Title: The Virtuouso Pianist in 60 Exercises (Le Pianiste virtuose)
Author: Charles-Louis Hanon (1918-1900)
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Reviewed by: CK
Since it was first published in Boulogne in 1873, Charles-Louis Hanon’s The Virtuoso Pianist, now known as The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises (“HVE”) has been worshiped, despised, loved, hated, sometimes all at once. If you study enough history, you will find that every major historical event, person or thing has been worshiped as a god, condemned as a scoundrel and then finally cataloged peacefully as “an inevitable product of his/her/its time.” HVE is no exception.
But let’s be clear at the outset – HVE is my personal favorite because, in my humble opinion, it will arm you with a “set of chops” to see you through the entire spectrum of musical styles you may be called upon to navigate in the remaining four-fifths of the 21st century. I say this because, over the years, I have been called upon to perform many styles besides your garden variety classical, jazz and rock.
Wow, Man, If It’s “Transcendental,” It Must Be Groovy, Right?”
Contomporary dictionaries say yes, but I say not necessarily. As Eric Clapton used to sing, “it’s in the way that you use it.”
When Mr. Hanon references a set of “transcendental exercises,” he’s talking about a series of finger exercises that require you to take your fingers in directions they are not used to traveling – and to which they will object from time to time. As you begin the exercises, the first “victim cards” will be played by the 4th and 5th fingers – the “ring” finger and the pinky –who will be shoved forward and back, and then run around the block.
The payoff comes from a more sophisticated and versatile technique. If you don’don’t believe it, check out the hands of various under-trained amateur pianists whose right-hand movements are limited by the use of only the thumb and first two or three fingers.
Scales and Arpeggios
These are “>HVE’s bread and butter. Several otherwise commendable piano teachers will skip right to these and blow off everything before and after. Shame on them – but nothing stops you from investigating the remaining exercises on your own.
With both scales and arpeggios, the most important finger in either hand is your thumb, which you must learn to “turn under” because it strikes once, skips a couple of steps and then strikes again. If you purchased your piano or keyboard using a famous bank card, you might hear the admonition, “Don’don’t leave home without it!” (Your thumb, silly, not the card!).
As with the life-altering, transcendental experiences discussed above, you must practice s-l-o-w-l-y to attain speed later.
Trills, Octaves and Other Fancy Stuff
In the remainder of HVE, having already absorbed more than your share of “meat and potatoes,” you will begin to navigate what might be considered the spice rack of your piano storehouse. These are the techniques that, once mastered, will particularly dazzle listeners. None are easy and, truth be told, none are necessary. For this reason, you are duly cautioned against skipping earlier HVE exercises, just to become intoxicated with unsubstantiated parlor tricks.
Where these exercises and techniques can be particularly intriguing is in an improvisational setting. If you are a jazz fan fond, like me, of wandering through recommendations on YouTube, it is some of these later techniques you will hear Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and other more recent pianists employ in videos labeled “Beast Mode.”
Not Everyone Agrees With Me
Over the years — 146? – “>HVE has accumulated its share of detractors, and some of them raise some valid concerns. One is that HVE’s exercises are “unmusical” to the extent they blindly march up and down the piano with no regard to keys, chords or other evidences of “musicality.” Another is that they do not necessarily prepare one for all of the impassioned gymnastics found in 19th century classical piano. When I recently learned that the pianist and songwriter Bruce Hornsby had incorporated HVE Exercise No. 47 into a tune entitled “Spider Fingers,” all I could say in response was – you guessed it – “that’s just the way it is!”
If you are serious about getting into – or back into – tuning up your piano chops, get your hands on “>Hanon’s The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises now and practice s-l-o-w-l-y for at least one half hour daily. Your fingers will cooperate as never before and you will have more fun.
I hope this review was helpful to you. Please let me know what you think, along with any questions and anything else you want to tell me about your individual piano journey. I try to get back to everyone within three or four days.
And don’don’t forget to enjoy the journey
CK Piano Motivator