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ADWyatt Offline OP
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Some time ago, when I was shopping in stores, a sales person told me that he really loved the piano but was forced to give it up. The reason, he said, was that his hands couldn't lay flat, and he could only play with hands that looked like claws. He didn't tell me, however, whether or not this affected his playing, but I could certainly understand that he might be concerned that he'd look silly to everyone watching him play.

I could understand it because that's me in a nutshell. And yet I continue to play and practice, and for the moment I haven't found any pieces that my hands can't play. But there are two caveats--First, a finger here or there will suddenly buckle under and then I'll have to hope I can recover fast enough not to skip a beat. If not, I collapse in ruins, which is not a good thing when people listening to me actually think I know what I'm doing. Secondly, I'm only playing intermediate pieces for the time being. What's going to happen to me when I have to begin playing really complex pieces?

Still, I've seen videos of sales people on YouTube demonstrating a particular instrument they're selling, and I'm quite shocked to see that a few of them (men and women both) play with hands more clawed than mine, looking for all the world like electrified crabs pouncing for prey among the keys. These people play complex pieces, and do so fluently, so I'd like to think there's hope for me.

Or is there, really? If my fingers continue to give way (always at the worst time) can something be done about it? Strength exercises? Stretching? Strapping 20-pound dumbbells to my fingers to keep them from curling? Or is there some way I could continue to be me, and find a way to play complex pieces without worry?

I'd very much appreciate any input from the informed members of this room. Thank you for all advice and opinions.

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Why don't you want your fingers to curl? Look at concert pianists on YouTube and you will find very few who play with flat fingers.

Last edited by johnstaf; 01/09/21 03:35 PM.
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quote=johnstaf]Why don't you want your fingers to curl? Look at concert pianists on YouTube and you will find very few who play with flat fingers.[/quote]

You can't give advice if you don't know the whole picture!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXNNH8zMhNs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDBDBpQH5Hw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ61_dQDheQ

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Originally Posted by johnstaf
Why don't you want your fingers to curl? Look at concert pianists on YouTube and you will find very few who play with flat fingers.

Very well said. And I can't guess the number of teachers who have told their students to curl their fingers, as if they're holding a tennis ball. But I've certainly seen many videos of pianists who play with perfectly flat fingers (which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, since tests appear to show that you can't actually play the piano with flat fingers) and they do make a much more impressive picture than people with clawed hands. I have to wonder, then, if people are overly concerned about having flat hands simply because they look more "professional."

In my case, however, there is an issue that seems to relate to what appear to be overly-curled fingers, and that is the fact that on occasion one of my fingers will buckle under, and that can throw everything out the window for me. Can this be fixed, and if so, how?

It isn't that I can't play the piano with what appear to be clawed fingers. I can play Beethoven, as well as fairly-complex New Age pieces, and my fingers have no trouble dancing along the keyboard. I don't have arthritis, and playing more complex pieces is helping me to stretch my fingers comfortably beyond an octave. I will say that quite some years ago I took several years of lessons with University teachers who performed in orchestras, and not once did any of them mention a problem I might have with my fingers. On occasion they would threaten to have me stood up against a wall for playing the bass hand like a sledgehammer, but they never mentioned my fingers. Then again, so far as I can remember, my fingers never buckled before either. Is it possible that all I might really need is some strengthening exercises for my wrists? (I understand that the fingers themselves don't have muscles.) Any opinions on this would be well considered.

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When playing chords or octaves that require stretching the fingers have to be much flatter than at other times. Most/many people couldn't play an octave or tenth with very curved fingers.

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Originally Posted by ADWyatt
But I've certainly seen many videos of pianists who play with perfectly flat fingers (which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, since tests appear to show that you can't actually play the piano with flat fingers) and they do make a much more impressive picture than people with clawed hands. I have to wonder, then, if people are overly concerned about having flat hands simply because they look more "professional."
As long as you can play whatever you want without strain or injury, that's fine. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Most people will simply have their fingers curled naturally when playing (unless they have to stretch them out to play big chords etc) - the same curl as you'd get if your arms hang down limp with your forearms in neutral position.

Of course, if you have Dupuytren's, that's a different story........


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Originally Posted by Nahum
You can't give advice if you don't know the whole picture!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ61_dQDheQ
This third video is IMO not at all convincing. When he demonstrates playing with rounded fingers he overdoes the rounding to an extent that would not be appropriate for any kind of passage...way beyond a pianist like Kissin, who tends to play with very curved fingers when possible. No decent pianist ever does that on any passage. Estrin's pinky joint goes even beyond vertical, and he's almost playing with the top side of his fingernail. If he wanted to demonstrate any supposed advantage he should compare moderately rounded fingers to close to flat fingers.

