Keep it super simple, K.I.S.S, to improve playing piano songs with chords that precede using the fifth finger by practicing short and intense exercises
The last 2 notes in the bar shown in Image 1 below pricked my interest as I continued my quest in fulfilling my longing wish to be able to play Canon in D – because it exposed the weakest elements in my piano playing ability. Which are chords and the delicate fifth finger. To compound the already difficult situation, one follows the other in immediate succession testing the limits of my fingers’ agility and strength.
My struggles in pressing the note A using the fifth finger firmly without pause or friction immediately after the 2-note chord of DG had me questioning my finger strengthening exercises. Usually before I start practicing a piano piece I would warm up with exercises from Hanon. Because they drill the fifth fingers in both hands I believed them to be enough to build strength.
The issue is the lack of time. While Hanon is effective, I needed an exercise that is shorter yet packs sufficient intensity to be able to build strength in my fifth fingers within the limited time that I have available for practice.
There is beauty in simplicity. In simplicity I found the exercise I was looking for. In “do,re,mi,fa,so”. Five simple beats that I could start on any key on the piano. For the sake of maintaining the simplicity, where better than to start by pressing the thumb of the right hand on middle C (the “do”) and the rest of the fingers on the next 4 keys DEFG, after it (the “re,mi,fa,so”)? Using the index finger to press on D and holding it down without lifting the finger off the key, play all the other keys around it one at a time.
With the fifth finger of the left hand on the C one octave lower from middle C, position the rest of the fingers on the next 4 keys DEFG after it. Using the fourth finger to press on D and holding it without lifting the finger off it, play all the other keys around it one at a time.
In the beginning practice it one hand at a time separately, once sensing that you are becoming accustomed to the exercise, try it both hands together. It is indeed a dry as dust simple exercise, but one that does wonders to the strengthening of the fingers.
The reason I struggled to play the A after the 2-note chord of DG shown in Image 1, was the lack independence in the fifth finger. It stubbornly clung to the fourth finger thus, the A did not burst into life when pressed by the fifth finger, as if it was being held back. Fortunately “do,re,mi,fa,so” offer a solution. The exercise can be customized for the very purpose of solving this problem. Instead of pressing on a single key, press down and hold several keys to simulate a chord.
To overcome the challenges with the phrase in Image 1, press and hold down CDE (the “do,re,mi”) using the thumb, index finger and the middle finger of the right hand. Only play F and G (the “fa,so”) with the fourth and fifth finger one at a time. Work on the left hand also by pressing and holding down CDG (the “do,re,so”) using the thumb, index finger and the fifth finger. Only play E and F (the “mi,fa”) using the middle finger and the fourth finger. Later, practice both hands together.
These are simple exercises that can help strengthen the fingers with extra attention paid to the stubborn fifth finger. The exercises primarily focus on improving a part of the mechanics in piano playing; motions of the fingers. Other exercises exist that build strength in fingers and improve articulation, the projecting of the artistic image and total musicality at the same time - thus killing two birds with one stone, which I shall write about in future articles.