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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?

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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").


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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)

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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.


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To place a sticky Scotch tape there?

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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.


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

Why?

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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.

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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.



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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?

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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

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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

Last edited by Andamento; 08/16/19 10:25 AM.
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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.

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