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Octave technique for very small hands #1538376
10/18/10 07:53 PM
10/18/10 07:53 PM
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PaulaPiano34 Offline OP
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Hello,

I am a high school pianist and I like to play lots of Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Beethoven. One of the technical problems I run into is octaves. Over the years, I have run into problems with playing lots of octaves in repetitive sequence because my reach is so small (my hand reach is an octave and nothing more). I have been switching and switching teachers but have not yet found a technique right for me (meaning a technique that doesn't give me wrist pain or lock my hand up too tight). Do you have any advice on what technique to use or how to play the octaves in a relaxed manner?

Any help is much appreciated. Thank you so much.

Regards,

--Milana

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Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538405
10/18/10 08:36 PM
10/18/10 08:36 PM
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david_a Offline
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The conservative cautious answer is that constant repetitive octaves are not good for pianists with small hands and you should choose other music.


(I'm a piano teacher.)
Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538432
10/18/10 09:24 PM
10/18/10 09:24 PM
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Michael Glenn Williams Offline
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Do you reach an octave with 1-4 on black key octaves, as well as 1-5?

Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: Michael Glenn Williams] #1538436
10/18/10 09:32 PM
10/18/10 09:32 PM
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PaulaPiano34 Offline OP
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yes but just barely... I'm barely 5' and the way my hand is shaped I have a thin length of a palm and medium sized fingers.

Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538456
10/18/10 10:08 PM
10/18/10 10:08 PM
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apple* Offline
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perhaps your thumb will stretch.

If you put your hands splayed upon a surface and press down you will see that they stretch.. (to me, that's how far they can go).. if that makes sense...

you can then just reach, try to attain that span. I know i used to be able to hit an octave. now i can hit a 10th. I am 5'2" and 54 years old ... i know my hands have stretched out over the years.

i have a dinky pinky and rely on fingers 4 and 3 to do octaves often.

Last edited by apple*; 10/18/10 10:09 PM.

accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)
Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: apple*] #1538468
10/18/10 10:21 PM
10/18/10 10:21 PM
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Palindrome Offline
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Originally Posted by apple*
...i have a dinky pinky....


and worse verse...

As you can see from my avatar, my hand lacks quite a bit, also.

Last edited by Palindrome; 10/18/10 10:22 PM. Reason: Give myself a hand

There is no end of learning. -Robert Schumann Rules for Young Musicians
Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538481
10/18/10 10:49 PM
10/18/10 10:49 PM
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bellamusica Offline
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Try keeping your arm and hand relatively flat and kind of bounce the octaves with your wrist. Also, look for groups of octaves that can be combined into one wrist/arm motion.

Also, one thing I did to try and help me feel how I wanted my octaves to be was to play parallel 6ths and 7ths (since I can reach those easily). Once I had that sort of 'kinesthetic picture' in my head (and hands/wrists/arms), I tried to transfer as much of that technique as possible to my octaves.

Last edited by bellamusica; 10/18/10 10:55 PM.
Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538484
10/18/10 10:51 PM
10/18/10 10:51 PM
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jeffreyjones Offline
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If it's anything like what I have to do to play lots of tenths, I would agree with reply #1 here. You don't want your hands to be constantly at the limit.

Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538519
10/19/10 01:01 AM
10/19/10 01:01 AM
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Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: theJourney] #1538523
10/19/10 01:13 AM
10/19/10 01:13 AM
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El Macero, CA, USA
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pianoist d'amore Offline
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Haha... This is hilarious! Reminds me of Lang Lang playing Chopin with an orange (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiziGLe1jBw).

I hope someone will invent a smart glove that intelligently extends when needed while the wearer plays a piece... I hope be the first consumers. :-)


Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538526
10/19/10 01:24 AM
10/19/10 01:24 AM
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david_a Offline
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In pieces with repeated octaves that became tiring, I have used changes of elbow and wrist height during the octave passage. Not using different technique at all, just modifying my position enough to give some of the muscles a bit of a change - you know what they say, a change is as good as a rest.


(I'm a piano teacher.)
Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: apple*] #1538603
10/19/10 06:13 AM
10/19/10 06:13 AM
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Posts: 180
The Netherlands
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Zindaras Offline
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Originally Posted by apple*
perhaps your thumb will stretch.

If you put your hands splayed upon a surface and press down you will see that they stretch.. (to me, that's how far they can go).. if that makes sense...

you can then just reach, try to attain that span. I know i used to be able to hit an octave. now i can hit a 10th. I am 5'2" and 54 years old ... i know my hands have stretched out over the years.

i have a dinky pinky and rely on fingers 4 and 3 to do octaves often.


I second this. Reach is another one of those things you can practice. When I started, I could hit 8ths but I could only barely reach a 9th. Now I can do 10ths easily and I can almost get an 11th (as an aside, I always wonder why we only talk about 10ths and 11ths. I'd say the 10.5th is also important, and definitely in between 10th and 11th). It's a matter of stretching your hands a lot, and the flexibility will come.

I would suggest the first movement of Beethoven's 14th Sonata (Opus 27, "Moonlight"). It's slow so you have time to move your hands around, plus you can practice a 9th in an easy setting. I would say that it has helped me greatly to expand my reach. If it won't help your reach, it will probably at least make it easier and less painful to play the octaves. I have a friend who cannot play the 9ths and had a lot of problems with the octaves at first, but practicing the movement has reduced the pain.


