What are the Best Warm Up Exercises for Piano?

April 3, 2023

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Whether you are new to piano or have been playing for years, you probably have your own favorite warm ups to do at the piano. In this little blog, I wanted to share my favorite exercise and explain why. By the way, if you don’t do warm ups as a part of your practicing routine, consider the fact that one of the world’s most famous pianists who ever lived, Vladimir Horowitz, continued to play scales and arpeggios while practicing for piano recitals he was giving well into his 80s! If it was important enough for the best of the best, then it should probably be good for anyone else playing the piano too.

What are generally the most common warm up exercises for piano?

1.  Scales & Arpeggios

One of the most common warmups for piano are the building blocks of most styles of music: scales and arpeggios. Melodies are built on the combination of scale and arpeggio passages (which we play with the right hand most of the time). The accompaniment is almost always based on chords which could be blocked or played as arpeggios in the left hand.

In music, there are many different types of scales, which begin on each of the 12 piano keys:

  • 12 Major scales
  • 12 Natural Minor Scales
  • 12 Harmonic Minor Scales
  • 12 Melodic Minor Scales

There are also 132 main types of arpeggios (11 for each of the 12 piano keys).

This might be a little intimidating for beginning piano students. When you take piano lessons, most teachers start with learning the C major scale and then other major scales following the circle of 5ths.

The circle of fifths is kind of like a clock and begins at 12 o’clock on the Key of C (which has no sharps or flats), and then circles around in fifths, which adds more black keys as you get towards the bottom:

C, G, D, A, E, B, F#/Gb, Db, Ab, Eb, Bb, F and back to C!

If you want to learn more about the circle of fifths check out this page on wikipedia or consider studying with a great piano teacher!

If you have learned and routinely play all the major scales and at least one corresponding major triad arpeggio per scale, then you are keeping your technique in excellent shape!

2. Etudes/Studies for Self Practicing

“Etudes” (or Studies) are pieces which are written by various composers/pianists. Etudes are meant specifically for self-practicing and not for playing in concerts. There are numerous collections of such keyboard studies written from the late 18th century and on, but the one which is definitely worth mentioning is: Hanon’s exercises. Try at least the first couple of them and remember that you can try them in different keys!

3. Etudes/Studies for Performance

Finally, there are Etudes that are more than just warmup exercises for the piano. They are interesting enough to be performed on stage! There are dozens of collections of Etudes written by Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Ligeti, and countless others.  The two etude sets that stands out as a must for advanced and professional piano players were composed by F. Chopin: Opus 10 and Opus 25.

If you need help deciding which Chopin Etudes to try first,  the more attainable to begin with are Op. 25 no. 1 and Op. 25 no. 2. If you manage to get a couple of these etudes under your fingers and have them as a part of your piano practice every time, then, using video game terminology – you are at the “Boss level”!

What is the best piano warmup exercise if you only have a little time?

If you need to warm up your hands and you only have a minute or so, play the B major scale!

  • It uses all the black keys, so it’s very easy to memorize
  • It forces the fingers to use the middle area of the keyboard (as opposed to playing at the edges of white keys)
  • It teaches the long fingers to curve while pressing the black keys
  • It promotes the feeling of symmetry between hands as thumbs always match on white keys and black keys are played by the same fingering groups

Watch this quick video for a better understanding of how to play the B major scale as a warmup on piano and what its benefits are!

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