The Vladimir Horowitz piano exercise for stretching the fingers has actually been in use since the 19th century.
The greatest of all modern classical pianists was Vladimir Horowitz, blessed with both legendary technique and musical genius.
Most pianists spend some time in their career listening to and being fascinated by this great artist.
What many people don’t know is that Horowitz was a teacher of sorts in the later years of his life.
I say, “of sorts” because he taught only other major artists, usually early in their careers.
Pianists who were lucky enough to study for a while with the capricious, temperamental Horowitz report that he was an excellent communicator and was able to impart some of his knowledge.
The secret of the rest of his genius was gossamer and inspiration, and is non-transferable to any student.
But these students spoke and wrote of their experience.
What emerges are several technical exercises that are not known to many professional pianists. These he passed down to his students, if they needed them.
Horowitz was fond of saying that technique was not his province as a teacher. I think what he meant was that a basic virtuoso piano technique is assumed, and the levels of bravura he could spread upon that were assumed as well. One has to have a fearless technique to even begin thinking about playing music in the way Horowitz did. You can’t be worrying about the next note.
Sergei Rachmaninoff, the great Russian composer and pianist, was a good friend of Horowitz. When asked about his Third Piano Concerto, Rachmaninoff loved to say, “It is written for elephants.”
Meaning that it takes the strength of an elephant to get through this grand concerto.
But even elephants need exercise, so what did Horowitz do to maintain his technique? (He was notorious for not practicing, like a bad boy, but was still able to dazzle at any moment.)
The first thing one notices about the music of Rachmaninoff is that the hand is stretched to the utmost, demanding positions of the fingers that other music simply never calls for. Horowitz knew that maintaining the SIDEWAYS limberness of the fingers was crucial. One has to be strong in LATERAL movement of the fingers as well as the simple and more familiar up and down of the keystroke.
Here’s the stretching exercise:
Place both thumbs on Middle C.
Stretch the right pinkie up to the second E above Middle C, a tenth away.
Stretch the left pinkie down to the second A below Middle C, a tenth away.
Put the right 4th finger on the first C above Middle C.
Put the left 4th finger on the first C below Middle C.
Put the right 3rd finger on the first A above Middle C.
Put the left 3rd finger on the first E below Middle C.
Put the right index finger on the first E above Middle C.
Put the left index finger on the first A below Middle C.
In Piano By Number, it would be:
Here’s a video to show you how: