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Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
#2596227 12/19/16 05:33 PM
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Just read an interesting article:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2100211/

"...descriptions of variations in muscles and tendons are often neglected. Though these may appear esoteric and of little relevance among the general population, they can be highly significant for those who must carry out skilled movements that lie close to the limit of what is physically possible. In some individuals, certain muscles or tendons may be absent entirely, or their form or attachments may differ from the norm. For example, the flexor digitorum superficialis tendon to the little finger is missing in about 5% of hands (Miller et al. 2003). The intrinsic muscles of the hand make a major contribution to finger dexterity and the independence of finger movement, so it is particularly significant that variation is frequently observed in the attachments of the lumbricals (Fig. 1). These muscles allow the two terminal (interphalangeal) joints of the fingers to be straightened while the knuckle (metacarpo-phalangeal) joint is flexed. As many as 50% of hands do not show the ‘standard’ pattern (Mehta & Gardner, 1961; Perkins & Hast, 1993). In up to one-third of hands, the tendon of the third lumbrical divides to insert into both the ring and the middle fingers (Fig. 1A), whereas in a small number of cases there is no lumbrical insertion on the little finger at all. Therefore, regardless of the degree of training, not all musicians are capable of the same finger movements. (Emphasis mine) Some practical examples of the problems this produces for pianists and how they be overcome are discussed by Beauchamp (2003b,c).'

This is just a small sample of the variations in the ligaments/tendons/muscles discussed in this article. An awareness of the variations may prove beneficial to the teacher.


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Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596231 12/19/16 05:46 PM
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The article also disusses the variations in tendon connections within the carpal tunnel which lead to pain and inflammation.

It discusses the potential for mathematical modelling of the variations in tendon interconnections with the goal of creating finger exercises to improve finger independence.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596263 12/19/16 07:10 PM
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The practical result:

Some people can do things that other people cannot, and no amount of teaching/training will completely negate that fact.

What this means in the real world: I had a girl I taught for a number of years who had the weakest, bendiest fingers I've ever seen. She was incapable of keeping any kind of curvature in her fingers, and we just ignored that problem and played.

Obviously she was never going to be a successful pianist, performing, but she had fun and actually could play some things.

I could have made both of us crazy by trying to make her play in the normal manner. Most likely she just would have quit in frustration, feeling like a failure. She was a delightful kid, now a very intelligent and charming young adult.

Obviously I was not going to have her have extensive tests to find out what was going on. Most people don't have money for that.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596264 12/19/16 07:14 PM
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I don't think extensive tests are a requirement when one encounters an unusual hand construction. Knowledge, however, that differences exist, is useful in training the neural pathways to increase finger independence.

I would highly recommend reading the entire article.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596274 12/19/16 07:40 PM
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Originally Posted by prout
I don't think extensive tests are a requirement when one encounters an unusual hand construction. Knowledge, however, that differences exist, is useful in training the neural pathways to increase finger independence.

I would highly recommend reading the entire article.

I skimmed it, but most of it uses technical terms that might as well be in Martian.

For me it is probably what an untrained musicians sees in a detailed analysis of a Bach fugue...

I have to go by instinct. Some hands simply won't do certain things, and forcing someone to try to do something when that person simply can't do it is madness.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596281 12/19/16 08:02 PM
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Yes, there are obvious differences between hands. This article digs deeper into the non-obvious ones.

One thing that came up in another thread is that apparently most people can play a 1-3 octave as easily as using 1-5. I can't. I can barely manage to stretch 1-3 to an octave, but it hurts more than a 1-5 tenth.

The practical result of all this is that published fingerings should always be subject to personal reconsideration. Maybe you get lucky and find an editor who fingers well for you, but if not, toss 'em and do your own.


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Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
Gary D. #2596297 12/19/16 08:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Gary D.
Originally Posted by prout
I don't think extensive tests are a requirement when one encounters an unusual hand construction. Knowledge, however, that differences exist, is useful in training the neural pathways to increase finger independence.

I would highly recommend reading the entire article.

I skimmed it, but most of it uses technical terms that might as well be in Martian.

For me it is probably what an untrained musicians sees in a detailed analysis of a Bach fugue...

I have to go by instinct. Some hands simply won't do certain things, and forcing someone to try to do something when that person simply can't do it is madness.


