Exercises to do with piano students


Once they know all the notes on the keyboard:

  • Ask, “What’s this note?” as you play a D, and then just play individual notes without saying anything. Go through all white notes first, then all sharps, then all flats, and then randomly. Identify their repeating weaknesses and kill those weaknesses.
  • Tell them, “Play a D,” and so on. Eventually have them play multiple notes, from hand to hand.
  • Tell them, “Play the same note two octaves below the note that I play.” Then play a D6, then more notes, and change octave counts, or have them play above you.
  • Tell them, “Now YOU play some notes and tell me to identify them.” (For myself, I personally like to stand away from the piano and identify notes without looking while the students play.) Every now and then, ask them, “Am I right?” Later, you might even ask them to play more than one note at a time to challenge yourself.


Do these for no more than one system at a time: MAYBE two systems at most.

  • Ask them to identify different kinds of notes. Point to a quarter note and ask, “What kind of note is this? Is it a half note? No…” and let them answer. Then, maybe, ask, “How many beats does it get?”
  • Ask them to identify letter names. Point to a D and ask, “What letter is this note? An A? No…” and have them read through half of or a whole system at a time. Maybe say, “Read this system backwards” (and drag your finger from right to left accordingly). You could also point to random notes, perhaps across the hands’ different staves, to drill for certain notes you know they’re weak in recognizing.
  • Ask them to explain the piece’s time signature to you, and then say, “Count the beats [1-2-3-4] steadily per measure, and I’ll clap on each note [for the right/left hand].” Then, as the students steadily count those beats, clap on the notes that fall on or between the beats.
  • Tell them, “Now I’ll count the beat, and YOU clap on each note.” If they cannot get the rhythm perfect, they should not try to play the piece other than for note-reading without regards to time.
  • Tell them, “Now do both: clap and count.”
  • Tell them, “Clap on those notes again, but count silently.” Alternate doing this with and without the metronome; make sure they can do both well.
  • Tell them to do the same for the other hand.
  • Tell them, “Now instead of clapping, I want you to tap on the sides of the bench: the right hand tapping the right hand part, and the left, the left.” This should ideally be done counting aloud as well as with silent, mental counting, each with and without the metronome: all four possible permutations.

It is when they can clap one hand perfectly and identify all notes perfectly that they can play it—and both hands, correspondingly so. There is no point in making them try to play a piece if they can’t even get the counting right. Music-making is rhythm + notes + fingering. If they can’t do one of those independently well, what’s the point of trying to merge all three together? It’s wasting time.


  • Tell them, “I’m going to play two notes; one will be higher than the other. You tell me which is higher: the first or the second.” Then play pairs of two notes that are at first far away from the keyboard, and come increasingly closer to each other in their interval distance.
  • Tell them, “Now I’ll play three notes; tell me which is the highest” (or lowest) “—first, second, or third,” and play accordingly. You could even do four notes; that gets very tricky.
  • Reverse it; tell them, “Now YOU play [two/three/four] notes, for ME to identify the [highest/lowest] note out of the group.


Have them recognize systems, measures, and beat numbers. Teach them what those are, first, and then ask/say:

  1. “How many systems are on this page?”
  2. “Point to me the third system.”
  3. “Point to me—in the second system—the fourth measure.”
  4. “Point to me—in the fourth system’s third measure—the second beat in the left hand.”

Naturally, you will want to say this very slowly for them to find each step, and always address larger parts of music to smaller ones (page-system-measure-beat)—never the other way, or any other way.

  • Ask, “Does this system reappear anywhere else in the music?”
  • Ask, “Does this new passage look familiar to a previous passage that we already worked on? Is it exactly the same?”
  • Say, “So if we gave each system a letter, the first system would be called the A section.” Then point to another instance of A in the piece. “What about this?” (Point to B.) “This is different, so what should we call it?” And don’t forget about A’ (“A prime”), B’, and C’ if a section is only slightly different from a previous occurrence.


  • Tell them, as they continue to work on repeating a passage, “Now try to look a little bit more at your hands while you play, and a little bit less at the music. So look at the music, but only if you need to.”
  • Remind them: “This editor doesn’t have your hand size. I don’t have your hand size. You have your hand size, so can you think of fingering for this passage that works better for your hand size? Let’s experiment…”
  • If the students are working on one hand, play the music to the other hand (and later, vice-versa). Have them count off: “Pretend there is a starting measure, so I know how fast you will play. Count 1-2-3-4, and then we’ll come in on the immediate next 1.”

A curious American whose life mission is to share the glorious, mysterious love of God in every way possible.

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