By Katherine Fisher
This past fall when Julie and I were writing Technique Book 3, we decided to include Hanon Exercise No. 1. This was not a decision we made lightly. After all, there have been many impassioned posts on Facebook recently from teachers about either the benefits or drawbacks of students studying Hanon. It seems his exercises have become somewhat controversial in online discussions! With this said, we feel that the benefits far outweigh any negatives, so in this blog post I hope to explain our rationale about how Hanon may be used to enhance the technical development of early intermediate students.
First, we encourage students to play Hanon with multiple rhythmic and articulation variations. This prevents the dry and lifeless repetitions that so many teachers and students object to. We heartily agree that moving the fingers thoughtlessly over the keys is counterproductive. Instead, if students are constantly challenged to bring new life to the exercise through variation, much can be accomplished both in the hands and the ears!
After Julie and I settled on several variations that we both like to teach, we decided they needed lyrics or a theme to make each variation more memorable. At first we tried to come up with an animal theme, (after all, we are Piano Safari!) but had trouble finding phrases or animal names that matched each variation correctly. After putting this task aside briefly for Thanksgiving break, I woke up in the middle of the night and felt inspired about all the different ways to prepare potatoes. (Yes, I am certain this has to do with the large Thanksgiving dinner I had just prepared and eaten!) Thus, the “Hanon Potato Variations” were born! Side note: I do realize this is extremely unusual and maybe even a little eccentric, but I am happy to report my students think it is hilarious and also very helpful!
Here is a snippet of each variation with the corresponding lyrics:
We also decided to “jazz up” these variations with a variety of accompaniments using Major 7th Chords. This makes them more interesting and also keeps students accountable to play with a steady beat and precise rhythm. The following video is of a 7-year-old student playing the “Sweet Potato” variation with accompaniment.