Sorry to state this, but teaching by instinct is what causes poor pianists and is bad teaching. My wife, a voice teacher, says that the primary goal of any teacher is to spot the tension, recognize the cause, and alleviate the tension. Instinct is useless in this pursuit. The tension that results from a lack of knowledge of the human body causes injury and disappointment.

The language used in the paper, while erudite, does not get in the way of the basic knowledge available to an interested party.

On second thought, I think a few basic tests of a beginning piano student, to determine of they lack, or have, the tendon connections that allow them to progress normally, or to require an alternative approach, or to suggest a different instrument, would be very valid.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
JohnSprung #2596298 12/19/16 08:58 PM
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Originally Posted by JohnSprung

Yes, there are obvious differences between hands. This article digs deeper into the non-obvious ones.

One thing that came up in another thread is that apparently most people can play a 1-3 octave as easily as using 1-5. I can't. I can barely manage to stretch 1-3 to an octave, but it hurts more than a 1-5 tenth.

The practical result of all this is that published fingerings should always be subject to personal reconsideration. Maybe you get lucky and find an editor who fingers well for you, but if not, toss 'em and do your own.


While they may be non-obvious to the eye, they, in many cases, occur in a significant percentage of the population. Ignoring the 'normal' variation, recognizing that the tendon connections of the hand is not standard, is hugely valuable to teaching a musical instrument.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596305 12/19/16 09:17 PM
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Prout, I read the article. I have yet to see a scientific article where the studies were created by and carried out by trained experienced musicians, and preferably by those who have extensive experience teaching effectively - preferably from the ground up.

The article focuses on hands and fingers. It starts with them and ends with them. The writer and whoever seem to assume that piano is played by the hands and fingers. Further on I came to a part discussing the ability to lift one finger up high - I think maybe finger 4 unless it was 5. I assume while keeping other fingers down. Why would anyone want to do that? And what knowledge of piano technique and modern knowledge are these researchers missing?

Do the researchers know that when you play the piano effectively, the whole body works together: that the arms and hands work together; that notes can be played through motions such as rotation etc? Have these researchers taken the time to learn about piano technique, and study the work done by experts in those fields? Or have they just made an assumption that the piano is played with the hands and fingers?

Do piano teachers really need to be told that different people have different kinds of bodies? Students come into their studios who are tall, short, limber, tight, jerky, fluid - long bodies and short arms - short bodies and long arms - and with all kinds of dispositions, personalities, and abilities.

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The tension that results from a lack of knowledge of the human body causes injury and disappointment.

Do not assume that when an experienced teacher talks of "instinct", that this instinct does not comprise a great deal of knowledge, including of the body. I would be leery of a teacher who based their teaching on this kind of article. Otoh, a lot of work has been done on effective movement within the context of playing instruments: and again, in such areas as Alexander, Feldenkrais, etc., which look at the body as a whole and how it works together. The latter are not within the area of music, but are often used by musicians, both instrumental and voice.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
keystring #2596340 12/19/16 11:52 PM
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I would not attempt to teach a person how to fly on the basis on reqding one article. But one article can add immensly to the sum of my experience teaching flying by providing new and 'out of the box' ideas about the interaction of the pilot with the aircraft.

Rather than dismiss ideas that are foreign or new to me, I would prefer to embrace the knowledge, add it to my arsenal, and be able to argue both sides from a position of knowledge, rather than ignorance.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596363 12/20/16 01:59 AM
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Originally Posted by prout

Sorry to state this, but teaching by instinct is what causes poor pianists and is bad teaching. My wife, a voice teacher, says that the primary goal of any teacher is to spot the tension, recognize the cause, and alleviate the tension. Instinct is useless in this pursuit. The tension that results from a lack of knowledge of the human body causes injury and disappointment.

Sorry. This teacher who causes the development of poor pianists and is engaging daily in bad teaching will stay out of the discussion while you continue this thread with all the other interested participants.

Have a nice day.

Last edited by Gary D.; 12/20/16 02:00 AM.
Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596387 12/20/16 03:37 AM
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In relation to piano teachers the conclusion from this article is as follows: the teacher must take into account not only the external structure of the student hands, but also the internal anatomy . which requires the relevant snapshots by MRI or X-rays - I don't know ; and ability to orient in them. In this sense, the piano teacher is no different from the doctor: Both consciously want to help, not harm.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596392 12/20/16 03:59 AM
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I'm not so sure that X-rays or MRI's are really necessary. Functional tests -- try this, is it comfortable? -- may be devised to determine what works best for an individual.



