Technical Exercises for Improving Keyboard Technique
Sheet Music - for Piano Solo
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ii-chord Bump Exercise - 'Gospel'
The Ganz Boogie - Double-note Exercise
The Ganz Boogie - Double-note Exercise
For a pianist, technique is the physical ability to convey one's musical ideas. It's not good enough to be able to hear in one's head Art Tatum or Jimmy Smith type of runs and phrases if one's fingers can not execute them on the keyboard. That's where finger exercises come in - to gain strength and independence in all ten fingers (Richard Tee talked about the importance of this in his tutorial video, "Contemporary Piano").
Some pianists spend many hours practicing books full of technical exercises, such as those by Czerny and Hanon. The good news is that it's not necessary. Being able to play scales and arpeggios fluently is indeed essential to good keyboard technique, but only a few supplemental piano technique exercises are usually necessary.
And other piano exercises can help one to understand and to "feel" rhythms commonly found in rock, pop, and blues.
The piano exercises included here are very effective at improving not only finger technique but also Left Hand vs Right Hand coordination.
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Elmo Peeler - Heartbeat Exercise.pdf
Pop/rock music is based on the rhythm of the human heartbeat. One of the most fundamental coordination skills that a pop/rock pianist must develop is the ability to play 'straight fours', i.e., quarter-note chords, in the Right Hand, while playing a heartbeat rhythm in the Left Hand. This exercise introduces the beginning pop/rock pianist to a very simple, basic, and essential skill.
The Heartbeat Exercise is a five-measure exercise meant to be repeated over and over, until it becomes second nature. It should first be memorized, then practiced repetitively. Many will master it - 'internalize it' - within five or ten minutes. Some will require a day or two. And a very few rhythmically-challenged individuals might need two or three weeks.
Also included in this PDF is a slight variation on the Heartbeat Exercise that will reinforce and further develop these essential coordination skills.
If you can already play pop/rock piano, you probably already have these coordination skills and don't need this exercise. However, if you're a beginner and would like to start at the very beginning, the Heartbeat Exercise will prove very useful and even enlightening.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Heartbeat Exercise
Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.3 (Grace Notes & The 'Push').pdf
A 12-bar blues pattern in the key of C, this exercise teaches several things: what each hand can play to make an effective blues phrase, an introduction to the two types of grace notes, and an introduction to the "push", i.e., when the right hand chord slightly anticipates the left hand (a very common and important rock/blues technique). It's a basic coordination exercise, and an introduction to grace notes.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.3
Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.5 (Double-Flip).pdf
A 12-bar blues pattern in the key of C, the purpose
of this exercise is to perfect the 'flip' - a pianistic technique commonly found
in blues and R&B, particularly New Orleans-influenced R&B - in the context of a
triplet-based, rolling background (the left hand). Pianists from Dr. John to
Otis Spann use 'flips' as an essential element of their style. One of the very
first rock-and-roll records, Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" (1954),
had a piano 'flip' as one of its most important elements - to be precise, it had
two flips every measure throughout the entire song.
A flip is a briskly executed up-then-down arpeggio (broken chord). This exercise is called the 'double-flip' because it has two flips in each phrase.
The flips in this exercise are polyrhythmic, i.e., the left hand is in 3 (triplets), while the flip is in 4 (sixteenth-notes). Flips are usually polyrhythmic, although not always 4 against 3.
The notes of the flip must be performed perfectly evenly and cleanly, very articulately, like a perfect little string of pearls. Although it's a little trickier at first than it sounds, once mastered the 'flip' is a wonderful addition to a pianist's bag of tricks - really essential for playing blues and boogie.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.5 (Double-Flip)
Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.6 (9th Chord Boogie).pdf
A 12-bar blues pattern in the key of C, the purpose of this exercise is to introduce the 9th chord to the beginning student of boogie-woogie, and how it can be used and transposed throughout the I, IV and V chords. The 9th-chord "sound" was extensively used by the founders of boogie-woogie piano-playing, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Meade "Lux" Lewis. Without using 9th chord-based Right-Hand riffs and licks, a pianist cannot truly capture the full, rich sound of boogie-woogie.
