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#945276 - 01/26/04 10:29 AM Too thick fingers  
Joined: Jul 2003
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Philippe Offline
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Philippe  Offline
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Brussels
Dear teachers,

Please consider the following question seriously. This is not a joke and, although a bit funny as may seem from the outside, a kind of daily pain for me now.

I'm an adult piano student for something like 5 years now and I get more and more confronted to the fact that my middle fingers are too thick. My teacher used to say that we could bypass this problem, but I feel that this is getting a greater challenge with every new piece we have to select.

Practicaly, when I have to depress a white key between two black ones, the three keys are depressed at once. The only way around is to prevent my middle fingers to go between the black keys and to keep it at the edge of it.

This is/was more or less OK when only a few notes must be played, but there are now chords that I simply cannot play because of the thickness of those middle fingers.

I understand that there is not much that you can do about this, but I'd like to know if you've already been confronted to students having the same handicap. And if you did, what was the result of their learning ? Have you managed to get to a respectable level ? Did the student(s) finally quit ?

I'm close to the point of stopping the piano (with tears in my eyes, believe me) and start another instrument just because of this.

Looking forward to read from you.

Philippe

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#945277 - 01/26/04 03:56 PM Re: Too thick fingers  
Joined: Jan 2003
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apple* Offline
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Joined: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,862
Kansas
the following is not a joke: Do you remember the parable of the man who learned to publicly speak, and practiced speaking with stones in his mouth, to overcome his stuttering problem? There is a bandage called Coban (It's really cool and sticks to itself and is stretchy) I would wrap that around my fingertips and practice like that for an hour a day, to gain the precision that playing with even thicker fingers would demand. My fingers split at the nails in the winter if I'm not careful about applying moisterizer. When I practice with the fingertips wrapped, which is often, I inadvertently gain a lot of precision. There are also fingertip covers but they will not stay on mine.

You can also depress a key with the finger curled so far back that the key will be struck with your nail.

p.s. I am typing with 4 of my fingers wrapped at the moment.


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

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)
#945278 - 01/26/04 05:16 PM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Bob Muir Offline
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Bob Muir  Offline
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Lakewood, WA, USA
Philippe, I have pretty much the same problem. My teacher wants me to play the Hanon exercises with my fingers only slightly curved (rather than as if you were holding an invisible ball) and I just cannot do it. My three middle fingers catch the black keys on each side of the white every time.

I'm having another lesson today and I'm going to explore this with him in more depth, but the only time I have a problem is when my fingers are nearly straight. If I use curved fingers, it's not a problem because I can go between the blacks by angling my hand about 45 degrees. If my fingers are angled, they can fit between the keys fairly easily.

I had even more trouble with my electronic keyboard. But with my grand, as long as I can angle my fingers a bit, it's ok.

#945279 - 01/27/04 04:41 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Philippe Offline
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Philippe  Offline
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Brussels
Dears,

apple : I understand that you are simulating thicker fingers to improve your precision. My problem is that my fingers are already too thick. I've also tried to get those thinner with a bandage but this is not a big success as I'm completely loosing the sensivity at the end of the tightened fingers (which doesn't get much thinner anyway).

Bob Muir : please keep me informed about what you teacher says. In my opinion, you can bypass the problem as long as the chord you play is not too complicated but you can't when it's getting a bit more elaborated (I'll give an example tomorrow of one that I think cannot be played with fingers like ours, but I don't have it by the hand right now).

Still hoping to hear someone saying that (s)he's playing perfectly although (s)he has too thick fingers.

Regards.

Philippe

#945280 - 01/27/04 05:04 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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benedict Offline
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benedict  Offline
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European Union
Apple,

Here is a link about Demosthenes.

Demosthenes

Regards.

smile


Benedict
#945281 - 01/28/04 04:56 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Philippe Offline
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Philippe  Offline
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Joined: Jul 2003
Posts: 16
Brussels
Dears,

As promissed yesterday, here is (one of) the impossible chord for me (out of a study from Heller, nr 18) :

Left hand :
notes : C E-flat G B-flat C
finger : 5 4 3 2 1

Problem is with the G.

This is simply impossible for me, whatever the curve of the middle finger might be.

Philippe

#945282 - 01/28/04 07:21 PM Re: Too thick fingers  
Joined: Mar 2003
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HammerHead Offline
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Metro Atlanta
As some others here have suggested, and I have found helpful: try talcum powder (not much). My problem is caused by a couple of arthritis-crooked digits that give the same effect as thick fingers--can't fit between sharps. Not a solution, but does help.


