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Pianists, what are your thoughts on hand stretching techniques / exercises (please name or describe ones you know of) to increase hand span? Do you think they have any substantial benefits to playing?

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Playing Brahms shorter pieces, (opus 117, 118, 119) expanded my span, especially between my fingers. The key idea was to stop playing the moment I felt any pain. My span improved day by day, month by month.


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Dunno about larger, but breaking bones in my right hand resulted in the span becoming considerably smaller. (I can barely play octave chords now.)


I'm working with occupational therapy for rehab, and doing the exercises on my left as well. Who knows? Can't hurt!

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I found playing pieces with many octaves stretched my hand somewhat without any negative consequences.

Obviously you don’t want to overdo it — stop when fatigue begins and do a little more the next day.

Schumann is often reported to have injured his hand trying to stretch it, though the evidence for this is uncertain.

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I was told, thousands of years ago, to sit at a table, put 3 middle fingers flat on tabletop, thumbs and pinkies hanging (not actually dangling, but--), place thumbs and pinkies flat against side edge, and push firmly BUT NOT QUICKLY towards table. I'm not sure that it did anything for me, but it does stretch that span at least momentarily, kinda loosens things up a bit.

I personally think that hand span has hard limits--you're not going to gain a whole inch (well, I guess that depend on hand size overall). But I still can't reach all tenths, just barely the short ones, and only in the left hand. Still trying, but time is shorter than before.

Between the fingers may be another matter. I got very used to certain intervals and had to adjust my brain to use different ones. But no hand stretching. Brahms does use different intervals more than most others I know of. Poulenc too I think.

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The most I'd do is improving the big jumps to leave an unnoticeable gap in between notes. Stretching fingers to play awkward notes span may damage your hand muscles. The span of my hand is just 1 octave from thumb to pinkie. I'd occasionally play an octave +1 note. Some of my pieces have big jumps but very few require playing 2 notes far apart.

The last piece I played is an arrangement for piano with many chords 1 after another. Some chords like C#-G#-B-C# require awkward fingerings. Playing the chord by itself isn't too bad but changing fingers from another chord without leaving a gap in between is not all that easy.

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Originally Posted by rogerzell
I was told, thousands of years ago, to sit at a table, put 3 middle fingers flat on tabletop, thumbs and pinkies hanging (not actually dangling, but--), place thumbs and pinkies flat against side edge, and push firmly BUT NOT QUICKLY towards table. I'm not sure that it did anything for me, but it does stretch that span at least momentarily, kinda loosens things up a bit.

I personally think that hand span has hard limits--you're not going to gain a whole inch (well, I guess that depend on hand size overall). But I still can't reach all tenths, just barely the short ones, and only in the left hand. Still trying, but time is shorter than before.

Between the fingers may be another matter. I got very used to certain intervals and had to adjust my brain to use different ones. But no hand stretching. Brahms does use different intervals more than most others I know of. Poulenc too I think.

It's interesting you mentioned this, I basically started doing the same thing out of intuition. And it worked. I might start a separate thread on this particular stretch as it has another major benefit other than producing a larger hand span (between the thumb and 5th finger)

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Originally Posted by malkin
Dunno about larger, but breaking bones in my right hand resulted in the span becoming considerably smaller. (I can barely play octave chords now.)


I'm working with occupational therapy for rehab, and doing the exercises on my left as well. Who knows? Can't hurt!

Sorry to hear that, its good you're not being deterred, I think you should experiment with different hand positions and try and figure out more clever ways of getting around bigger chords, it could even be more beneficial to your playing in the end - encouraging you to use less movement or being more relaxed. What exercises are you doing at the moment, and which do you feel is most beneficial ?

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Originally Posted by terentius
I found playing pieces with many octaves stretched my hand somewhat without any negative consequences.

Obviously you don’t want to overdo it — stop when fatigue begins and do a little more the next day.

Schumann is often reported to have injured his hand trying to stretch it, though the evidence for this is uncertain.

Yes I've heard that about schumann as well, I think I read that it was his 4th finger he was trying to stretch, dont blame him, the 4th finger is the most limted finger and usually has the most connective tissue (connecting to the 3rd) at the bottom. But his method was far too dangerous.

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
The most I'd do is improving the big jumps to leave an unnoticeable gap in between notes. Stretching fingers to play awkward notes span may damage your hand muscles. The span of my hand is just 1 octave from thumb to pinkie. I'd occasionally play an octave +1 note. Some of my pieces have big jumps but very few require playing 2 notes far apart.

