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I've always struggled with manual dexterity and was repeatedly chastized as a kid for holding my pencil incorrectly. I still hold it incorrectly.

I'm learning to knit and am starting to think I'd rather be embalmed alive than hang in there and get my hands cooperating enough just to make a lopsided hat.

But then there's piano. It feels very calming for me as I practice and create enough muscle memory not to freak out the coyotes whenever I sit down to play. I'm loving this process.

It's been just a few days and already I can see how this works: Repetition can transform garbled note clumpage into something semi-recognizable as music. There is one thing so far on the super basic piece I'm learning that's hard for me, and in my super newbie early days at the piano, I can't tell if this is my hand dexterity problem or if this is a common challenge, and it's this:

I have to play just two notes together at the same time: A and F, and then G and E. My pinky finger feels so weak, almost as if it's a ghost finger and not really there. My middle finger is so strong in comparison that it tends to slam down like an eager student that knows the answer, while the dumb pinky just kind of looks around and stares mutely at the keyboard.

It's a bit better, day by day, but only because I can hear those notes being played. It doesn't FEEL better, and the finger between the middle one and the pinky kind of freaks out because it's trapped with nothing to do. Should it lift or hang out and not really do anything?

If I lift that finger, then it becomes all about lifting that finger and the middle one goes into hyper mode and pounds the keys, while the pinky gets extra weird and plays anything that feels like a key but usually not the correct key.

Is this normal, is what I'm asking.

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Piano is played with the body working together, and not just the fingers. As a child I was self taught and didn't know this, and when I got a piano again after 35 years, I figured I didn't really know how to play the piano. If you are learning on your own, you won't get this. Btw, my coordination also has never been that good. Though some of the things I've been learning as I tackle piano has helped with that. You should see how dexterously I now stir a pot of soup, and how light in the feet I am about it. wink

If you can't get a teacher, check out the lessons by Jaak Sikk - the first set is free, and if you pay attention to everything, you will get quite a few insights.

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I really like your recommendation. I'm currently reviewing Jaak Sikk's website and am resonating with everything so far. Also, he's from Estonia and graduated from a university there. Estonia Pianos and the country intrigue me, thanks to a discussion in the piano forum. I like that connection.

Thank you!!

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The first videos need to be explored in depth, with self-observation, especially using your sense of touch and what you feel inside the body. It takes a fair amount of time, and is too easily skipped through.

Another is Piano-ologist. He too goes through very basic movements and how your body works, but he stays with the whole body longer, and continually. After the exploration of your body, he goes into several fundamental movement patterns which exist in music, and then extrapolates these further.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL21598D1259C2C8EE

Piano playing is not at all what we think it is. wink

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I never considered this before, thank you. I've bookmarked the playlist and will definitely be sure to study these videos.

And I signed up for the one month of free lessons with Jaak Sikk.

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Originally Posted by MooseNotes
Is this normal, is what I'm asking.


The fingers closer to your thumb are way stronger than the ones closer to your pinky. Paradoxically, for piano music, it'd usually be better if it were the other way round.


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I'm guessing you're talking about your right hand, yeah?

Try this exercise: play the A/F with the pinky/5th finger ONLY PRESSING THE A with your 3rd finger on the F but don't actually press the F. Then move your 4th finger on the G and 2nd finger on the E but press only the G.

This is called "ghosting". Just practice that,A/F, G/E, A/F, G/E, over and over, so that the "voice" of the A and the G come out clearly.

Then when you've done that a few times, try it playing both notes at exactly the same time, but with the top note clearer than the bottom note.

Give it a go. It really works. (And yes, this is *absolutely* normal, it takes some trying to get it right).


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Cathryn's "ghosting" exercise is a good one.

The trick is to do it _without locking, or putting tension on, the third finger_. It's difficult to remember, in the heat of the action.

You could also try the first Hanon exercise, keeping all your fingers on the keys, but only lifting one finger at a time off the keys. (I could do this as a kid. It's a lot harder, 50 years later).

Teachers are very useful for this work, if they're good. They'll catch unnecessary tension, and movement, before you do.

In "normal life", the _only_ activity that needs independent work from the fourth and fifth fingers is touch-typing. And even there, you use a lot of whole-hand movement, rather than true independent finger-work.

So you're learning to do something (as an adult) that you never had to do before. Take it slowly, _don't_ work on these exercises for a long time every day. First rule of exercise for old people:

. . . Don't get injured!

Another exercise, which doesn't need a piano:

Hold your hand in "playing position", and place your thumb and fingertips on a table.

Now, lift and drop _one finger at a time_, starting with the thumb, so you always have four fingers (counting the thumb) touching the table.

