In any athletic activity, conditioning exercises done off the playing field can enhance performance on the field. This is true for playing the piano, too. Finger exercises can help you develop speed, strength, and agility in your hands that improve your performances and let you create a wider variety of sounds.
Here are a few examples of finger exercises that can be useful for pianists.
Playing on a different keyboard can improve your playing speed. For example, higher speeds are easier on lighter keyboards, like those on synthesizers. Practising on those keyboards can help you develop speed as well as accuracy.
Use a metronome to set a challenging pace and play a piece at that speed (even if it’s not the speed the music was written for). Strangely, playing a piece at much slower speed than written can also develop the dexterity to perform at faster speeds. You should also alternate between playing very quickly with playing very slowly. Doing so can help you develop awareness of the different speeds.
Athletes sometimes visualize performance; for musicians, mentally “hearing” a piece of music serves the same purpose. So, even when you’re away from a keyboard, try to mentally practise tempos.
Scales might be boring, but they do serve a purpose. Besides training the ear to know the notes in each key, playing scales will help develop finger strength.
You can make scales more interesting if you introduce variations in speed and rhythm. Other variations include having one hand play ascending notes while the other hand plays descending notes.
In particular when it comes to finger strength, you should pay special attention to developing strength in your weaker hand. It can be a fun and challenging exercise to use your weaker hand to play a part that you’d normally play with your stronger hand.
In addition (and unsurprisingly), your little finger is usually the weakest finger on each hand. To develop strength in that finger, play pairs and triplets of notes with that finger and one or two other fingers, while keeping a consistent rhythm and volume.
Agile pianists can jump quickly from notes in one place on the keyboard to notes in a higher or lower position. Stretching exercises can develop the ability to make these jumps quickly.
To help build up your agility, try to simultaneously play notes that are an octave apart, using the first and last fingers of one hand. Then, to make this exercise more challenging, add a note in the middle.
You can also hold down a note with one finger and play staccato notes with other fingers, ascending as far as possible.
Piano players are finger athletes. And, like many athletes, some pianists don’t like their training routines. After all, routine practises and training exercises like scales can be boring.
The best athletes, though, take their training seriously; they know that giving their all in those workouts will help them win their games and gold medals. As a pianist, taking your training seriously will help you win sweet music and audience applause.