This "9th Chord Boogie" can also be used as a very basic exercise in coordination and improving one's sense of rhythm if one practices foot-patting while playing this exercise. First, foot-pat on beats 1,2,3 & 4. Then, after becoming comfortable with that, foot-pat on beats 1 & 3. After becoming comfortable with that, foot-pat only on beats 2 &4, which is the goal.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.6 (9th Chord Boogie)
Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.7 (Thirds in Triplets).pdf
Also based on a 12-bar blues pattern in the key of C, this is a fairly easy, but important, lesson in basic 12-bar Blues coordination. The goal is to be able to play it smoothly with a relaxed, laid-back feel, while effortlessly patting your foot (or feet) on the 2nd and 4th beats and truly feeling that two and four back-beat throughout your body.
It also shows that in blues, full three-note chords are often not preferable to the simpler sound of thirds.
Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.8 ("The Worst Thing in My Life").pdf
This is a wonderful exercise in how to play old-school blues, and is based upon the piano part from B.B. King's "The Worst Thing in My Life", recorded in 1964. Comprised of 24 measures - two 12-bar blues phrases - this is a slightly simplified version of the original piano part. Each of the two sections has a different Right Hand blues pattern, with the first 12 bars using stabbing 7th and 9th chords, and the second 12 bars using tinkling thirds in a higher register - perfect as an introduction to learning the rhythms and voicings of that wonderful early blues style.
To listen to the original version of the two 12-bar phrases, just click: B.B. King - The Worst Thing in My Life - Blues Exercise
Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.9 ("Hammered Fourths").pdf
One of the most common - and effective - 'licks' in blues and rock-and-roll piano is the rapid repetition of fourths. Every major pianist from Otis Spann (Muddy Waters' pianist) to Ian McLagan ("Small Faces") to Johnny Johnson (Chuck Berry's pianist) to Little Richard has had them in his/her repertoire.
When played fast, repeated fourths have an almost pneumatic-hammer type of power, and can add an intense, virtuosic dimension to a piano solo. There are several techniques used for "hammered fourths", and this exercise demonstrates the easiest way to achieve this ability. If you've ever heard this type of riff and wondered exactly how to play it, this exercise will show you just how it's done.
Very fast repeated 4ths, 5ths, & octaves are used a lot in Golden Age Rock n' Roll. This specifically addresses 4ths. Fingering is included.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Blues Exercise No.9 (Hammered Fourths)
Rudolph Ganz - Exercise No.1 (Double-notes: Diminished 7ths).pdf
A wonderful double-note exercise, based on the diminished 7th chord. Excellent for finger independence, strength and endurance. A perfect warm-up exercise when your hands need to be limbered up and there is very little time to do it, such as right before a performance, backstage or in the studio. Also good for warming up at the beginning of a practice session. Passed down from early-20th-century concert pianist Rudolph Ganz to his student, Sarah Love Regan, who was my teacher.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Ganz - Exercise No.1
Rudolph Ganz - Exercise No.2 (Double-notes: Dominant 7ths).pdf
A wonderful double-note exercise, based on the dominant 7th chord. Excellent for finger independence, strength and endurance. A perfect warm-up exercise when your hands need to be limbered up and there is very little time to do it, such as right before a performance, backstage or in the studio. Also good for warming up at the beginning of a practice session. Passed down from early-20th-century concert pianist Rudolph Ganz to his student, Sarah Love Regan, who was my teacher.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Ganz - Exercise No.2
Rudolph Ganz - Exercise No.3 (Double-notes: Diminished & Dominant 7ths).pdf
