Most of you will probably have no idea what Hanon means but the subset who do probably largely consist of people with classical piano training in their background. Charles-Louis Hanon published The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises in 1873 and, in the 140 or so years since then, it has been a very popular set of fundamental finger exercises for pianists. So how do I, as a less than classically trained bassist, come to be writing about it?
Jane and I have long had a Yamaha PF80, an electric piano with weighted keys (and which weights a ton!). Towards the end of last year, just about the time Jane was wanting to use it to pick out the alto lines for carols being used in the Christmas choir, something broke and it stopped working. Looking under the hood, my suspicion was that the power supply had gone. We did get the number of keyboard repair guy but didn’t hear back from him and then we had a guest staying for a month or so, so we took the broken keyboard off the stand and put it out of the way against a wall. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to to take some photos prior to passing it onto to anyone interested in a broken keyboard on either eBay or Freecycle… and then I discovered it worked again!
We’d planned to fill the space with a more modern equivalent – smaller, lighter and with improved sounds – as a keyboard is a useful thing to have in a musical house but, since the PF80 is working, I’ve been playing around with learning some keyboard skills with a book out of the library… and that includes use of drills based on Hanon’s exercises.
They aren’t without critics; I did some browsing online and not only located a copy of all the exercises but also comments about how they are mechanical and, if practised to extreme, even potentially dangerous. However, as a starting point, particularly one to be explored and understood, I think they have value. For example, bar 1 of exercise 1 is C E F G A G F E – or 1 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 in scale degrees. You skip the two because that becomes the starting note of the next bar: 2 4 5 6 7 6 5 4. And so the pattern continues, played with either hand or both in unison. It is mechanical but it also provides an environment to think about the mechanics – here it can be be done in a simple hand span but, between the first two notes, you need to incorporate a small stretch so that, after coming back down, you are in position to start on the next note up.
Anyway, enough typing; another keyboard is beckoning.