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Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed

Posted By: Andamento

Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/14/19 07:52 PM

Any strategies to break a student of this habit, besides physically moving the child's thumbs back up to the key tops every time or telling him to place the thumbs next to his fingers, and not brace them against the wood?
Posted By: pianist_lady

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/14/19 11:00 PM

Ack, so annoying. I've tried to figure out what causes this, hoping to fix it that way.
I think it's a often a symptom of not sitting at the correct height/distance. We're probably making sure they sit correctly in the studio, but they may not be sitting that way at home, where they spend most of their piano time. As a result, there are alignment problems and the student feels like they need to brace against something.
Also, if the student is a slow reader, they're not in a state of moving smoothly from one note to the next. There's a lag where they figure out the next note so they get used to resting in between, especially if they tend to lean forward to get a closer look at the book. Whereas if you're in a more dynamic state of motion and reading ahead, there's no time to rest the fingers.
Aside from dealing with those two issues, constant nagging seems to have some effect smile (for young students, the wood below the keys is referred to as "the snake pit" or "hot lava").
Posted By: dogperson

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/15/19 02:42 AM

Just a thought from a non-teacher who may be WAY off track;

Resting your thumb in front of the keys is probably now an unconscious student habit. Break the habit by doing simple ‘thumbcentric’ exercises that don’t give the thumb a chance to rest anywhere..., could be even two ginger exercises as long as the thumb is always involved. Design exercises that utilize more flats so the thumb can’t rest in front of the keys. Can you temporarily put a piece of standing cardboard as a key guard, taking away the thumb rest?

(Told ‘ya this might be useless)
Posted By: AZNpiano

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/15/19 05:12 AM

If the student has big hands, resting thumbs on that rail is actually the "correct" position of the thumb, because it preserves the natural shape of the hands.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/15/19 12:10 PM

To place a sticky Scotch tape there?
Posted By: TimR

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/15/19 03:14 PM

Originally Posted by dogperson


Resting your thumb in front of the keys is probably now an unconscious student habit. Break the habit by doing simple ‘thumbcentric’ exercises that don’t give the thumb a chance to rest anywhere...,
(Told ‘ya this might be useless)


Or little finger centric exercises that require the hand to move forward?

On a digital you can play with the hand further forward but that can cause pain on the acoustic.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/15/19 04:56 PM

Originally Posted by TimR
On a digital you can play with the hand further forward but that can cause pain on the acoustic.

Why?
Posted By: keystring

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/15/19 06:41 PM

Originally Posted by AZNpiano
If the student has big hands, resting thumbs on that rail is actually the "correct" position of the thumb, because it preserves the natural shape of the hands.

I sort of had that impression too - or at least, for the thumbs to be hanging loosely.
Posted By: NobleHouse

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/15/19 07:54 PM

Originally Posted by keystring
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
If the student has big hands, resting thumbs on that rail is actually the "correct" position of the thumb, because it preserves the natural shape of the hands.

I sort of had that impression too - or at least, for the thumbs to be hanging loosely.


My previous teacher told me the same thing.
Posted By: Andamento

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/15/19 08:50 PM

Thanks for all the responses, but sorry I didn't give more details.

The boy is seven and small for his age. He just started lessons this summer and is playing some music on the black keys and some on the white.

I may have misled you, putting the word "keybed" in the thread title. It's not the horizontal surface on which the keys are placed that is the place he's putting his thumbs (what I think AZN meant by "resting thumbs on that rail.") The boy is putting his thumbs on the vertical wood surface at the front of the piano, a little bit below the rail.

To describe it a different way, it's almost as if he's trying to push the piano toward the wall, using his thumbs, without them touching the keys at all.

Am I giving you a clearer picture of what I mean?

Pianistlady used the word "brace," which describes well what I'm seeing:

Quote
As a result, there are alignment problems and the student feels like they need to brace against something.


He does this more when he's playing black-keys-only pieces, because those notes are fingered with 2, 3, and 4, and there's nothing for the thumb to do. There's a lot of tension in his hands because of pushing his thumbs against the wood. Maybe I should take him off the black-key pieces and get him to play only white-key-pieces that use the thumb often?
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/15/19 10:53 PM

Originally Posted by Andamento
He does this more when he's playing black-keys-only pieces, because those notes are fingered with 2, 3, and 4, and there's nothing for the thumb to do. There's a lot of tension in his hands because of pushing his thumbs against the wood. Maybe I should take him off the black-key pieces and get him to play only white-key-pieces that use the thumb often?

I don't understand this (presumably) 'modern' method of teaching where beginners are playing exclusively on black keys using 2-3-4 and obviously not reading whilst playing. (Surely he's not reading F# - G# - A# while playing them?)