A wonderful double-note exercise, based on both diminished 7th and dominant 7th chords. Excellent for finger independence, strength and endurance. Good for warming up at the beginning of a practice session. Passed down from early-20th-century concert pianist Rudolph Ganz to his student, Sarah Love Regan, who was my teacher. It is less ideal than either Ganz Exercise No. 1 or 2 as a quick warm-up exercise only because it takes twice as long to play. This is definitely the most difficult of the "Ganz" exercises, requiring much more stamina and endurance, but will certainly pay off in strong hands and independent fingers.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Ganz - Exercise No.3
Rudolph Ganz - Exercise No.4 (Single-notes).pdf
A wonderful single-note exercise, based on both diminished 7th and dominant 7th chords. To be practiced with highly-raised fingers, this technical exercise is excellent for finger independence, strength, and crystal-clear articulation. It is a perfect compliment for the three Ganz double-note exercises, and should be practiced immediately following them to loosen up the fingers after the double-note exercise(s). Passed down from early-20th-century concert pianist Rudolph Ganz to his student, Sarah Love Regan, who was my teacher.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Ganz - Exercise No.4
Elmo Peeler - Rhythmic Analysis Exercise No.1 ("Down by the River").pdf
The purpose of this exercise is to
teach how to play a rhythm guitar part on the piano, i.e., how to 'translate' a
rhythm guitar part onto a piano keyboard. For that purpose, Neil Young's classic
"Down by the River" (from his "Decade" album) is
used as an example.
The rhythm guitar pattern that begins "Down by the River" is analyzed; and then the logical steps to convert the guitar pattern to a two-hand piano pattern are explained in three steps, with two possible solutions given.
The ability to transpose a guitar rhythm onto the piano is an important skill for pianists to learn. This exercise will prove quite helpful in understanding how to do it.
To listen to the original rhythm guitar pattern, click here: Neil Young - "Down by the River" (original guitar Intro)
Elmo Peeler - IV-chord Bump Exercise No.1 - 2 Bumps per Bar.pdf
A "IV-chord Bump" is when a keyboard player throws in a quick IV-chord, usually to keep the main chord from becoming too boring. Although this technique is widely used, some pianists are not aware of it and how useful it can be. This exercise will help you gain facility with the IV-chord Bump technique.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - IV-chord Bump Exercise
Elmo Peeler - Left Hand Rock Pattern No.1 - Jerry Lee Lewis Style.pdf
One of the most common Left Hand patterns in all of rock-and-roll was one that Jerry Lee Lewis often used. With origins in boogie-woogie, this Left Hand was a stream of pounding eighth-notes played with very little 'swing', that could support and propel Right Hand licks, riffs and rhythms into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This is a 12-bar Left Hand exercise that shows exactly what notes are in the classic Jerry Lee Lewis Left Hand accompaniment pattern. It is actually two exercises in one, back-to-back, with the first not including grace notes or accents and the second exercise with both grace notes and accents.
If you'd like to master the Left Hand rock/boogie pattern that Jerry Lee Lewis often used, this will show you how to begin.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Jerry Lee Lewis Left Hand Style
Elmo Peeler - Pentatonic Exercise No.1 - Sequential Patterns in A minor.pdf
To play rock, pop, or blues, one must be able to play pentatonic scales easily, fluently, and evenly. This is a little exercise - actually two, back-to-back - that will help you play pentatonic runs more evenly and more controlled. Suggested fingering is included.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Pentatonic Exercise No.1 - Sequential Patterns in A minor
Elmo Peeler - Plagal Cadence in 6th's Exercise.pdf
There is a particularly warm way of voicing chords on the piano that uses 4-part harmony very similar to a string quartet voicing. This technique has been used by every rock pianist from Elton John to Leon Russell to Billy Joel to gospel pianists in small Southern churches. They key is to voice the main harmony notes in 6ths as the inner voices, i.e., the Alto and Tenor, while the Bass and Soprano hold the Tonic note.
