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Fewer than a full working set of fingers
#3002440 07/14/20 10:29 AM
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Hi all,

I have returned to piano playing after a long break during which time I developed osteoarthritis in my fingers. This has already stopped me playing guitar and I’m not keen on the idea of having to give up on the piano too.

If things keep going like this, then there’s only singing left and no-one wants to hear that!

Although I get pain in most of my fingers, the worst is my left pinkie which has a very misshapen top joint. It is extremely painful, bent and swollen, and causes me a great deal of pain when I use it to play or type on a keyboard.

I’m wondering if there are any resources or ways of learning to avoid using my left pinkie or whether I just need to be creative with fingering or chord structures to try and overcome this issue and play for as long as I can.

Many thanks for any suggestions you might have.

W

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Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002446 07/14/20 10:44 AM
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Can you reach an octave between thumb and 4th finger? Most people can, unless they have very small hands.

What kind of music are you playing? If it's pop or jazz or Great American Songbook, then change the music to suit your hand and no one will notice. You can just play a seventh in the left hand, which is a pretty popular chord voicing anyway.

If it's classical, a lot depends on the piece...

Sam

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002463 07/14/20 11:28 AM
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Hi Sam, Yes I can play an octave thumb to 4th. I'm wondering if the stretching might cause me issues in the longer term but certainly for the time being it's fine.

I've given up on the idea of playing most classical stuff. I'd love to play some simple jazz/lounge type stuff like Moon River etc and some pop, in which I know I can play shell chords. Also I suppose instead of playing a 9th I could play a 2nd and jiggle my fingers around.

I'm used to using with my pinkie from the past and it feels really natural whereas the alternatives seem odd. I need to develop new habits I guess. I'm hoping its possible though.

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002466 07/14/20 11:33 AM
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I'm thinking: refingering, possibly dropping non-essential notes here and there, and maybe refining technique to make it as effective and un-strained as possible. Might there be an expert in this area to guide you?

The following is not helpful at all, but by chance I came upon this in my feed last week. It's a violinist who lost the use of two fingers in his left hand due to dystonia, and had to relearn how to play in a way that he'd use only the remaining two fingers. I was mesmerized, and inspired.

https://youtu.be/ociwHSCzRQU?t=195

This is the same musician 13 years ago, when he had use of his full hand.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU0qXBjYxo4

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002470 07/14/20 11:52 AM
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Hi Keystring,

I'd love to find an expert but I'm not sure where I'd get one. there's a hand therapist in London who is also a musician so I might consult her.

BTW, I found the violinist inspiring so it actually was very helpful.

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002472 07/14/20 12:05 PM
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I don't know if it's a crazy idea or not, but ill say it anyway, you never know. Isn't it maybe possible to wear something on/around your pinky that keeps it from bending (too much), and maybe prevents pain? That way maybe you could even still use it? I don't know what that would be, but something that protects it. Maybe something like a glove, where the pinky part is all hard plastic, or something like that?

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002476 07/14/20 12:30 PM
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Please consult your rheumatologist or a hand specialist do that you get accurate, healthy guidance


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

It's ok to be a Work In Progress
Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002480 07/14/20 12:56 PM
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I'm certainly not an expert and you should coordinate with the appropriate professionals.

I will add that, after reading this, I tried out my little moon river "arrangement" which is mostly root-5-root in the left and melody and a selection of chord tones underneath in the right. Very standard. No particular stretching required, the left could as easily be 1-3-5 or 6 or whatever sounds good to you.

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002500 07/14/20 01:54 PM
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This woman has only 4 "fingers" and yet is a concert pianist.

I hope this gives you hope.

http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=168


Piano teacher.
Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002502 07/14/20 01:55 PM
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I just sat down and played my (on the spot) rendition of autumn leaves without using the little finger on my left hand.

No particular problem. Just takes some getting used to.

Left hand can play Root-Five (harmonically or melodically), Root-3-5, Root-3-7, etc ... or just roots.

There is a lot of music you can play and never use the pinky on your left hand.

Enjoy


Don

Kawai MP11SE, Focal Professional CMS 40 near-field monitors, Yamaha HS8S Powered Subwoofer, SennHeiser HD 559 Headphones, Pianoteq and numerous other VSTs (Seldom Used), Focus Rite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface, Mackie MIX 5 Compact Mixer.
Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002506 07/14/20 02:07 PM
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There are several types of surgery which can help with severe arthritis. The easiest one is to fixate the painful joint surgically. You will not be able to move it any more, but the joint will be reshaped and pain will be gone completely. More advanced options of joint repair are also available in some specialized clinics.

