Piano Exercises

Annette McDermott
hands playing piano

Done correctly, piano exercises can help you with finger coordination, strength and dexterity. They also help you get comfortable with the layout of your keyboard. Exercises are controversial, however. Some teachers believe they're essential while others worry they encourage mechanical playing. While it's important to learn technique from actual musical works, piano exercises offer a starting point for you to learn basic piano skills.

Printable Exercises for Piano

The following exercises are free to print. Just click on the one you'd like to use to open the file. If you need help downloading and printing them, use these helpful tips.

Early beginners or very young beginners may need to play the notes detached at first, but all students should eventually play them legato (unless otherwise indicated). Legato means to play smooth and connected. To play legato, lift your finger off the first note the moment the second note is played. Unless you're playing the same chord one after another, there should be no silence or breaks between each note.

5-Finger Exercises

These exercises for beginners acquaint you with the basic five-finger position. They get you used to playing with all five fingers. Play each hand alone first, then play hands together.

C Major Chord Exercises

These exercises for beginners break down the C major chord. They help you learn how chords are built and how to play multiple notes at once. Play each hand alone, then play hands together.

Melodic and Harmonic 2nds Exercises

Intervals are the distance between two notes. The distance from one white key to the next is called a 2nd. Melodic intervals are 2nds played separately; harmonic intervals are 2nds played together. Practicing intervals helps you recognize the direction of the notes whether they are stepping up or stepping down. They prepare you for playing 3rds, 4ths, 5ths and so on. Intervals also help you learn how chords are built.

This is a beginner's exercise. Play each hand separately, then play hands together. Once you're comfortable playing the exercises as written, you can continue the pattern up the keyboard using your other fingers.

Staccato Exercise

Staccato means to play the notes detached from one another. The technique helps you learn to lift your fingers off the keys. To play staccato, lightly "bounce" your finger off each note. The motion should be controlled and most of the effort should come from your fingers. Play each hand of this beginner's exercise separately, then together.

Weak Fingers (4 & 5) Strengthening Exercises

Your fourth and fifth fingers are usually the hardest to control. These beginner exercises help strengthen them. Practice with each hand separately, then with hands together.

C Major Scale Exercise

Scales are the building blocks of music. Playing them helps you learn which notes sound good together (harmony). It also helps you master complicated fingering so you can navigate the keyboard with ease. These exercises help build hand and finger independence when hands are played together since each hand is using different fingering. Scales offer you a lot of opportunities to focus on specific techniques without worrying about which notes to play.

For this later beginner exercise, play each hand separately, slowly at first until you've mastered the fingering; then try with your hands together. If you're an intermediate pianist, challenge yourself by playing one hand ascending the keyboard while the other hand descends the keyboard.

Octave Stretch Exercise

Some people have difficulty stretching their fingers an octave (eight notes) or more. Octaves add drama and boldness to musical compositions. They also help you transition from one area of the keyboard to another. If played incorrectly, octaves may cause pain or tightness.

Most late beginners can play octaves. Younger students may struggle with the stretch until their hands grow. For this exercise, play each hand separately, then play hands together. Keep your wrists relaxed and don't force the stretch if you feel pain. Once you're comfortable with the notes, continue the pattern up and down the keyboard.

C Major Arpeggio Exercise

Arpeggios are broken chords. When playing an arpeggio, you play a sequence of the individual notes of a chord. For this C Major arpeggio, you play the notes C, E, and G. Arpeggios help you recognize key root positions, musical structure and harmony. They also increase finger coordination.

Play each hand separately, slowly at first until the fingering is mastered. Then play hands together. As you become comfortable with the exercise, increase the tempo and continue the pattern up the keyboard. Late beginners should be able to play arpeggios but may play them slowly; intermediate students should be able to play them faster.

Two-Octave Arpeggio Exercise

This exercise takes the previous arpeggio exercise a little further. The fingering is trickier but helps you learn natural fingering progression. Arpeggios are common in piano pieces such as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Debussy's Clair de Lune.

For this intermediate exercise, play each hand separately, slowly at first until the fingering is mastered. Then play hands together. Try playing at various tempos.

Chromatic Scale Exercise

The chromatic scale contains every note on the keyboard. It has twelve pitches. Each pitch is a semistep (half step) from the other. Practicing the chromatic scale helps build speed and gets you comfortable with the thumb-under fingering technique.

Some later beginner students may be able to play this exercise, but it might be too overwhelming for others. Play one hand at a time, slowly at first until the fingering is mastered, then try with both hands. Play at various tempos. Intermediate students may challenge themselves by increasing the tempo.

Tips for Practicing

Piano exercises are usually played at the start of each practice session. Every exercise focuses on a specific skill, fingering, or technique. Here are some ideas to help you get the most out of them:

  • Play each exercise several times daily.
  • Play each exercise slowly at first. As you master the technique or fingering, increase your speed. Set your metronome at different speeds to help you stay on track.
  • Change things up by adding dynamics. Play each exercise fortissimo (loud) and piano (soft). Add a crescendo (gradually get louder) to the first two measures and a decrescendo (gradually get softer) to the last two measures.
  • Don't just get through the exercises. Make them work for you. Pay close attention to your posture, hand position, and forearm position. Listen to each tone and pay close attention to the fingering and how it helps you transition from one key to the next.
  • Don't just memorize an exercise to get it over with. Feel the music as you play.

More Piano Exercises

Mix up your routine by adding some of these exercises to help you warm up before playing.

Exercise for Beginners

This video by Jan Durrant demonstrates a variation of a basic five-finger exercise. Each hand is played separately and then together. Legato and staccato examples are also played.

Hand Coordination Exercise

This video helps you develop hand independence and coordination between your right and left hands. During this fun and challenging exercise, one hand plays single notes while the other plays chords.

Scales and Arpeggios Exercise

Miller Music Studios offers a video on practicing blocked chords and arpeggios. The exercises are shown for C major, C minor, C diminished, and C augmented chords.

Hanon Exercises

Hanon Online offers a huge selection of piano exercises by Charles Louis Hanon. The original 60 exercises were published in 1873 in The Virtuoso Pianist. They've been transposed in every key. Here you'll find 240 exercises available to print, which should help to keep your practice and warm-up time more interesting.

Hand Strengthening Exercises

Making Music shares exercises that "strengthen hand coordination and independence." Right hand exercises, left hand exercises, and hands together exercises are included. A demonstration video shows you proper technique.

Learn Technique and Have Fun

Playing piano is like everything else. Those that put the work in get the most out of it. Piano exercises are work but they don't have to be tedious. They can be a fun way to kick-off your practice sessions. Once you're comfortable with the basics, use them to help you strengthen skills you're struggling with.

Piano Exercises