Piano Hand Posture
Found in: Musicality, Pedaling, Technique
Joanne D., Australia
I have a new adult student in her late 50s who started with me last week. She was given a lovely digital piano from her husband for Christmas and given subsequent traditional lessons with the piano salesman which didn’t work out for her although her husband joined in and was great at it. She has decided to dip her toes in the Simply Music pond and see if she can do it as she lost confidence with the other way of learning ( no surprise there) and she is doing a workshop of 4 weeks to try it. Anyway her husband is apparently very good at everything he does and piano is no exception. He has started learning the SM songs and is playing them easily (watching the DVD ). He has now started correcting his wife on her hand posture.
This lady has had rheumatoid arthritis since she was 15yrs old and I think some of her hand posture issues are due to that condition. I have no experience teaching anyone with this condition and didn’t notice anything last week but today with Jackson Blues I noticed that her left hand fingers 2-5 lean very much to the left away from her thumb – almost like a mirror image of the right hand position for Bishop Street Blues chord I. She is able to play the left hand of JB without much problem but it does look quite strange. She can play 5ss with her left hand when needed to so my question is should I worry about this as it could be a physical problem? I asked her if she has any pain when playing and she doesn’t and I guess we are not training a concert pianist so should I be concerned that she has this hand posture. I just want her to play comfortably and was wondering if anyone else has had issues with this sort of thing and should I be concerned? She is very self critical already so I don’t want to focus on this if I don’t need to as I want her to enjoy her piano and have fun.
Teri D., Iowa
If you watch many blues players on You Tube, often their hand position is horrible but they are still making phenomenal music.
Many years ago, I met a wonderful organist who was missing the last two knuckles on all his fingers. He was still an outstanding organist and I was amazed at what he could play and accomplish with his “stubs” as he called them.
Praise her for what she can accomplish and allow her to adapt the Simply Music curriculum to her special needs. Realize though that rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease and that in the future, adaptations and modifications might be needed to continue to play music that she has previously mastered.
You might need to talk to hubby about his attitude and let him know that he is not competing with her. Allow her to express herself in her own special way.
Joan H., Canada
Greetings – speaking of hand position, wondering how much emphasis you place on “appropriate technique” for starting students, especially the younger ones, say 6 or 7. I find they often have more compromised technique, and a couple of my young students have a very flat hand on the piano, and finger tips land up quite high on the keyboard, and some play with very flat fingers instead of curved. As I understand, this is not really a concern/focus at this time in SM, and not mentioned at all in the TTM. However it would seem that we would want to help establish good habits from the start, as that is usually easier than correcting later on. Any tips from the voices of experience? I have taught some PAS and have used the “butterfly hands” analogy with mixed success.
Janie F., California
I also had a young student (5 yrs old) that played with very flat fingers. His mom, who had traditional lessons while growing up, was concerned and showed him how she thought his hands should be but he didn’t change his. I checked with a very experienced SM teacher who coincidentally had also started out as a traditional piano teacher and she told me to assure the parents that this was nothing to worry about and that it would correct itself as he progressed. We’ll, sure enough that is exactly what happened. It didn’t take more than a month or so and it happened without comment and very naturally. That was about 3 years ago and I’m happy to tell you he continues to be a very conscientious and confident student.
Beth S., Tennessee
I think it is great when people with physical limitations can come up with alternate hand positions to make piano possible for them in their particular situations. However, I don’t think it is beneficial to have the idea that proper technique is reserved for the concert pianist. The real purpose of technique is to play the instrument in the most effective way possible, which in turn leads to the most fun possible, in whatever capacity–concert pianist or church pianist or pleasure player. Good technique is for making playing easier. Bad technique is a hindrance. As a teacher, I believe it’s important to guide one’s students to that goal, whenever possible. That doesn’t mean harping on the issue to the point of creating a complex, but it certainly can’t hurt to regularly and gently coax and remind a student within their physical limitations to correct things. The husband would probably back off if he felt the deficiencies were being addressed. It would also give the wife an answer for him if she could say, “My teacher is handling this.” One thing I have found is that in some cases, problems that I thought were innate and not correctable were in fact just learned habits that could be fixed when I consistently addressed them.
I think your attitude and approach are right on the mark. Help her to enjoy the pieces she is learning. If you together are able to find suitable/comfortable adaptations that work in playing each piece, she will gain confidence in her ability and enjoy her musical experience. “There is no one right way”! I have had a couple students with odd hand positions – one with arthritis and a little “palsy” in hands, one with a “lazy” finger that always sat just “off” the key it would normally occupy – in both situations the students were able to create fine adaptations when they understood what they were aiming for in each piece.
Barbara M., New Jersey
I have found that the simple mantra “five over five” addresses most problems and even prevents them. Also, playing the songs on the black keys helps keep the fingers over the keys and fingers parallel. If you actually have 5/5 you cannot have flat fingers.
Even so, I find my students over a certain age do twist their hands or forget to keep their fingers over the keys. AND…. Make sure she is sitting with a strong back, far enough from the piano, leaning in slightly.
Mark S., Tennessee
I have found the same; I keep using this phrase, which I don’t know if it is actually true, but metaphorically it makes a good point, I think:
“The laws of physics say that if you lean against a ship in harbor long enough, it WILL move.”
I have been teaching an adult student for 1.5 years; when we moved into Acc. #1, she would curl her RH finger #4 into the hand, asserting that she had arthritic weakness and pain and could not successfully keep it extended without playing an extra key in her triad.
In a lesson a month ago, I told her once again that she was fully capable of habituating proper hand technique, that it would actually be good for her arthritis, that she was doing proper technique in her scales, and that I would be very, very pleased if she would transition to proper technique in her triads.
Well, she did it. She made that changeover her priority, as she is moving forward on all levels.
She’s proud, playing well, and I have enjoyed watching her brave improvement against previous bias, handicap and beliefs.