And if you don't want surgery than refingering, revoicing, hot parafin baths for hands, NSAID cremes and pills, analgetics. Intra-articular injections are very popular now, too.

I'm sure you have many years of happy playing ahead. My best wishes to you!

Last edited by Iaroslav Vasiliev; 07/14/20 02:10 PM.
Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
rocket88 #3002517 07/14/20 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by rocket88
This woman has only 4 "fingers" and yet is a concert pianist.

I hope this gives you hope.

http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=168

Wow.

She is absolutely amazing.

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002540 07/14/20 03:43 PM
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Best maybe to play gently, regularly taking breaks. See how things go after a time; the exercise may help rather than hinder. You have to use your fingers anyway, so you might as well use them on the piano . . . .
Forgive me for not being the most sensitive guy; I have osteo in most fingers and badly in the thumbs, but I have little pain with them.


"I am not a man. I am a free number"

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Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
peterws #3002543 07/14/20 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by peterws
Best maybe to play gently, regularly taking breaks. See how things go after a time; the exercise may help rather than hinder. You have to use your fingers anyway, so you might as well use them on the piano . . . .
Forgive me for not being the most sensitive guy; I have osteo in most fingers and badly in the thumbs, but I have little pain with them.


I’m sure you feel very grateful for the lack of pain as OA can have debilitating pain for some


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

It's ok to be a Work In Progress
Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002548 07/14/20 04:20 PM
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Thank you everyone for your comments and suggestions. I am taking inspiration from the people who have overcome what would seem insurmountable obstacles to achieve amazing results.

I have seen hand specialists and apparently surgery is not an option unless I want to have my pinkie fused in a straight position which might be something I would consider in future but not right now. I have been prescribed potions and lotions but honestly nothing really helps that much. The effects also wear thin after a little while using so a bit of a slippery slope but I take medication as prescribed.

I was told to use my fingers but not overuse them which is a difficult balancer to get right. I believe this is good for the other fingers but due to the bend in my pinkie and the way it strikes the keys, it is probably damaging. Also I believe I compensate for the pain subconsciously and change my hand position which in turn can cause pain elsewhere.

I am going to attempt to change my fingering to avoid the pinkie and see how I go.

One specialist said it might stop being painful in the future and that is why it's important to keep mobile while causing further damage, so I am hoping onto some of that hope, though it might not happen, of course.

Last edited by wooster; 07/14/20 04:22 PM.
Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3002673 07/14/20 10:08 PM
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Perhaps a brace/splint? When I had an injured right thumb that required surgery in the joint, the hand therapist made me a special "piano" splint that immobilized only the one joint while giving me enough range of motion to play. I used the thumb carefully but this made it pain-free. Otherwise, the pain in the joint would have made playing excruciating, like it was before I had the surgery. When I wasn't playing, I had my whole thumb and wrist in a much more immobilizing splint. It was made from a kind of special moldable, porous plastic that was comfortable and stayed on with a velcro strap.

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3003066 07/15/20 04:39 PM
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Thank you. I am arranging another appointment with a physio to discuss.

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3003117 07/15/20 06:56 PM
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I once was giving bluegrass banjo lessons for an adult student.

It was about the 3rd lesson before I noticed that he was missing the ring finger on his left hand which he needed for chords.

After a couple more lessons, he quit.


Don

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Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
dmd #3003542 07/17/20 02:59 AM
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Oh dear! Not so inspirational, then.

I play clawhammer banjo without much difficulty. I find banjo not too bad and I can get away without using a lot of pinkie. Alternative tunings are helpful and if I need to use the pinkie, the strings are at least easy to fret. Mind you I'm no expert player.

I believe Dan Levenson told me CH banjo was often played by guys who had lost fingers in the sawmills etc.

Re: Fewer than a full working set of fingers
wooster #3003554 07/17/20 03:50 AM
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I have RH pinkie finger missing (accident). I can reach an octave between 1 and 4 maybe even a 9th. A little theory and reordering of fingers and notes goes a long way. Sometimes 7th chords in RH alone can be a problem and use of theory and inversions helps. There are some repertoire or pieces that I cannot play as written for sure. An example of a challenge is Glass' Metamorphosis 2 RH triplets F major at notated speed. But it's possible. My hand reach has stretched naturally over the years. ABRSM level 5+ is possible which gives you access to a lot of music.

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