Challenge: Hanon-Schaum Book I

In Washington State, the beautiful place where I live, the COVID-19 lock down began on March 23, 2020. That’s the date of the original “stay at home” order. Some progress has been made since then, in the pattern of a couple of steps forward when infections and mortality rates decline and a step back when they escalate. Frustrating? Certainly. Also, an ongoing challenge. I persist in inventing small challenges because I can’t control the larger one.


The challenge: Playing the piano every day

The means: Hanon-Schaum Book I


The Hanon is a book of piano exercises. It comes in levels beginner and beyond, and in many styles (I also have one for Boogie-Woogie). The books are laid out in a series of progressively harder exercises, the goal to develop physical technique and finger strength.


Hanon, spelled b-o-r-i-n-g


Hello, Lily. I wondered when you’d weigh in. We officially quit piano lessons when we were fourteen so I understand your attitude completely.


Is it kind of like scales?


Kind of, 9, except in this particular book all the exercises are written in the key of C. No sharps, flats or accidentals. The time signature is 4/4 and each exercise is comprised only of eighth notes and whole notes.


Sounds easy.


Kind of, but, unlike you, Lily, I’m not embarking on these exercises at the culmination of seven years of piano lessons. My brain and fingers lack their former proficiency. And, as with any new course of exercise, I can definitely feel the impact in my body, especially in the fourth finger of my left hand.


There are twenty-four exercises in the book. The process is to play a new exercise each week, five times a day, forte for dynamic. Forte, the instructions reason, will build more finger strength than pianissimo.




Ignore her. At the beginning of a new week (for this purpose, Thursday) I launch a new exercise, plus I play each of the previous exercises once a day. Yesterday I started No. 5. Each exercise is a little more difficult than the last.

Challenge: Crossing yesterday’s Rubicon with No. 5. . .

What do I gain from this pursuit? Three things, at least:


  1. An anchoring activity from day to day
  2. Something new to look forward to on a weekly basis
  3. My technique actually is improving


It’s a small investment in daily practice. To quote Martha Graham, “Practice is an invitation to the perfection desired.”


Has perfection RSVP’d yet?


In a limited way, 9. Every so often I get one of the exercises just exactly right.


The pandemic and the restrictions it requires present us with challenge every minute of every day. I have so much to be thankful for, yet the cumulative weight of worldwide reality really gets to me sometimes. The vaccine rollout is picking up steam, but I’m pretty far down the eligibility list. On the positive side, at age 61 it’s amusing to be “too young” and “too healthy” to qualify for something. Autumn, when many credible medical experts project a life that’s kind of back to normal, seems a long way away.


The challenge to keep going, sometimes reduced to something as basic as placing one foot in front of the other. The challenge to hold it together when life’s predictable sad events (back to dealing with the reality of a terminally ill kitty these past couple of days) enters the arena of COVID-amplified grief. The challenge of social isolation.


I could keep going on this list, but instead I’ll keep going on the Hanon. Small though it is, I find reassurance in gaining facility in something. It nurtures my tenacious though sometimes dampened sense that there is a way forward, that it’s possible to improve existence in little ways; vamping in anticipation of better days to come.


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