Piano Technique: Tutorials, Scales, Finger Exercises and More
In this piano technique section of the site, you’ll find everything from:
- scales (major, minor, pentascales, etc)
- pieces designed to build technique (studies and etudes)
- finger exercises that aren’t scales
- other techniques like triads
So far, our technique section spans up until around a grade 2 level, so stay tuned for more challenging piano technique videos in the future!
Piano Technique: Basic scales
Whether you’ve just started, or have been playing for several months to a year or more, I urge to to start with pentascales.
Pentascales are small 5-note scales (5 = penta). I love these because they get you comfortable in a variety of different keys, and they’re much easier to play than full 8-note scales.
And, even though they’re easier to play and understand, they’re still a bit of a challenge. These short scales really give the weak fingers (fingers #4 and 5) a good workout. So even if you’ve already tried full scales, I still encourage you to give pentascales a whirl!
This video details the first scale most piano players learn: C scale. C scale is nice because you don’t have to worry about any black keys, and can instead concentrate on learning the finger patterns used in scales.
This scale tutorial, as with the others, also includes a PDF of the scale and fingering.
Here are some other basic scales you can check out:
- F major scale
- D major scale
- A major scale
- E major scale
- A natural minor scale
- A harmonic minor scale
- D natural and harmonic minor scales
- E natural and harmonic minor scales
A couple scales you might have noticed on the list are the “harmonic minor” scales. These are a particular type of minor scale, so I did an entire video on them.
They’re probably my favorite scale – they sound very Eastern. A lot of Classical music written in minor keys uses the harmonic form of minor scales, so they’re important to know.
This video explores all of the scales-related questions I get asked on a regular basis – how often should I practice scales? What order should I learn scales in? And many more.
Piano Technique: Different symbols and touches
In piano, it’s not only crucial to be able to play smoothly – it’s also crucial to be able to play “choppy” (aka staccato).
In this video, I show you how staccato playing works, and also provide a tutorial and PDF for you to practice with.
Portato is a little bit of an unusual sheet music marking, but you’ll come across it in works by 19th/20th century composers such as Bartok.
Another important, and frequent, piano technique is using the damper pedal. This video goes beyond the basics, and demonstrates the way most pieces use the pedal.
There are all types of different symbols and markings in piano sheet music. This video makes an attempt to explain them all, as well as show you examples of how they’re supposed to sound.
Piano technique: Next-level scales (and more)
Once you can easily do a one-octave C scale (as well as other one-octave scales), it’s time to try a longer scale: the 2-octave scale. This scale corresponds with grade 1 piano (RCM and ABRSM).
Triads are another grade 1 technique. I think they’re just as valuable to know as scales – if not more so. Since triads are basically patterns of chords, they’re a big help to learn if chords (and thus, pop music) is something you’d like to be comfortable with.
In grade 2 piano, a third type of minor scale comes into play. Instead of just knowing natural and harmonic minor scales, you’ll also need to know and understand melodic minor scales. This video will give you a full breakdown of how they work, and how to play them.
Here are five short exercises I developed (PDF included) to help your hands work independently of each other. One of the most challenging parts about playing piano is playing hands together, and it’s an area most of my students struggle the most.
These exercises are quite easy to read, and are appropriate for a grade 1 level and beyond.
This video outlines the pentatonic (5-note) scale. It’s not a scale us piano players practice often, but it’s useful to know if you’re going to be in jamming and improvisation situations.
This is another scale that’s good to understand, but you don’t necessarily need to master playing it (unless you’re learning a piece written in a whole tone scale). These scales tend to come up in more intermediate and advanced theory exams.
This is a primer video on playing arpeggios (2 octaves), which first appear in the RCM grade 4 technical requirements.
This curated collection of 5 exercises will help your fingers move more independently of each other, instead of just mashing down all at the same time.
Etudes and Studies
I love etudes and studies, since they’re a way to practice piano technique – but instead of being in the form of scales, they’re in the form of a piece of music.
Clementi has some great preludes. I like them because he has a simple-ish prelude in most keys, from major to minor. This one is a particular favorite since it requires quite a bit of speed and gusto to play. Around a grade 1 level.
Kunz wrote a lovely collection of canons for beginner piano (around a grade 1 level and up). Canons are pieces where one hand copies the other, but both hands play at the same time. It’s very challenging, but excellent if you want to train your hands to act of their own accord, instead of always moving at the same time.
RCM and ABRSM exams and requirements
In each of the following videos, I do a play-through of all the technique you need to know at these grade levels if you’re doing an exam.
Even if you’re not doing an exam, it can be helpful to gauge your piano technique goals with specific levels, so you can grow and improve in steps.
This is the technique required for beginner-level piano.
This a play-through of all grade 1 technique required for an RCM exam, and a list of the various exercises you need to know.
Here you’ll find all the grade 2 piano technique needed to pass an RCM exam. These videos are very similar – I list the exercises and do a full play-through of all the technique.
Just like the above videos, only this time it’s at a grade 3 level.
Just like the above videos, only this time it’s at a grade 4 level.
This is a play-through of all grade 1 technique required for an ABRSM exam.
Just like the above video, only at a grade 2 playing level.
Just like the above video, only at a grade 3 playing level.
Just like the above video, only at a grade 4 playing level.