Personally, I think it develops really bad habits like this one, as well as not allowing the student to get used to the normal 5-finger position on white keys, which is important to develop proprioception for piano playing. The thumb is the most important finger for any beginner to get used while in alignment with the others, because its 'natural' (anatomical) position is in opposition to all the others - which is the way that kid is using it.
Posted By: Morodiene

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 01:53 AM

Originally Posted by Andamento
Thanks for all the responses, but sorry I didn't give more details.

The boy is seven and small for his age. He just started lessons this summer and is playing some music on the black keys and some on the white.

I may have misled you, putting the word "keybed" in the thread title. It's not the horizontal surface on which the keys are placed that is the place he's putting his thumbs (what I think AZN meant by "resting thumbs on that rail.") The boy is putting his thumbs on the vertical wood surface at the front of the piano, a little bit below the rail.

To describe it a different way, it's almost as if he's trying to push the piano toward the wall, using his thumbs, without them touching the keys at all.

Am I giving you a clearer picture of what I mean?

Pianistlady used the word "brace," which describes well what I'm seeing:

Quote
As a result, there are alignment problems and the student feels like they need to brace against something.


He does this more when he's playing black-keys-only pieces, because those notes are fingered with 2, 3, and 4, and there's nothing for the thumb to do. There's a lot of tension in his hands because of pushing his thumbs against the wood. Maybe I should take him off the black-key pieces and get him to play only white-key-pieces that use the thumb often?

Are his feet touching the floor? If he cant' touch the floor, he's really got nothing to balance with. Get a short step stool for his feet to go over the pedals and that should help. Also recommend to his parents that he have something similar at home. Even stacking some books can help in a pinch.
Posted By: AZNpiano

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 03:01 AM

Try this:

When he is playing the 2-3-4 on black keys, put a little red dot sticker on the white key and say, "Thumb sits here."

I agree with Erin--there may be a posture problem with bench height and a platform/footstool for feet.
Posted By: outo

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 03:15 AM

Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by TimR
On a digital you can play with the hand further forward but that can cause pain on the acoustic.

Why?

He is probably referring to the increased key weight when you move closer to the fallboard. This is quite prominent on most uprights. Digitals usually mimic the grand action and are generally lighter to play anyway.
Posted By: Andamento

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 03:34 AM

Originally Posted by Morodiene
Originally Posted by Andamento
Thanks for all the responses, but sorry I didn't give more details.

The boy is seven and small for his age. He just started lessons this summer and is playing some music on the black keys and some on the white.

I may have misled you, putting the word "keybed" in the thread title. It's not the horizontal surface on which the keys are placed that is the place he's putting his thumbs (what I think AZN meant by "resting thumbs on that rail.") The boy is putting his thumbs on the vertical wood surface at the front of the piano, a little bit below the rail.

To describe it a different way, it's almost as if he's trying to push the piano toward the wall, using his thumbs, without them touching the keys at all.

Am I giving you a clearer picture of what I mean?

Pianistlady used the word "brace," which describes well what I'm seeing:

Quote
As a result, there are alignment problems and the student feels like they need to brace against something.


He does this more when he's playing black-keys-only pieces, because those notes are fingered with 2, 3, and 4, and there's nothing for the thumb to do. There's a lot of tension in his hands because of pushing his thumbs against the wood. Maybe I should take him off the black-key pieces and get him to play only white-key-pieces that use the thumb often?

Are his feet touching the floor? If he cant' touch the floor, he's really got nothing to balance with. Get a short step stool for his feet to go over the pedals and that should help. Also recommend to his parents that he have something similar at home. Even stacking some books can help in a pinch.


His feet don't reach the floor, so I have a box on the floor, on which he rests his feet while playing. His mom sits in during lessons, but she may need reminding that he needs the same type of set-up at home.
Posted By: Andamento

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 03:35 AM

Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Try this:

When he is playing the 2-3-4 on black keys, put a little red dot sticker on the white key and say, "Thumb sits here."


Thanks for this suggestion. I will try that.
Posted By: TimR

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 12:51 PM

Originally Posted by outo
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by TimR
On a digital you can play with the hand further forward but that can cause pain on the acoustic.

Why?

He is probably referring to the increased key weight when you move closer to the fallboard. This is quite prominent on most uprights. Digitals usually mimic the grand action and are generally lighter to play anyway.



No, this is just recounting a somewhat humorous incident that happened to me. Practicing exclusively on my digital at home, I had not realized I was playing so far forward into the keybed. The digital does not have a fallboard and it is easy to develop the habit of playing quite far forward, with the longer fingers overlapping the back edge of the keys. That is of course not possible on the acoustic, as I found out that Sunday playing the piano for church services. Ouch! reaching for a note, probably with my thumb? (been a long time) or maybe just a 1-5 chord, I slammed the longer fingers into the vertical surface that did not exist at home. My eyes were on the sheet music so it was quite a surprise.