. . . And do that without stressing the unused fingers.

This is _not_ easy!



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Cathryn, thanks for the suggestion. I came across the word ghosting in the forums somewhere, but had no clue what it meant. :o)

Charles, you're so not kidding. The fingers on a tabletop exercise isn't easy. Don't these fingers know they're mine? They won't cooperate!

My parents are trying to help me remember how I took lessons as a kid. I was maybe 8 to 9 years old. I'm thinking less than two years. I don't remember anything from that time period, other than the metronome. I loved that thing.

So I doubt I had instruction on tension in my fingers. Even if I had, I'm 45 now and don't have any muscle memory on how to handle this.

I'm very grateful for the comments, thank you.

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Originally Posted by MooseNotes
The fingers on a tabletop exercise isn't easy. Don't these fingers know they're mine? They won't cooperate!


It's especially hard to move 4 independently of 5 because of the way the tendons are hooked up. It's human anatomy that you're fighting here. Finger independence is like body piercing -- people do it, but to be safe, it's best to consult an expert.

My approach is to first look for ways to avoid the need for finger independence. It depends what kind of music you want to play. With the cocktail bar stuff I do, it's easy to arrange your way out of trouble. Classical has to be done the official right way.



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John, I didn't know you can finger and arrange differently with the kind of music you play. I'm mimicking trained students in videos I've found for the Gavotte I'm studying, and watching other videos on fingering.

One thing I discovered the day I started this discussion was that my sliding my fingers over to the new position for these chords has increased my accuracy, versus lifting them up and then over.

The brain-finger connection seems to break for me when I lift them. But this could be a matter of just being new at this. I can't slide around the keyboard as I advanced and learn new pieces. For now, though, it helps.

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Originally Posted by MooseNotes
John, I didn't know you can finger and arrange differently with the kind of music you play. I'm mimicking trained students in videos

The brain-finger connection seems to break for me when I lift them. But this could be a matter of just being new at this.


Cocktail bar music from lead sheets is extremely flexible. You can even try different chords, and voice and finger them any way you want. Imitating videos should be approached with some caution. I'd only try it if the person's hands looked a lot like mine.

The brain-finger connection, or proprioception, is initially very loose and sloppy. It depends on your brain processing a bunch of info reported back from your muscles. It takes time and repetition to train it for greater accuracy. Like golf or pool, eventually you can train to a very high level of precision. Just give it time and regular practice.



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When you look into "finger independence" (bad terminology btw) the videos aren't enough and is not a DYI activity. As John already mentioned is very easy to build up tension even without realizing it and injuring yourself.

First of all you need somebody to assess if you are ready to get into these kind of exercises, you might need to build up tendons and joint strength to handle the weight of your hand and forearm, something that is not usually exercises by normal activities.
Without going in too much detail, you have to realize that there are 4 groups of muscles interacting with your hands which are located between your forearm and the palm of your hand. Superficial, Intermediate, Deep, and Intrinsic.

To have a great control of "voicing" using the pinky there are 4 groups of muscles in the palm of the hand which need to be properly developed and put under control...

Meaning, get ready to get real help and spend some time doing it.

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I just learned about forearm rotation in the "40 pieces" discussion and it works. Just the slightest rotation gives me some control and strength in the pinky finger without compromising the others.

But I'm also playing a basic piece, so I need to really explore this more. Thanks for the great input. Very helpful.

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MooseNotes: I second that this is not do-it-yourself stuff. You can read about forearm rotation and end up doing it all wrong. You can read about finger independence and end up forcing it. And all that can end up being harmful for both your development and your health. Is there any way you could get lessons? Trying to learn classical piano without teaching just seems to be a recipe for failure. Yes, some individuals have managed to do it to an accaptable level, but most of them would still agree that they would have been better off starting with a teacher. And a lot more people have failed.

If you don't get lessons, I would be inclined to say it's better then to NOT explore too much at your level. These are defined techniques developed by experienced pianists and teachers and have to be applied individually. With your lack of experience there's just no way you could really do it right.

I too tried to "learn it all" very fast in the beginning and read everything I could find on piano techniques in adition to having lessons. And what I found was a lot of contrasting advice and many things that did not fit my anatomy and things I could not apply to practice no matter how much I tried. I even got myself slightly injured in the process. It was not all waste, because I did manage to put some of it into practice together with my teacher, but I think without my teacher I would have ended up a total wreck...

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I completely respect your feedback and wonderful and informed insight. I truly do.

