7 Easy Ways to Improve your Piano-playing Strength and Dexterity

January 6, 2006 by  

Here are seven simple ways to develop your finger strength and dexterity and so improve your piano playing technique.

1. Keys

Playing on different types of keyboard instrument can develop different playing technique.

Playing an acoustic piano or a realistic digital equivalent will develop greater finger strength, as it takes greater effort to depress each key.

It can also help in playing notes evenly, particularly quietly, due to its wide dynamic volume range.

Playing a synthesiser keyboard can develop playing speed, because the keys are lighter. It can also improve accuracy as you may need to be more careful not to depress notes inadvertently.

2. Scales

The bane of every music student? Scales and arpeggios are boring, but they work.

Not only do they help to reinforce knowledge of the notes in each key signature, but they help develop finger strength and rhythm.

Try playing major, minor and chromatic scales, and major and minor arpeggios, both single-handed and in unison in a variety of ways:

  • legato (notes smooth);
  • staccato (notes played shortly and sharply);
  • regular rhythm;
  • alternative rhythm (for example, hold the first note of each octave for longer than the other six notes);
  • alternative accents (for example, every third or fourth note);
  • inverted (same start note, right hand plays ascending notes whilst left hand plays descending notes, and vice-versa).

Remember to use the correct fingering for maximum benefit.

3. Stretches

  • Play two notes of at least an octave apart, with thumb and fifth finger.
  • Play a third note somewhere in between, with another finger.
  • Jump staccato from the lower to the higher note and back.
  • Hold thumb down on one note and play ascending staccato notes as far as possible with one of your fingers.

4. Work your weaker hand

Many pianists have one hand that is weaker than the other.

Continued below...

Since I stopped playing classical music regularly, my left hand is weaker and less dexterous than my right.

Scales (see above) will help, as will practising parts usually played by your stronger hand.

5. Work your weaker fingers

Generally, the little (fifth) finger is weaker than the other fingers in the hand (and the thumb is the strongest).

Significantly differing finger strengths will make it difficult to maintain even playing.

  • Practice playing scales with even volume across all fingers.
  • Play two alternating notes with your weakest finger and a stronger finger. Maintain an even rhythm and volume.
  • Play a run of three notes with your weakest finger and two stronger fingers. Again, maintain even rhythm and volume.

6. Styles

Learning to play music in a style that you are not used to can not only be fun, and improve your overall knowledge and musicianship, but it can also highlight areas where your fingers and hands are weaker or less agile.

It can take quite different technique to play classical music well, compared to rock, pop, jazz or blues, for example.

Try learning some music written in a different style, even just a portion or a phrase.

7. Key and Tempo

Try playing pieces or phrases of music you know well at different speeds and in different keys.

  • Dexterity can be challenged at faster tempos.
  • Steady rhythm can be challenged as tempos change.
  • Different fingers can be stretched and strengthened as a piece of music is played in a new key.

Practice these techniques on a regular basis and maintain your playing technique, strength and agility.

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22 Responses to “7 Easy Ways to Improve your Piano-playing Strength and Dexterity”

  1. Ryan on August 10th, 2008 12:36 pm

    “Since I stopped playing classical music regularly, my left hand is weaker and less dextrous than my left.”

    Sorry, I know what you meant but I still have to point that out.

  2. Andy on August 10th, 2008 7:52 pm

    Didn’t you know I have two left hands – a strong one and a weak one.

    Can’t believe no-one else has pointed that out in two-and-a-half years! :)

  3. Curtis on August 13th, 2008 7:39 am

    Some very good advice. I would only add that, in my experience, it is the fourth (ring) and not the fifth (pinky) which is the weakest for most players, because of the shared tendon between the third and fourth fingers. These are all excellent suggestions for improvement.

    A great way to develop better overall finger strength, wrist stability, and coordination between the fingers is to practice playing scales in minor and major thirds with each hand. That is, instead of just playing F G A Bb C D E F, for instance, play (F&A) (G&Bb) (A&C) (Bb&D), etc., so that you are always using two fingers for each degree of the scale.

  4. Andy on August 13th, 2008 10:42 am

    Good extra tips, Curtis, thanks.

    I hadn’t considered that my ring finger would be weaker, but I can see what you mean.

    I think perhaps the little finger (for me at least) is less controlled, so while it may have a bit more strength than the fourth, it’s slightly harder to control, which could affect timing rather than velocity.

    I like the “thirds” scale idea, too. Would certainly assist with mental recall of the notes of the major and minor scales, too. How might you transition from the third and fifth fingers back to the thumb and third fingers? Just “hop” to the next notes?

  5. Charlee on February 25th, 2010 2:40 am

    I read in a recent unpublished story that you can increase dexterity away from the piano by: tapping your thumb to your pointing finger, thumb to your ring finger, thumb to middle finger, thumb to pinky then restarting the process, i don’t know entirely if this is true but i am able to go faster then when i started and i have found myself addicted to the motion as something to do when bored or trying to think, and often when listening to music. oddly ive also noticed that though i write with my right hand, my left hand had a much easier time adapting the motion.

  6. Andy on February 28th, 2010 8:36 am

    Hi Charlee,

    That’s really interesting, and good to know for when you’re away from a piano keyboard.

    Thinking about those movements, I’d expect they would help. Having just tried it a little, my left hand (non-dominant) also finds this slightly easier. How strange :)

  7. Carol B on March 4th, 2010 8:46 am

    EXcellent advice. Just what I was looking for!

  8. nicholas on March 7th, 2010 8:26 am

    poor to improve my knowledge on piano playing

  9. danny on March 11th, 2010 5:48 am

    Thanks for the tips. Really useful. i am a lefty. My left hand is more stronger than my right. Do u think by practicing different scales, i will be able to make my right hand as fast and graceful as the left? Even while playing the keyboard,if i play a guitar or a saxophone on it, sometimes i get stuck playing with my right hand as the pitch bender is on the left on the keyboard which is very useful to make the guitar or saxophone sound more expressive on the keyboard. how do i make my right hand equally good as the left?

  10. Andy on March 14th, 2010 5:48 pm

    I found when I played certain types of classical music (particularly Bach) plus scales and arpeggios, my hands were of near equal strength and dexterity. They are no longer, unfortunately, but I have become lazy and don’t play that kind of music much now.

    I’d suggest that you keep practicing challenging exercises with your right hand particularly until it becomes stronger. If it isn’t your dominant hand then it may never become equally strong, but it will get close. Perseverance is key.

  11. Charlotte on July 14th, 2010 5:55 am

    Hanon is the best way to build strength and dexterity. A bore, but a bore that works!

  12. Andy on July 14th, 2010 8:55 am

    I agree, it’s a great book.

  13. Jamie friend on February 2nd, 2011 3:47 pm

    this website is the best . :p :p :p : p :0 :)

  14. Noel on February 20th, 2011 8:21 pm

    Hi am a pianist wishing to improve my desterity when playing both the acoustic and digital pianos. What would you recommend when using GRIPMASTER, start with less weight on each finger then gradually move to heavier weights? I’ll greatly appreciate your advice.

    Yours truly, Noel

  15. Andy on February 21st, 2011 5:56 pm

    I think it’s as much about evenness as it is about the weight you’re ‘pumping’ with each finger. In this case, it would be better to use a lighter model and ensure your fingers are evenly strengthened, particularly the smaller fingers. If you are playing an acoustic or weighted digital piano then you will be developing strength as you play — the Gripmaster (or similar devices) just allow you that extra bit of physical training when you can’t be near a keyboard.

  16. Bobby Chong on March 18th, 2011 2:04 pm

    I googled hand dexterity and found this:

    It’s worth checking out as it specifies specific things you can do through the day to improve your hand dexterity. Which I’d say is pretty relevent for some of you.

  17. Andy on March 19th, 2011 8:25 pm

    Hi Bobby,

    Thanks for the link.

  18. Vinnyeboy on April 29th, 2011 3:28 am

    I hv realised that hannon works best on weighted keys. On light keys it can make your hand sloppy.

  19. Andy on April 29th, 2011 11:46 am

    That’s an interesting point. There is a definite difference in technique required for playing on weighted and non-weighted keys.

  20. razor on August 1st, 2011 3:29 pm

    I’ve already developed a pretty good dexterity, now I want to go even further and this exercises don’t seem to help me anymore…I can repeat them like 100 times and I don’t feel a thing. I need something harder :)

  21. Feeling Weak? Piano Exercises for Finger Strength | TakeLessons Blog on April 11th, 2012 5:39 pm

    […] Here are 5 great exercises to improve your finger strength and dexterity, as originally published over at Piano and Synth Magazine: […]

  22. Dennis on June 7th, 2012 1:41 am

    Other scales very useful to practice not only for dexterity, but for improvisation and composing are the pentatonic scales, and the melodic and harmonic minor scales.

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