Sorry, I'm sure that's not relevant to the child's thumb.
Posted By: Andamento

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 02:18 PM

Originally Posted by TimR
Practicing exclusively on my digital at home, I had not realized I was playing so far forward into the keybed. The digital does not have a fallboard and it is easy to develop the habit of playing quite far forward, with the longer fingers overlapping the back edge of the keys. That is of course not possible on the acoustic...
Sorry, I'm sure that's not relevant to the child's thumb.


Actually, this may be relevant, because the child doesn't have an acoustic at home. He's practicing on some sort of digital. I wonder if that's causing confusion about where to position his hands when he comes to lessons and plays on my acoustic (the only type of piano I have).

Not that I want to start an acoustic vs. digital war now. smile
Posted By: Andamento

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 02:23 PM

Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Andamento
He does this more when he's playing black-keys-only pieces, because those notes are fingered with 2, 3, and 4, and there's nothing for the thumb to do. There's a lot of tension in his hands because of pushing his thumbs against the wood. Maybe I should take him off the black-key pieces and get him to play only white-key-pieces that use the thumb often?

I don't understand this (presumably) 'modern' method of teaching where beginners are playing exclusively on black keys using 2-3-4 and obviously not reading whilst playing. (Surely he's not reading F# - G# - A# while playing them?)

Personally, I think it develops really bad habits like this one, as well as not allowing the student to get used to the normal 5-finger position on white keys, which is important to develop proprioception for piano playing. The thumb is the most important finger for any beginner to get used while in alignment with the others, because its 'natural' (anatomical) position is in opposition to all the others - which is the way that kid is using it.


This is an interesting comment I've been pondering.

I believe the point of students playing on the black keys early on is to better attune them to keyboard geography -- the patterns of two-black-key groups and three-black-key groups, and how they relate to the white keys around them.

That said, one has to wonder whether there might be a different way to effectively teach keyboard geography than to have students play exclusively on the black keys for a period of time?

And with that comment of mine, along with the one I just posted before this, I may very well be diverting my own thread in far-flung directions. smile
Posted By: Blague

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 04:44 PM

How is his arm posture? Arms and wrists straight, fingers curved, &c? If he's sitting high enough then he should be able to just let his thumb hang out relaxed and naturally when not in use.
Posted By: Cocorbett

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 07:45 PM

Not a teacher here, but I just gave this a try. I think the position feels surprisingly natural and it's a logical thing to do. Not of course in the long run, but if the only task you have with the piano is to play F#-G#-A# with 2-3-4 then holding your thumb against the rigid surface like the front of the piano gives a nice support very close to action and you have much better control of the fine movement of 2-3-4 fingers compared to having to support the arm in the air all the way from the elbows. I've seen some painters extend their pinky and hold it against the surface they are painting while holding the brush between thumb and index finger. It gives the same kind of support point close to where fine finger movement is needed.

Moving the thumb between the keys and the "support position" doesn't feel natural anymore if the thumb has something to play. I guess the easy solution is to use exercises that don't omit the thumb.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/16/19 09:03 PM

Originally Posted by Andamento
Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Andamento
He does this more when he's playing black-keys-only pieces, because those notes are fingered with 2, 3, and 4, and there's nothing for the thumb to do. There's a lot of tension in his hands because of pushing his thumbs against the wood. Maybe I should take him off the black-key pieces and get him to play only white-key-pieces that use the thumb often?

I don't understand this (presumably) 'modern' method of teaching where beginners are playing exclusively on black keys using 2-3-4 and obviously not reading whilst playing. (Surely he's not reading F# - G# - A# while playing them?)

Personally, I think it develops really bad habits like this one, as well as not allowing the student to get used to the normal 5-finger position on white keys, which is important to develop proprioception for piano playing. The thumb is the most important finger for any beginner to get used while in alignment with the others, because its 'natural' (anatomical) position is in opposition to all the others - which is the way that kid is using it.


This is an interesting comment I've been pondering.

I believe the point of students playing on the black keys early on is to better attune them to keyboard geography -- the patterns of two-black-key groups and three-black-key groups, and how they relate to the white keys around them.

That said, one has to wonder whether there might be a different way to effectively teach keyboard geography than to have students play exclusively on the black keys for a period of time?


In the early days of keyboard playing, generally only fingers 2 - 5 were used, because it was felt that the thumbs are not designed to be used like fingers - which is true (ask any anatomist) - but we can train our thumbs to play just as well as fingers (unlike primates, who can't play a keyboard like humans, because their thumbs are too short, like early versions of humans - ask any anthropologist).