The thing is this, and it may be a bit awkward to read, but I have nothing to lose, because I've already been there:

I've had nothing meaningful in my life until I brought my piano home. Absolutely nothing. I have floundered and flopped for most of my 45 years, not knowing that this was waiting for me and that I'd have to endure endless experiences of falling flat on my back with nothing to anchor me, not even my wobbly faith.

And then one day I dared to indulge in a Craigslist search for a piano, and it happened again the next day and the next weeks, and there it was: my piano.

I undersold my birthstone ring to generate the funds to buy this piano. I have no clue if the pin block is on the verge of falling apart, but for now I'm playing music and am having the time of my life.

We almost lost our home because I'm unable to contribute much financially, other things in my life are shaky, but this piano has softened much of that stress and I love everything about it.

So, it may seem as if I'm rushing to learn and I'm anxious to reach goals. But the truth is, I couldn't possibly feel more content than I do right now. I have Piano World now, I have a focus to my day, and I have my website where I intend to start writing about all of this.

Piano wasn't in my life when I purchased my domain. Getting a piano wasn't an option, and yet look at the name of my website. Something similar happened when I spent a day looking for a short Baroque piece to learn and ended up choosing something by Corelli, a famed violinst and composer and my grandmother's namesake, who was also a professional violinist. I had no clue about that connection.

Everything is unfolding just as it should be. I have questions, so I ask, and I very earnestly welcome feedback like yours, even when I may disagree. I am loving everything about this process of initiating myself into a life of piano.

When I was a kid and taking lessons (however briefly that lasted), I had a hard time sitting next to someone at the piano. I didn't know back then, nor did my parents, that I'm on the autism spectrum. I couldn't stand that close proximity to my teacher.

The music books I was given to learn from had glaring white pages that bothered my eyes and covers I didn't like touching. The music was incredibly dull and uninspired (and very similar to some of the Alfred songs, no offense intended), and I didn't like enforced structure.

So now I get to choose how I learn piano: the songs, the methods, totally doing things out of order, everything; not because I like being different but because this is simply how it needs to be done.

I honestly thought I'd be more likely to own a beautiful vintage metronome some day than an actual piano, and now I'm on the verge of owning both.

And that's my story.

But I do thank you for your comment, because I had no understanding of just how serious all of this is within this new world of mine. I'm very, very grateful for everything I'm learning.

I'm so not proofreading this for dreaded typos, lest I delete the entire thing and run away.

:o))

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Thanks for your post! You have no idea how much we have in common... I too had disastrous lessons briefly as a kid, then completely forgot about piano and suddenly got back at 45. I also have some learning disabilities and never had it easy with my teacher. Physically I am a wreck. But I have been able to develope and much because of my teacher but also because of my stubborness. "Sisu" we call it here.

I can perfectly understand if you can not get a teacher. Just take it slow and accept that you will need time (and lessons learned from mistakes) to get there. Physical dexterity and technique just cannot be built in a day smile

And you will get help on this forum!

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MooseNotes, you may want to check out these nine videos:

http://johnmortensen.com/site/teaching/

They're from a professor at a small university, but they're really basic, no prior info required to understand them. Since you're going to work without a teacher, this is a good place to start.



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MooseNotes, I have been learning piano by myself for exactly 4 years now, so I hope I can add my two cents.

Don't overthink every movement you do, as everything must be flowing and connected, try to stay relaxed at all time and use the movement that feels more natural to you - which may or may not be the recommended one. As for dexterity, I think it's a big issue for most adult students. My duet partner who has been playing most of her life doesn't have a problem admitting that many of the tempos required for some pieces are simply unattainable. The only thing you don't want to do is injure yourself, so take it easy!

Good resources were mentioned here, but I would add Neil Stannard's book (with accompanying online videos) Piano Technique Demystified. It's worth every penny!

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Hi MooseNotes,
Welcome to the wonderful world of piano!

Fingers are all unique and have a different feeling and weight when played. I belive Chopin often altered fingering from the obvious easiest method to a more complicated layout, but having the weaker fingers playing the quieter notes, and 1+2 playing the strong accents. So basically, it's useful that they feel and play different. Think of them as different instruments in your orchestra!

If you need to play a pinky note with more force, try playing from the hand, rather than the finger joints. It's hard to decribe, but a slight wrist rotation together with an arm movement to the right (for RH finger 5) can be really effective.

When you start out, gaining control of these things seems such a hard challenge, but just spending time at the keys will help you discover the subtle touches you can use to get the sound you want.

I'd recommend Dohn Anyi's Essential Finger Exercises, which really help with finger 'independence' and key control. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ern%C5%91_Dohn%C3%A1nyi)
(http://imslp.org/wiki/Essential_Finger_Exercises_(Dohn%C3%A1nyi,_Ern%C5%91)


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