The Best Piano Exercise for Beginners – Complete Guide
What’s up everyone! Today I’m going to tell you about of of the most important piano exercises for beginners. It’s that one fundamental exercise everyone should know. When I started using this drill, it fundamentally changed the way I played. It was the first and most important piano technique I learned in college. Let me quickly tell you my story about The Miyagi Technique.
My piano professor in college is truly a piano master. He grew up in Romania where his schooling was practicing piano 8 hours a day. He’s toured internationally. He’s performed at Carnegie Hall. His bookshelf is filled with books on piano teaching, technique, and strategies.
When I walked in for my first lesson, I was expecting to learn some flashy, cool piano moves. Some unbelievable arpeggio run. Or an incredible alternating octave technique.
Instead, he taught me this technique. The simplest, most basic piano technique. But looking back at it, it’s the most basic piano technique that leads to all the flashy “cool” piano moves.
I’m going to tell you what it is, why it’s important, and then step-by-step how to learn it. Once you’re done learning this, you can start working through the piano drills and exercises in my Ultimate Guide to Mastering Piano Technique.
The Miyagi Technique
I call it the “Miyagi Technique.” If you’ve ever seen the movie “Karate Kid,” Mr. Miyagi is training this kid, and at the beginning the kid is spending all his time washing windows.
Like TONS of windows.
And the whole time you’re sittin in the theater thinking “C’mon man, teach him some cool fighting moves! Why are you wasting his time with this?” Then he’s fighting at the end of the movie and turns out the most important defense move uses the exact same motion as washing windows, and you’re like “Ooooooohhhhhh I get it!”
That’s exactly how this drill was for me. In that first lesson, I was wondering why we were spending tons of time on this weird drill. Then finally it clicked. I “got it.” I understood how this builds to other piano techniques. And it fundamentally changed the way I played.
Note: the “Miyagi Technique” is not actually the name of this drill. It doesn’t really have a name, I just like calling it that. So don’t go in to your teacher telling them you learned the Miyagi Technique, they’ll look at you like you’re crazy :P.
How Will This Improve Your Playing
This drill will help you accomplish three things: Smooth Tone, Faster Playing, and Injury Prevention. It’s also a great warmup exercise for piano beginners.
How the Miyagi Technique Improves Tone
When I first started piano, I thought of the keys as “buttons.” I thought “you push a button and a sound comes out” and that was it. In reality of course, each key is a complex set of mechanisms that move together to produce a sound.
HOW you press a key matters.
This is a concept a lot of people don’t realize (including me at the time). There are a million different ways to play an “C#.” Try it. Try keeping a stiff wrist and “nailing in” a note. Then try relaxing and pressing it down smoothly. There’s a difference in the tone.
Have you ever noticed how you can play the exact same notes as someone else, but they just sound smooth and sensitive and you can’t figure out why you don’t sound that way? It’s because they’ve developed the technique to play like that. This drill is the basis for this technique.
How the Miyagi Technique Increases Speed
When you try to play fast, relaxation is HUGE. Watch any great pianist, and it looks effortless. It’s like they’re not even trying. Liszt was famous for making it look easy, and he’s probably the greatest virtuoso ever.
Tension makes you slow. Relaxation makes you fast. Look at an Olympic sprinter. Look at their jaw. It’s completely relaxed, just flopping around:
Piano is no different! You’re using muscles just like they’re using muscles, you just happen to be using smaller ones! The Miyagi technique will teach you how to get the feel for the relaxation you need to play fast scales, octaves, and arpeggios.
How the Miyagi Technique Helps Prevent Injury
Muscle tension leads to injury. When you’re tense, you put a lot of strain on the tendons and ligaments of your muscles. If you continue to put strain on these muscles, eventually they break down under the pressure and that’s how injury happens. The Miyagi technique focuses on relaxation so you can stay injury free.
Ok, so enough chit chat about the why. Time to take action, here is the step-by-step process, how you learn the Miyagi technique.
The #1 Piano Exercise for Beginners: Step-by-Step
Step 1: The Flop
Hold your right wrist with your left hand. Now let your right arm go completely dead, 100% relaxed so that your left arm is holding ALL the weight of your right arm. Now use your left arm to lift your right hand slightly, then drop it and let it “flop” onto the keys.
You’ll feel your arm wanting to tense up once it starts falling. Don’t let it! It’s a natural reaction your body has but you have to overcome and let your dead arm weight hit the keys. It’s how you learn the complete relaxation feel.
This is going to feel weird. Strange. Awkward. But I promise you it works.
Step 2: The Catch
Now you’re going to do the same thing as step one, except this time you’re going to “catch” the fall of your right hand by playing a note with your 3rd finger. Your wrist will fall below the keyboard and roll towards the outside. Don’t let your finger “collapse”, make sure it stays curved downwards.
Repeat this on all your fingers. Your pinkie will be tough because it’s the weakest finger, so you may have to drop from a lower height.
Step 3: Hand Independence
Ok, now repeat step 2, but don’t use your left hand. So put your right hand over the keys, lift slightly, and then let your arm go “dead” and drop it. Catch it with your 3rd finger and roll your wrist down and to the outside.
Without your left hand there to help you, it can be tough to truly let go and let gravity take over. You have to really focus on NOT using your muscles to push down, only use gravity to pull your fingers into the keys. Repeat this step with all your fingers.
Step 4: Playing Chords
Now repeat step 4, but this time catch your arm weight with 3 or 4 of your fingers to form a chord. Really roll your wrist and elbow to the outside. Think of your arm as a heavy rope, and just let it drop.
Listen to the tone too. Work on getting that nice, warm, round, beautiful tone. This tone is one of the subtle things that separates good and great pianists. Its that tone that makes you good, and people won’t even know why. They’ll just think “I really like his/her style” without even realizing it was the tone you created that made them feel like that.
How to Integrate This Technique Into Your Practicing
Don’t practice this for an hour a day. Yes, it is one of the most fundamental drills, but you really only need to work on it a couple minutes a day to get that relaxation feel back in your system, because then the rest of the practice session when you’re playing your pieces you’ll be working on the relaxation too.
For the first week, go through all the steps. Just 3 or 4 times each (so 4 “flops”, 4 “catches” with each finger, ext). Then week 2 you can skip step one, it will already be ingrained in you. Week 3 you can skip step two. Week 4 you can skip step 3. And after that, just practice step 4, it’ll take you about 30 seconds. If you want another beginners piano drill to add on, I’d highly recommend the Five Finger Drill, it’s great for developing the correct motion when playing.
Now when you’re playing your pieces, you’ll start to feel when you are relaxed and playing with good tone and when you’re not. Strive to keep the best tone you can throughout your piece.
From here, you can start moving on to more advanced piano exercises like scales, Hanon (or Cortot), and etudes. But master this simple drill first, the rest will come later.
Hope that helps you all out! Try it out for yourself and let me know what you think in the comments! Oh, and I’d appreciate a share of course :).