This exercise shows this voicing in the keys of C Major and A Major, and encourages the student to memorize and practice these voicings in every major key.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Plagal Cadence in 6th's Exercise
Elmo Peeler - Church Bells on the Piano Exercise.pdf
There are several 'tricks' that can be performed on a piano, one of which is the ability to imitate church bells. This chord-voicing technique, which uses widely-voiced 4-part chords in first inversion, is commonly-used but many pianists are not aware of exactly how to do it.
This exercise is in three parts (all in C Major):
A) a C Major scale voiced like bells
B) "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" voiced like bells
C) "Three Blind Mice" voiced like bells
If you'd like to learn how to create the sound of church bells on your piano, this shows you exactly how to do it.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Bells on the Piano Exercise
Elmo Peeler - Left-hand 'Jazz Chord' Exercise.pdf
This is a simple exercise to introduce a rock/pop pianist to "jazz" chords in the Left Hand (instead of the usual octaves). This is a very elementary 12-bar blues pattern showing the most common Left-hand voicings for C9, F13, and G13 chords in the key of C Major.
If you'd like to start playing a jazzier Left-hand pattern than just octaves and fifths but have no idea how to voice chords in the Left Hand, this little exercise will prove helpful.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Left-hand 'Jazz Chord' Exercise
Elmo Peeler - Paradiddle Exercise - 'Dueling Thumbs'.pdf
This exercise is to help a keyboardist better understand pop/rock rhythm by playing drums on the keyboard - specifically, drum paradiddles. A paradiddle consists of two single drum strokes followed by a double stroke, i.e., RLRR or LRLL, and are practiced by drummers as scales are practiced by keyboardists.
If you'd like to improve your understanding of how drummers play so that you can transfer that rhythm onto the keyboard, and thus play better fills and more rhythmic turn-arounds, this exercise is a good place to start.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Paradiddle Exercise - 'Dueling Thumbs'
Elmo Peeler - Turn-Around Exercise No.1.pdf
A Turn-Around is the last two bars of a 12-bar blues phrase. Many of my students ask me to help them to play better turn-arounds. This exercise explains the three basic types: parallel motion (6ths), contrary motion, and miscellaneous. Included are nine variations on these three types of turn-arounds, including a Dr. John-style turn-around.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Turn-Around Exercise
Elmo Peeler - IV-chord Bump Exercise No.2 - Inversions.pdf
As explained before, a "IV-chord Bump" is when a keyboard player throws in a quick IV-chord, usually to keep the main chord from becoming too boring.
This exercise will help you gain greater facility with the IV-chord Bump technique by going through each of the three inversions in the Right Hand chords.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - IV-chord Bump Exercise No.2 - 'Inversions'
Elmo Peeler - ii-chord Bump
A "ii-chord bump" is similar to a IV-chord bump but has a slightly different sound - a little warmer, a little more R&B, a little more Gospel. If you'd like to become familiar with this important comping technique, this 12-bar exercise will help you with all three inversions, and in a Gospel-rock (3/4) style.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - ii-chord Bump Exercise - 'Gospel'
Elmo Peeler - The Ganz Boogie (Double-notes).pdf
The Ganz double-note exercises are some of the best technical exercises available for finger independence and strengthening. To make these important exercises a bit more fun to practice, I've incorporated a similar pattern into the Right Hand part of a boogie-woogie.
This isn't meant to be a replacement for the original Ganz exercises, but rather a supplement for the pop/rock/boogie pianist that would like to approach them from a different angle, i.e., with a boogie beat.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - The Ganz Boogie (Double-notes)
Elmo Peeler - Repeated Note Exercise.pdf
One of the trickiest techniques that piano virtuosos need to master is repeated notes. I was taught the technique at Eastman by Eugene List, a concert pianist who had studied with Vladimir Horowitz.
