Scale resources:

Chords

Music is made up of chords. Like scales, learning your chord shapes not only trains your physical dexterity, it develops your theory knowledge too.

Practice your chords solid (notes together) or broken (notes apart). And make sure you practice your inversions too. Doing so will help you quickly transition between chords and recognize chords in sheet music.

C Major Diatonic Chords: Solid

C major diatonic chords in solid form.

C Major Diatonic Chords: Broken

C major diatonic chords in broken form.

Chord resources:


Chords & Scales Library

Need a quick reference to play the chord or scale you’re practicing? Head on over to our free chords and scales library: the most important scales and chords in EVERY key!

Bmaj7 Chord

B Major Scale

Chords & Scales Library

Arpeggios

Chords are related to arpeggios. Like scales, you’ll find arpeggios in piano music everywhere. They sound beautiful and can look very impressive, so this is a popular (and essential!) concept among piano students.

Most arpeggios require a lot of movement, so remember to stay loose and don’t just rely on your wrist—you should be rotating your entire forearm from the elbow to lead your fingers through the arpeggio. 

Start with an easy cross-over arpeggio first. Then, when you’ve gotten more comfortable with chord shapes, try fancier things like adding a 9th.

Arpeggio practice lessons:

Pedaling

Playing piano is a full-body affair! So don’t neglect your footwork. Some quick pedaling tips:

  • Anchor your heel to the ground and pedal with the ball of your foot. This position gives you the most control.
  • Practice playing a scale or set of chords and lift the pedal with each note or chord, ensuring your notes are sustained but clear.
  • Be careful not to overpedal. Don’t rely on the pedal to sound good. Learn how to play legato without the pedal so that when you do use it, the pedal will sound extra nice!

My rule of thumb when using the sustain pedal is to lift it each time there is a chord change or a change in harmony. If you don’t know how to tell if there has been a change in harmony, go with your instincts. Your ear will be able to tell you if your sound has become muddy and you need to release the pedal.

Lisa Witt

Pedaling lessons:

Hanon

If you’ve never tried Hanon exercises before, you need to start today! These exercises have been used for centuries and for good reason: they work out everything. Hanon exercises are unique patterns that get your fingers moving in new ways, developing their dexterity and flexibility. They work your brain too because they’re not as predictable as a straightforward scale.

Want Hanon exercises in a neat and portable package? Check out our Little Book of Hanon.

Hanon lessons:

Articulation

Articulation can make a huge difference. It’s what makes Bach sound Baroque and Chopin sound Romantic. It’s how we recognize a Thelonious Monk recording from a Bill Evans one.

Bill Evans: Soft, round, flowy.

Thelonious Monk: percussive, jagged, abrupt

Articulation is a skill that develops over a pianist’s career, but beginners can get started with it right away. If you’re using sheet music, pay special attention to slurs, staccatos, accents, and phrasing and don’t skip them. If your sheet music comes with non-English terms, look them up.

If you play from chord charts and lead sheets, write out your own articulations. 

Articulation resources:

Metronome Practice

Metronome practice elicits groans in many piano studios, but the metronome truly is an indispensable tool for progression.

The metronome is like your musical GPS. It keeps you on the right track and makes sure you get to your destination in perfect time.

Lisa Witt

The key to not getting frustrated with your metronome is to start at a way slower tempo and increase speed in small increments (3-5 bpm). If you struggle with feeling the beat, try subdividing rhythms.

Make Piano Technique Less Boring

Still bored of scales, chords, and arpeggios? Try a play-along exercise! Having something or someone to play along with is more engaging. And it feels like playing with other musicians.

We have tons of play-along exercises in the Pianote Members Area. But we have them for free too! These are some of our favorites:

Good luck on your piano technique and happy practicing!

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Charmaine Li is a Vancouver writer who has played piano for over 20 years. She holds an Associate diploma (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music and loves writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience. Charmaine manages The Note. Learn more about Charmaine here.

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