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Yes he seems to be exaggerating a lot.
At one point he is indeed playing with his nails :-)

But I agree with one of his points that I often miss in the discussions, and that is that some fingers are shorter and you need to get the fingers all a usable position on the keyboard

For me my pinky is mush shorter than the other fingers. And my pinky is also one of the weakest (as usual?). So the pinky, besides short, needs a good curved shape to avoid collapsing. From that it automatically follows that the hand needs a 'claw like' shape to get all fingers in place.


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In looking at Kissin YouTube videos two things become apparent to me, aside from the fact that the hopeful high point of my musical career will be playing for residents in nursing homes, while his accomplishments are rather more elevated. First, he does indeed play with curved fingers, not unlike mine. Most importantly, though, you may note that his fingers, which are certainly not slim, fit quickly and comfortably between black and white keys all the way to the base. As for myself, a person whose fingers are much slimmer, I don't seat my fingers between the black keys, because I'm afraid of pressing down the black keys inadvertently while playing the white keys.

Hmmm....Let's look at possible reasons for this. First of all, I play on what years ago was considered as a mid-level digital piano, the Kawai CA65. How might the spacing of those keys compare to the spacing of the 9-foot grand that Kissin plays? Could Kissin play as comfortably on my digital grand wannabe as he does on a concert grand acoustic? Secondly, are my hands too often placed at an angle on the keyboard when playing above and below middle C, rather than being more straightforward? If so, it could be quite easy to see why I would only want to place my fingers to the point where the black keys begin, and this could just naturally cause an excessive curvature of the fingers. In other words, there may be nothing wrong with my hands so much as there is in the way I'm playing. If so, this is something a teacher could correct, and indeed is something a teacher would quickly take note of.

For the record, I will say that I have no pain at all when I'm playing, so I don't think there is anything physically wrong. What I think I will do in the meantime is to practice the key of C in Hanon by deliberately placing my hands between the black keys as I run up and down the octaves, and seeing what will happen. It will be a disaster at first, but I will see what time reveals.

It might also be a good idea to work with a teacher. I can afford it, even though I'm playing on an old digital piano, and that might take me a lot farther than I can go on my own.

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Originally Posted by ADWyatt
In looking at Kissin YouTube videos two things become apparent to me, aside from the fact that the hopeful high point of my musical career will be playing for residents in nursing homes, while his accomplishments are rather more elevated. First, he does indeed play with curved fingers, not unlike mine. Most importantly, though, you may note that his fingers, which are certainly not slim, fit quickly and comfortably between black and white keys all the way to the base. As for myself, a person whose fingers are much slimmer, I don't seat my fingers between the black keys, because I'm afraid of pressing down the black keys inadvertently while playing the white keys.
I think you should practice playing with fingers between the black keys. It's very hard or maybe impossible to play many pieces without doing that. I don't think the correct way to learn to do this in playing a C major scale with your fingers between the black key. That would be very difficult for anyone including Kissin. You should play pieces that have 3 to 5 flats or sharps in the key signature and put your fingers between the black keys when its appropriate/necessary.

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Have you been evaluated by a hand specialist? What you are describing could be Dupuytren’s Contracture. If you google it, you can see if the symptoms are what you have. If so, there are treatments and/or surgery that can correct this problem.



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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Nahum
You can't give advice if you don't know the whole picture!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ61_dQDheQ
This third video is IMO not at all convincing. When he demonstrates playing with rounded fingers he overdoes the rounding to an extent that would not be appropriate for any kind of passage..
I agree with you, but you forgot to add that his movements with flat fingers are also unnatural. Visually (and soundly) it discredits both approaches, although not in words.
In reality, it can not be a dogma: different finger positions creates a different sound, and suitable for different tempo .

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This is the kind of problem that I'd take to the best teacher I could find.


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High wrist and curved fingers is a "default", conventional position for learning to play piano. It's absolutely ok. Unless there is something extreme with your hand curve (like touching keys with your nails) you needn't to worry about it.

Besides, nobody plays with flat fingers all the time. It is a specific technique that is only used in some places. It's usage also depends on individual's anatomy and musical preferences. There is no need to flatten your fingers just in order to look like Horowitz. With time and experience, if your hands and musical taste requires it, your hand shape will flatten to some degree naturally. Or not.

But what is really very important is to learn to move your fingers from the "knuckles". Your "buckle under" problem is probably caused by not doing this. "Knuckles" must be the main joints that generate momentum for keystroke. The best initial exercise to learn this is to play slowly, forte, lifting every finger high before keystroke. Daily hand stretching is also helpful.