Whether you want to play Liszt or Ravel or just want to emulate a mandolin in your home studio, this little exercise explains how it is done. It happens to be the very last exercise in my daily technical regimen. Since I find it useful, I thought you might, too.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Repeated Note Exercise
Elmo Peeler - Arpeggio Exercise (All 3 Positions).pdf
The foundations of piano technique are scales and arpeggios. Scales help pianists to master runs using adjacent keys, while arpeggios help master runs using non-adjacent keys (3rd & 4ths). To truly acquire a solid, advanced technique, one must learn all 12 major key arpeggios, in all three positions (root, 1st inversion & 2nd inversion). However, the time required to play arpeggios in all three positions in all 12 keys can be considerable.
This exercise condenses arpeggio practice into a much less time-consuming exercise that still gives your hands practice using all three positions - only using the white keys (and the chords of C, F & G). Ten different arpeggios are included into the exercise.
Although this is no substitute for learning arpeggios in all 12 keys, this is a very effective exercise when the length of practice time is a consideration. It can also be used as a good warm-up exercise when time is short. I include this exercise in my daily practice regimen.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Arpeggio Exercise (All 3 Positions)
Elmo Peeler - Whole Lotta Shakin' Exercise (Jerry Lee Lewis Style).pdf
When performing "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" live on the Steve Allen TV Show in 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis used a terrific Left Hand/Right Hand piano pattern that would serve him well for many decades.
This is a 12-bar exercise (for both hands) that extends that pattern over the entire 12 bars, that will help you master one of The Killer's most important piano patterns. It is actually two exercises in one, back-to-back, with the first 12-bars in 4/4 and the second 12 bars in 12/8. Lewis played it somewhere between the two meters, with more swing than 4/4 but less than full-blown 12/8.
If you'd like to master one of Jerry Lee's trademark piano patterns, this exercise will show you how.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Whole Lotta Shakin' Exercise (Jerry Lee Lewis Style)
Elmo Peeler - Octave Exercise #1 - Scales.pdf
One of the most important techniques to master is playing octaves, whether you're playing rock, gospel or classical. Speed and agility can be achieved with strong forearm muscles and a loosely-hinged wrist.
This exercise is a series of scales in double-octaves (both hands) that will help you develop greater speed and stamina when performing octaves.
This is included in my daily practice regimen. If you don't have time to learn Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #6, this is the next best thing.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Octave Exercise #1 - Scales
Elmo Peeler - 'Barry White' Exercise - Chord Inversions & Compound Chords.pdf
This is an exercise that will help you gain facility in playing chord inversions - both triads and '4-note' (Roy Bittan-style) triads.
Also, this exercise will help you to become familiar with compound chords whose Right Hand chord is not the same as the Left Hand bass note, e.g., G/C, G/A, C/D and F/G - and the common-tone resolution of those chords.
This exercise is titled "The Barry White Exercise" because the compound chord progression is similar to ones used in his era - the mid-to-late 1970's.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - 'Barry White' Exercise - Chord Inversions & Compound Chords
Elmo Peeler - Double-note Exercise for Arpeggios.pdf
Nice, even rippling arpeggios are used in every style of music, from rock to pop, from jazz to classical. Much repetitive practice is required to make them perfect, but this exercise can be a big help. Instead of practicing them one note at the time, there is a way of playing two notes at the time (with each hand) that can really increase strength and independence.
To listen: just click: Elmo Peeler - Double-note Exercise for Arpeggios
Elmo Peeler - Paradiddle Exercise No. 2 - Billy Joel-style.pdf
This is a two-handed repetitive, syncopated piano riff that's fun for audiences not only to hear but also to watch, as the hands alternate rapidly, almost in a blur to the viewer.
This type of riff, rather athletic in nature, has been used by lots of rock pianists, including Billy Joel. It is based on the Left Hand vs Right Hand syncopation of a drummer's paradiddle.