"Practice makes perfect, but obsession makes better."
Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538648
10/19/10 08:07 AM
10/19/10 08:07 AM
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i also agree with david_a..

i avoid Beethoven, and Brahms particularly primarily because everything is octaved. On the other hand, Lizst's music is so well written, so 'pianistic' that the octaves are smartly accessible if that makes sense.


accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)
Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: apple*] #1538756
10/19/10 11:37 AM
10/19/10 11:37 AM
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A question for those of you whose hands have stretched from being able to reach only an octave to a 10th or more: over what period of your life did the stretch take place?

I had assumed that the adult hand reaches are kind of fixed -- that with practice you might become more comfortable with whatever your max reach is, but not to extend further. I sure would love to be proven wrong on this matter!

Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538774
10/19/10 12:11 PM
10/19/10 12:11 PM
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SF Bay Area, CA
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miaeih Offline
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I can only play an octave and that's on the very edge of the keys. Tip to tip my right is less than 7 inches. The 3rd and 4th would not make my stretch any larger. If you've played since a child, your reach may already have stretched to their max. For example, my pinky already points outwards, rather than straight due to trying to play "large" reaches since I was young. Depending on the piece you are trying to tackle, you can practice target jumping from one key to the other. Also make sure your nails are very short since your fingers can easily slip off if the tempo is fast; don't want to slip off and catch a nail (this happened when I worked on Beethoven's Tempest, 3rd mov.)!

For those who say to choose other pieces, I'd really like to see a good list of pieces for small handed pianists. I posted this a few years ago but most of the pieces that were listed were easy.

I stupidly play pieces without reading the entire piece, only to find reaches I can't tackle within. If I had already worked through several pages, I'd find a way to make it through to the end, otherwise, I end up giving up on the piece. =)

Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: MegumiNoda] #1538894
10/19/10 03:30 PM
10/19/10 03:30 PM
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Florida, USA
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Originally Posted by MegumiNoda
A question for those of you whose hands have stretched from being able to reach only an octave to a 10th or more: over what period of your life did the stretch take place?

I had assumed that the adult hand reaches are kind of fixed -- that with practice you might become more comfortable with whatever your max reach is, but not to extend further. I sure would love to be proven wrong on this matter!

While I don't exactly fall in this category (I can reach a 10th rather comfortably) I always envy those with larger reach.

A few months ago there was an article in 'Pianist' magazine titled ‘Small is Beautiful’ written probably by the magazine’s staff (don’t see author’s name, otherwise I’d give due credit). One of the things discussed was an exercise for extending the hand. I immediately went to the piano and made sure I knew exactly what I could reach comfortably; then I did the exercise for about 10 minutes and tried my hand reach at the piano again – and this time the 10th was ‘super’ comfortable and with some effort I could reach an 11th. The truth is that I have not tried the exercise since then – lazy. I feel that if this is done daily for several weeks there should be a marked increase in hand reach.

From the article: “…to increase and maximize the stretch of each hand, safely, but please go carefully, as instructed, and do not overdo it.”
“Keeping both hands flat at all times, bring your LH in front of you at chest height, fingers pointing to the right, the palm facing you. Now raise your RH in front of you with the fingers pointing away, the palm facing upwards, the hand at right angles to the left, as if accepting a coin. Now open the gap between the 4th and 5th fingers of the LH and bring in the RH in sharply, striking the LH webbing with the broadest part of the RH, where the knuckles are. Slowly turn the RH anti-clockwise through 180 degrees exerting as much force as you can take, forcing the fingers of the LH apart, digging deep but always flat.”

The article has a couple of pictures. Basically you put the palm of one hand between a pair of fingers and then turn it (carefully!). It says to try it a few times between each finger pair. As the author said to do this carefully and not overdo it.

By the way, I think ‘Pianist’ is a great magazine.


Jose
Kawai K5 - Kawai CA61
Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1538989
10/19/10 06:29 PM
10/19/10 06:29 PM
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My aunt practises David A's avoid advice. I feel sorry for her - she can't play any of Bach's WTC.

Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1539036
10/19/10 07:38 PM
10/19/10 07:38 PM
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huh.. I think the WTC is not a challenge for the small handed.. it's almost always written within the octave. i think Bach and Mozart are great for my hands.


accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)
Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: pianoist d'amore] #1539050
10/19/10 08:08 PM
10/19/10 08:08 PM
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Here, as opposed to there
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Here, as opposed to there
Originally Posted by pianoist d'amore
Reminds me of Lang Lang playing Chopin with an orange


He's better with the orange.



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $

Re: Octave technique for very small hands [Re: PaulaPiano34] #1539086
10/19/10 10:10 PM
10/19/10 10:10 PM
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I too have small hands and I really wish I could add more to what has been said above. I can reach an octave easily but repeated octaves cause my hand to hurt. I understand it is very important to relax between notes but I haven't mastered that yet. My hands are stretched to the point where my pinkie and thumb are parallel when I open my hand fully. I doubt I will be able to gain any more stretch than that.

Large chords are very uncomfortable for me too. With Brahms' chords I pushed myself to the point of slight discomfort, but not pain. Gradually, over a period of about a month, my hands strengthened and stretched so now I can play the chords without strain. Occasionally, I have to drop a note. If it sounds right, I might insert the dropped note into a chord in another place to keep the right sound.

I also find small hands make it more challenging to move around the keyboard quickly. It's just another thing I have to put extra time into.

Playing Bach dramatically increased my dexterity and increased my stretch between fingers. It also made my hands stronger.

I keep thinking about the actor in the movie "Gattaca" who had 6 fingers on each hand. If only...


Best regards,

Deborah
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