HH
Completely and forever out of the music business (but still full of opinions)
#945283 - 01/29/04 01:28 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Bob Muir Offline
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Bob Muir  Offline
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Lakewood, WA, USA
Well, I discussed it with my teacher and he agreed that I'd need to curve my fingers more and keep them out of the black keys while doing my exercises.

Philippe, I don't know about your constitution, but as for me, there isn't a single piece that I would be broken up about not being able to play. So if there are chords that I can't perform, or if it causes too much pain to perform, then I'll skip that piece or simplify the chord. It won't stop me from playing the piano though.

I think there are more debilitating handicaps. I could only have one hand, or I could be missing a finger or two, or my hand could be so small that I couldn't reach an octave without rolling. I can live with thick fingers.

#945284 - 01/29/04 02:36 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Candywoman Offline
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I have a friend in Kingston, Ontario who has developed an ergonomic keyboard that is placed on top of your current keyboard with suction cups. It allows the thicker fingered to play with ease. I don't think he's up to production yet, although I have played his prototype and it was satisfactory. He says it took him two weeks to adjust to the visual differences when playing. You could develop your own prototype or pursue a conversation with him. I would never quit with your piano.

When the world hands you a lemon, make lemonade.

#945285 - 01/29/04 05:25 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Philippe Offline
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Philippe  Offline
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Brussels
Hello Dears,

HammerHead : thanks for the talcum powder hint. Stangely enough I have never heard nor thought about it. I'll give it a try.

Bob : the point is that, with the pieces getting more and more complicated, I'm facing this problem more often now. And my teacher is not so keen to let me simplify chords (easily done in the example I gave : just don't play the G and off you go). She insists to let me try, and try, and try again. It always takes times for her to accept that I just can't do it. And as my life, like many others, is made of ups and downs, I'm sometimes a bit fed up with this stupid issue. But you're obviously right : there are much heavier handicaps that this one.

Candyman : didn't know that people were working on ergonomic keyboards. The problem is that you can't use such things for exams. This could be a solution for home, but make the problem bigger on other pianos.

Thank you all for your support.

I'm a bit surprised that so few people seem to have the same "problem" as mine. Most of you must have nice thin fingers, lucky you !

Kind regards.

Philippe

#945286 - 01/29/04 10:21 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Bob Muir Offline
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Lakewood, WA, USA
Philippe, do not allow that teacher to frustrate you so much that you want to quit. The same thing happened to me when I attempted Spanish in college. The teacher insisted we learn without an accent, but I found that no matter how hard I tried, I could not roll my R's. So, rather than accept a reduced grade, I quit the class.

Tell your teacher that you'll give a chord a fair shot, but that at the point where you become too frustrated, you're going to simplify it. If the teacher has a problem with that, then if it were me, I'd look for a new teacher immediately.

Life's too short.

#945287 - 01/29/04 11:01 PM Re: Too thick fingers  
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TheloniousPunk Offline
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Is this why piano keys are so damn wide? That has always been a puzzle to me. Everyone talks about how great this or that piano player was, because he had great, big hands and could stretch a twelfth. I always ask myself, "If it's so great to have big hands, why are the f_____g keys so wide to begin with? Isn't the keyboard just too damn big?" Maybe it's because a lot of people have thick fingertips.

#945288 - 01/30/04 04:00 PM Re: Too thick fingers  
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BDB Offline
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This is something that is not necessarily standard on all pianos. For many years my piano teacher had a piano that I had trouble with. I couldn't fit between the black keys well. Then she got a Steinway upright and I did not have the trouble on that piano.

Most pianos have keyboards about 48" wide overall. Some are a bit wider, and others are a bit narrower. You might check to see if yours are a bit narrower. Black keys can vary a bit in width, too, although modern manufacturing techniques have led to more standardization. You can expect plastic sharps to be pretty uniform.


Semipro Tech
#945289 - 01/31/04 03:34 PM Re: Too thick fingers  
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apple* Offline
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Joined: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,862
Kansas
I would also be comfortable in accomodating the music to fit the way you play it. I constantly do that with church music, transposing between the piano and organ, and playing it differently for solo, choir and single accompaniment. If you miss a note, you can pick it up with the other hand, or play it as a 16th grace note alone. I try to be consistent so it doesn't sound like I mess with the music.


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

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)
#945290 - 01/31/04 05:12 PM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Ballyhoo Offline
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Philippe,

I came across this at http://pianoeducation.org/pnotecha.html

It's about the pianist Rudolf Serkin. (Have you heard of him? I hadn't until fairly recently, but then again I am not at all knowledgeable.)