But the training of thumbs to play properly need to be done correctly right from the start, otherwise thumbs will lapse into doing what they were designed to do: oppose the fingers. Which is why those new-fangled beginner primers that (apparently) aim to teach students that black keys are as valuable as white ones right from day 1 have a fatal flaw (actually, more than one, but we'll talk about them some other time), especially when young children are involved. Abduction of the thumb is actually a clumsy movement compared to opposition (or flexion or extension), but that's the movement used to play a key on the piano. And kids especially need to get used early on to the feeling of a flat keyboard beneath the whole hand and ten fingers, not just beneath the fingers 2 - 5.

And they need to realize that playing a piano keyboard is not like typing on a computer keyboard (where the thumb is only used on the space bar.......like the wood bar).
Posted By: Morodiene

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/17/19 01:23 AM

Luckily, he will not be able to do this soon enough when he's playing a white key with his thumb - most methods get to this relatively early on. Correct it when you see it, but don't worry too much as it will go away on its own.
Posted By: malkin

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/17/19 02:33 AM

Originally Posted by Andamento
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Try this:

When he is playing the 2-3-4 on black keys, put a little red dot sticker on the white key and say, "Thumb sits here."


Thanks for this suggestion. I will try that.


Maybe you could also modify the piece to give the thumb a few notes to play on the sticker.
All performers love a speaking part.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/18/19 01:21 PM

Originally Posted by Andamento
I may have misled you, putting the word "keybed" in the thread title. It's not the horizontal surface on which the keys are placed that is the place he's putting his thumbs (what I think AZN meant by "resting thumbs on that rail.") The boy is putting his thumbs on the vertical wood surface at the front of the piano, a little bit below the rail.

Isn't it a sign of a poor hand shape? I mean if a little boy is bracing his thumb on the vertical surface of the piano while playing on black keys it may be a sign that his fingers are too flat.
Posted By: TimR

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/19/19 12:04 PM

Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by Andamento
I may have misled you, putting the word "keybed" in the thread title. It's not the horizontal surface on which the keys are placed that is the place he's putting his thumbs (what I think AZN meant by "resting thumbs on that rail.") The boy is putting his thumbs on the vertical wood surface at the front of the piano, a little bit below the rail.

Isn't it a sign of a poor hand shape? I mean if a little boy is bracing his thumb on the vertical surface of the piano while playing on black keys it may be a sign that his fingers are too flat.


I'm not so sure. I just tried bracing my thumb on the front edge of my desk, and my hand naturally went into a gently curved shape that looks pretty correct.
Posted By: Andamento

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/20/19 07:05 PM

Thank you for all your comments, everyone. The student has his lesson tonight, and I plan to closely examine different aspects of his posture, hand and arm shape, any visible tension, and the like. We have talked some already about sitting up straight (last week his torso was shaped like a letter C at one point), and about the bridge of his hand.

I'm taking notes on the additional considerations you've brought up here, and also plan to ask mom about seat height at home, etc.

I'll let you know more after the lesson. I appreciate the thoughtful questions and suggestions you've all offered so far.
Posted By: Andamento

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/21/19 01:50 AM

So... when he played a black-key piece tonight, there were no thumbs on the wood. He kept them near his playing fingers.

But... he instead held his thumbs in the air somewhat, above the white keys E & F, fighting gravity and causing just as much tension in his hand as he had last week when he was pushing the thumbs forward into the vertical wood piece.

At which point it would have been great if I'd remembered AZN's and Malkin's suggestions to put down a red dot sticker and improvise a few things for the thumb to play on it. Sigh. Last student of the night, and I had a pretty good headache going by that point. Not my most stellar brainpower moment. laugh

Meanwhile... I seriously have to wonder how important it really is to even play exclusively on the black keys? I might have to start a new thread on that. I'm curious about how that even became a thing for beginning students. (Well, young beginners -- the older beginner series by the same authors has only two pieces on the black keys, versus about ten in the former.)
Posted By: Andamento

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/21/19 02:03 AM

See my new black-keys-only spin-off thread HERE.
Posted By: missbelle

Re: Resting thumbs on the wood in front of the keybed - 08/23/19 02:16 PM

I have a smart and stubborn young boy who has hand posture that makes me cringe! Falling thumbs!!!

as a "joke" I took a ruler with a metal straight edge, and held it just under the white keys. Told him it was a knife blade and not to get cut! Since he is all things frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, and that we have a very good rapport and he trusts me, he got this idea, and it worked!!

He does have a digital at home, so that may be an issue.

(do not recommend for all students. Know your audience.)


And, choose music that has any finger anywhere any time on any key. If they are "locked in" to any position, a poor habit can develop. Change things up! (even if just moving octaves.)
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