Playing notes in-between black keys is not recommended. Instead you need to learn to move your hand forward to the lid and backward when playing.

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Follow the music. If you have a requirement to play multiple notes over an octave or more in a single hand, you'll need to flatten your hands or hand. Or, if you have a requirement to play multiple notes in a 6th or less in a single hand, you will need to curl your hand. Focus on what you sound like and not what it looks like. You really just have to hit the notes and you can't use the same hand posture for a Bach prelude as you would for a Chopin Nocturne. You need to be able to change it up, all the time.

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Most of the time I'm playing chords or chord arpeggios. Many times my middle finger is sticking straight out. It's just what the music requires.

BTW, nails clicking makes me shudder. It's a must to keep them trimmed for the violin fingerboard.


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Originally Posted by Farmerjones
Most of the time I'm playing chords or chord arpeggios. Many times my middle finger is sticking straight out. It's just what the music requires...

Oh, that's good, as here I was thinking maybe you were trying to send me a message, Famerjones laugh .

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
High wrist and curved fingers is a "default", conventional position for learning to play piano. It's absolutely ok. Unless there is something extreme with your hand curve (like touching keys with your nails) you needn't to worry about it.

Besides, nobody plays with flat fingers all the time. It is a specific technique that is only used in some places. It's usage also depends on individual's anatomy and musical preferences. There is no need to flatten your fingers just in order to look like Horowitz. With time and experience, if your hands and musical taste requires it, your hand shape will flatten to some degree naturally. Or not.

But what is really very important is to learn to move your fingers from the "knuckles". Your "buckle under" problem is probably caused by not doing this. "Knuckles" must be the main joints that generate momentum for keystroke. The best initial exercise to learn this is to play slowly, forte, lifting every finger high before keystroke. Daily hand stretching is also helpful.


Playing notes in-between black keys is not recommended. Instead you need to learn to move your hand forward to the lid and backward when playing.

I find this to be excellent advice, and I am very grateful for your input.

I've checked to see if there was anything wrong with my hands, and there is not. My wrists are strong enough, and my fingers are extremely flexible, with no arthritis. This may be rather unusual for someone who is 71 years old, but Nature has cursed me, perhaps, by giving me an erroneous appearance. Despite a few medical problems, I have quite a bit of energy, and I almost feel insulted when people in their 50's talk down to me, assuming I'm in my mid-20's. So I'm having no physical drawbacks in playing the keyboard.

I can now easily see that you're correct when you write, "What is really very important is to learn to move your fingers from the "knuckles"." I found very quickly that trying to play C Major in Hanon with my fingers between black and white keys was an awful experience, and really counterproductive. What I will try now is to play A Major in Hanon, and initially slow the tempo from 60 to 30, in just the way you've described. With F, C and G as sharps, this should give me the training to properly use my knuckles, moving up to the black keys only when necessary.

What all of this is very clearly showing me is that, for most of us who wish to take the piano seriously, a good teacher is an absolute necessity. And so I am now going to give proper lessons strong consideration. 71 years of age is not that terribly old. Carefully guarding my health, I see no reason why I can't be fluently playing at least to the age of 85. For whatever this means, my primary doctor tells me that I'm just a little kid, with a lot of spark still left.

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Originally Posted by ADWyatt
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
High wrist and curved fingers is a "default", conventional position for learning to play piano. It's absolutely ok.

Playing notes in-between black keys is not recommended. Instead you need to learn to move your hand forward to the lid and backward when playing.

I find this to be excellent advice, and I am very grateful for your input.
But the parts I excerpted are not so good IMO. How high should the wrist be and how curved should fingers be in the "default" position. Certainly not curved the way Estrin demonstrates in the video posted on this thread and often not curved when the fingers are stretched to play large chords. IOW the advice seems too vague to be maximally useful although reasonable for a beginner. As far as moving one's hand in and out to avoid having to play in between the black keys, that is not always possible.

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Originally Posted by ADWyatt
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
High wrist and curved fingers is a "default", conventional position for learning to play piano. It's absolutely ok.

Playing notes in-between black keys is not recommended. Instead you need to learn to move your hand forward to the lid and backward when playing.

I find this to be excellent advice, and I am very grateful for your input.
But the parts I excerpted are not so good IMO. How high should the wrist be and how curved should fingers be in the "default" position. Certainly not curved the way Estrin demonstrates in the video posted on this thread and often not curved when the fingers are stretched to play large chords. IOW the advice seems too vague to be maximally useful although I think it's reasonable for a beginner whose is shown the position by a teacher. As far as moving one's hand in and out to avoid having to play in between the black keys, that is not always possible.

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