Serkin's daughter has said that her father practiced scales for nine hours before a concert, with only one hour devoted to his repertoire. That was because his fingers were so wide that they got stuck between the black keys. His long, systematic practicing of scales assured that each finger would place itself in front of the black keys.


Quote
Originally posted by Philippe:
Have you managed to get to a respectable level ? Did the student(s) finally quit ?
You could say Rudolf Serkin reached a respectable level.

Don't give up.

#945291 - 02/01/04 12:31 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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TheloniousPunk Offline
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I have the answer to your problem. You own your own piano? If so, have a tech remove the black keys. Take them to a carpenter who does fine furniture, and have him make them thinner; He can use a router and just thin the parts that are above the level of the white keys. Have him stain and/or varnish them. Have the tech put them back.

Won't help you when you're playing outside your home, but that's a small percentage of the time for most of us.

You might also treat the sides of the black keys, but not the tops, with silicone. Very slippery. Don't spray it; use a swab or brush so you won't make the tops of the keys slick.

#945292 - 02/01/04 02:55 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Candywoman Offline
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Have you contacted the exam centre and asked if this problem afflicts anybody else? Have you checked whether this addition to the piano is portable? Have you asked the exam centre if you could be the last player of the day and get a few minutes to attach the keyboard prior to the exam? In short, I'm struck by your desire for your problem to be taken seriously, and conflicting desire to have it solved for you easily.

#945293 - 02/05/04 10:01 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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Philippe Offline
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Philippe  Offline
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Brussels
Dears,

Thanks a lot to all of you for your replies in this thread.

Thanks for the pointer to Rudolph Serkin. Nice to hear about someone who managed to get over this "thick finger" issue.

For the rest, I'm still a bit reluctant to investigate further in the customizing of my piano. I'm sure that this would fix my problem at home, but I think that it would make it even bigger when I have to play on other pianos.

It's already a relief to know that I'm not the only one facing this difficulty (as if learning to play piano was not already difficult enough ...).

Kind regards.

Philippe

#945294 - 02/05/04 01:23 PM Re: Too thick fingers  
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RKVS1 Offline
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Topeka, Kansas
Philippe, this is just a knee-jerk reactive caution, but since someone mentioned the use of silicon to help solve this problem, I'll point out that I've heard several cautions AGAINST the use of certain products because they CONTAIN silicone.

I'm not sure exactly what the concern was, but as I recall it was associated with the action, and maybe the bushings or felt or knuckles in the action.
You might check that out and maybe find a different lubricant if you decide to go that route. The powder idea seems more workable.

There was a thread a long time ago about the differing widths of sharps on different brands of pianos. "Widths of sharps" or "Narrow Sharps?" something like that was the thread title.

There might be a problem matching the lengths of newly pruchased thinner sharp keys, so Theolonius' suggestion of thinning the existing sharps might be the way to go though it does seem a bit radical. I would think that a bevel to the original width near the bottom of the sharp would be needed to avoid a gap that might be large enough to cause trouble with fingernails catching or something.

As far as the keyboard length being always 48 inches, this is just a holdover from that time during the mid 19th century when pieces written for One Piano 4 Feet were so very popular. By the time those written for One Piano 4 HANDS became more widespread, nobody wanted to (Shetland) Pony up the money to retool. laugh

Bob

#945295 - 02/20/04 04:09 AM Re: Too thick fingers  
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JPM Offline
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Philippe,

I've experienced the same problem as you although I do not consider my fingers to be particularly wide. As BDB said, some pianos have a greater "spread" between the keys than others. I have found varying key widths playing the same model pianos of different vintages (1920's vs. 1990's for example) from the same manufacturer.

Perhaps the easiest solution (and perhaps most expensive) is to look for another piano that has a wider key spread.

A possible alternative (and expensive) solution is trying to find a company or rebuilder to modify/retrofit your piano with a wider keyboard. FWIW, there were at one time manufacturers that built custom keyboards for players with unusually small hands. There isn't any reason I know of that it couldn't be done the other way. (Caveat: Some modification to the una corda linkage might be required in a grand if the right cheek block geometry is changed.)

I would suggest you start by asking your piano technician. You are fortunate to being living in Belgium. The techs up there are a pretty resourceful / innovative bunch. Just ask around.

If that produces no results, you might want to contact Kluge, Europes biggest & best producer of piano keys, or Steinway (who purchased the company several years ago) or the action builder Renner.

I view this as a piano design/engineering problem and not your problem. You shouldnt have to work to compensate for having big fingers; rather the piano needs to be changed to work with your particular anatomy or find a another one that does.

Good luck,
JP


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-- Claude Debussy

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