This 10-bar exercise will help improve your sense of rhythm and Left Hand vs Right Hand coordination, as well as strength and stamina.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Paradiddle Exercise #2 - 'Billy Joel-style'
Elmo Peeler - Gospel Chord Exercise No.1.pdf
One of the most important elements of old-time gospel piano is the knowledge of how to voice a melody in gospel chords. One of the many ways to voice gospel-style chords is to play the melody with two hands an octave apart, with a chord in-between - sort of like George Shearing's two-handed block-chord jazz style, but less complicated and a lot more 'church-y'.
This Gospel Chord Exercise No.1 explains exactly how to do it. Listen to the example, please, which illustrates this technique on both piano and organ.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Gospel Chord Exercise No.1
Elmo Peeler - Gospel Chromatically-Descending Riff Exercise - Ethel Caffie-Austin's Signature Lick.pdf
Ethel Caffie-Austin is one of old-time gospel's legendary pianists. Near the end of her wonderful performance of "Amazing Grace", she pauses right after a classic gospel riff, and says that she plays that lick more than any other, and that it is her 'signature'. It is indeed a very important old-time gospel riff, mostly used for leading from one chord into another, sort of a transition line.
This exercise explains Ethel's signature lick and provides a 7-bar phrase that clearly illustrates how it's used. If you want to learn to play authentic old-time gospel, this is a must-know lick. The good news is that it's great fun to play.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Gospel Chromatically-Descending Riff Exercise - Ethel's Signature Lick
Elmo Peeler - Coordination & 4-note Triad Exercise - 'Hungry Heart' Style.pdf
This is an exercise based on Roy Bittan's piano part in Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart", to help in two areas: improve Left/Right Hand coordination, plus increase facility playing 4-note triads. This exercise has a steady stream of 8th-note chords (4-note triads) in the Right Hand while the Left Hand bass line has accents on the "2& and 4" beats. Two exercises are included, the second slightly more challenging than the first.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Co-ordination & 4-note Triad Exercise - 'Hungry Heart' Style
Elmo Peeler - Right Hand Double-note Exercise - 'Hunting Horns'.pdf
Double-note exercises are excellent for finger independence and strength. There is a riff found in both classical music as well as pop that uses the same voicing as two hunting horns (or early valveless French horns) that can be very useful when played legato over several octaves. This exercise, specifically for the Right Hand, will not only improve your finger independence but also give you a riff that you'll find useful in future improvisations/compositions.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Right Hand Double-note Exercise - 'Hunting Horns'
Elmo Peeler - Allman Brothers Exercise No.1 - Triplets Riff on I & ii Chords.pdf
This exercise is designed to increase your facility with chord inversions, show how to harmonize a scale (or at least 6 of the 7 notes) using just I and ii chords (good for both Southern-rock and Gospel), and hopefully help your sense of rhythm while doing it. A fringe benefit is that it should give you another riff to throw in during your own improvisations.
The pattern is a group of 6 phrases, before repeating and then changing direction, that are sometimes grouped 3 + 3, and sometimes grouped 4 + 2. This exercise contains both patterns, including fingering. They sound a lot like something Leavell might play with The Allman Brothers.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Allman Brothers Exercise No.1 - Triplets Riff on I & ii Chords
Elmo Peeler - Thumb-under Exercise.pdf
Scales should be perfectly legato and even, like a glissando. If your scales are not perfectly legato, a 'skip' or a 'hop' may occur. This is almost always because of a flaw in moving the thumb under the 3rd and 4th fingers during a Right Hand ascending scale or a Left Hand descending scale - the thumb doesn't arrive on time, causing an audible break.
In fact, the thumb's ability to move smoothly under the 3rd and 4th fingers is the most important finger motion in piano-playing.
This exercise concentrates on that motion of the thumb moving under those two fingers, by using a range of only 4 or 5 notes. Included are three exercises for the thumb-under-3rd-finger motion and three for the thumb-under-4th-finger, with fingering.
To listen, just click: Elmo Peeler - Thumb-under Exercise
Elmo Peeler - The Leon Russell Exercise
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