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Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
JohnSprung #2596399 12/20/16 05:08 AM
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Originally Posted by JohnSprung

I'm not so sure that X-rays or MRI's are really necessary. Functional tests -- try this, is it comfortable? -- may be devised to determine what works best for an individual.

And yet, we don't study outer look of pupil arms by palpation with closed eyes and by guessing ,but we look at them and their movements. Similarly, is required look from inside. The fact that it is not accepted, doesn't negate the need.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596438 12/20/16 09:47 AM
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Much of the discussion here on PW is about new students who present to teachers with tension problems or lack the most basic knowledge about how to sit at the piano, seat height and distance, posture for reaching the extremes of the piano, scale and arpeggio fingerings for varying hand sizes and so on.

A piano teacher armed with knowledge of the body, in particular the structure of the hands and their variability, is better prepared to help these students.

Even better is a teacher armed with this knowledge who can start a student from scratch so they don't end up playing with tension.

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596464 12/20/16 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by prout

Even better is a teacher armed with this knowledge who can start a student from scratch so they don't end up playing with tension.
My point entirely!

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
keystring #2596482 12/20/16 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Further on I came to a part discussing the ability to lift one finger up high - I think maybe finger 4 unless it was 5. I assume while keeping other fingers down. Why would anyone want to do that?


You ask a valid question.

As an organist, I learned at the age of 12 to play legato by using finger substitution. In order to do that, one must lift a finger onto the same key that is being currently held by another finger.

Also, when holding a chord, one should be able to play other notes with the remaining fingers, including trills.

Being able to lift your 4th or 5th finger, when the others are engaged in holding a chord, is essential for playing Bach fugues without the overuse of sustain pedal.

The ability to lift any finger independently of the other fingers opens up an entire area of musical expression - if pursued.

Edit: Good example: Try playing Bach WTC fugue #1 legato with no sustain pedal. You will be lifting fingers while others are down all the time.



Last edited by prout; 12/20/16 12:14 PM.
Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
prout #2596492 12/20/16 12:28 PM
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keystring: perfect example - Bach WTC fugue #4 - basic rep

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How do you play the repeated f#a thirds while holding c# with your fifth finger?

edit: Actually, this is a poor example since one can rotate the hand about the 5th finger. I was thinking of the same measure but with the thumb holding the lower c# as well.

Last edited by prout; 12/20/16 02:39 PM.
Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
keystring #2596503 12/20/16 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Prout, I read the article. I have yet to see a scientific article where the studies were created by and carried out by trained experienced musicians, and preferably by those who have extensive experience teaching effectively - preferably from the ground up.

The article focuses on hands and fingers. It starts with them and ends with them. The writer and whoever seem to assume that piano is played by the hands and fingers. Further on I came to a part discussing the ability to lift one finger up high - I think maybe finger 4 unless it was 5. I assume while keeping other fingers down. Why would anyone want to do that? And what knowledge of piano technique and modern knowledge are these researchers missing?

Do the researchers know that when you play the piano effectively, the whole body works together: that the arms and hands work together; that notes can be played through motions such as rotation etc? Have these researchers taken the time to learn about piano technique, and study the work done by experts in those fields? Or have they just made an assumption that the piano is played with the hands and fingers?.


They don't have to because their study focuses on hands and fingers which are necessary to play the piano. I am yet to read the study, but if it's competently done it answers the questions that were asked, nothing more. They may suggest findings for future study. I doubt this kind of research could even be done by teachers or pianists. Their skills are elsewhere.

There are other studies that show correlation between certain hand morphology and injuries. I think it should already be clear that some hands are better for playing the piano than others. But I still read statements even from teachers that it's only a matter of technique. So obviously this kind of research is needed...

Re: Not All Hands Are The Same Anatomically
outo #2596549 12/20/16 03:13 PM
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Originally Posted by outo

They don't have to because their study focuses on hands and fingers which are necessary to play the piano.

Didn't Mozart use his nose? Sorry, I couldn't help it...


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