The last piece I played is an arrangement for piano with many chords 1 after another. Some chords like C#-G#-B-C# require awkward fingerings. Playing the chord by itself isn't too bad but changing fingers from another chord without leaving a gap in between is not all that easy.

Liszts consolation no 2 has a few passages that include octaves in both hands with some awkward notes in-between for some of the octaves. Thiis particular part is played cantando, so, it has to played with motion and be able to sing. This passage is good for spreading the fingers more laterally and making the fingers more liberated.

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Originally Posted by gooddog
Playing Brahms shorter pieces, (opus 117, 118, 119) expanded my span, especially between my fingers. The key idea was to stop playing the moment I felt any pain. My span improved day by day, month by month.

That's good it stretched between your fingers, that's especially hard to accomplish !

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I do feel like stretching my fingers a bit, as in pushing them apart and holding that position for a few seconds, as well as doing hand stretches (opening both hands to maximum and holding that for a few seconds), helps relax the muscles and tendons a bit. In turn, playing a piece with ninths, like Gymnopédie No. 1, feels a bit more comfortable.


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Chopin op. 25 #10 is all about awkward stretches within the hand, plus octaves.

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The main exercise for stretching is very simple, just play this with every pair of adjacent fingers:
E F E F, E F# E F#, E G E G ... (go as far as you can)
C B C B, C Bb C Bb, C A C A ...

Try to keep non-playing fingers relaxed.

Originally Posted by Tatum125s
Do you think they have any substantial benefits to playing?
Yes, besides the hand span I believe it was very good for my general finger technique and general chords technique.

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
The main exercise for stretching is very simple, just play this with every pair of adjacent fingers:
E F E F, E F# E F#, E G E G ... (go as far as you can)
C B C B, C Bb C Bb, C A C A ...

Try to keep non-playing fingers relaxed.

Originally Posted by Tatum125s
Do you think they have any substantial benefits to playing?
Yes, besides the hand span I believe it was very good for my general finger technique and general chords technique.

I've tried a variation of this by doing a tenth and then holding 3 notes in the middle whilst moving 1 finger up or down (to the left or right) and doing this (without being too tense) in every finger (2nd, 3rd and 4th). By far the worst finger is my 4th, its not awful but its not where I want it to be, sometimes the joint above my knuckle collapses when the 4th is straight and stretched toward my 5th finger (when pressing the boney part of my finger on the note). I reach under with my other hand and support the joint but I feel the tendons / ligaments resisting and most likely contributing to this problem (they both run on top and bottom of the finger). I'm also careful when attempting these and recognise when too much is too much, I'd greatly advise anyone stretching to recognise this as well, isn't worth the injury.

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Originally Posted by Tatum125s
Originally Posted by terentius
I found playing pieces with many octaves stretched my hand somewhat without any negative consequences.

Obviously you don’t want to overdo it — stop when fatigue begins and do a little more the next day.

Schumann is often reported to have injured his hand trying to stretch it, though the evidence for this is uncertain.

Yes I've heard that about schumann as well, I think I read that it was his 4th finger he was trying to stretch, dont blame him, the 4th finger is the most limted finger and usually has the most connective tissue (connecting to the 3rd) at the bottom. But his method was far too dangerous.


I’ve posted the research link here several times: the current thinking by analysis of historical records is that Schumann was not trying to stretch his finger. Rather, he had focal dystonia and was trying to treat it.


"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

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Originally Posted by Tatum125s
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
The main exercise for stretching is very simple, just play this with every pair of adjacent fingers:
E F E F, E F# E F#, E G E G ... (go as far as you can)
C B C B, C Bb C Bb, C A C A ...

Try to keep non-playing fingers relaxed.

Originally Posted by Tatum125s
Do you think they have any substantial benefits to playing?
Yes, besides the hand span I believe it was very good for my general finger technique and general chords technique.

I've tried a variation of this by doing a tenth and then holding 3 notes in the middle whilst moving 1 finger up or down (to the left or right) and doing this (without being too tense) in every finger (2nd, 3rd and 4th). By far the worst finger is my 4th, its not awful but its not where I want it to be, sometimes the joint above my knuckle collapses when the 4th is straight and stretched toward my 5th finger (when pressing the boney part of my finger on the note). I reach under with my other hand and support the joint but I feel the tendons / ligaments resisting and most likely contributing to this problem (they both run on top and bottom of the finger). I'm also careful when attempting these and recognise when too much is too much, I'd greatly advise anyone stretching to recognise this as well, isn't worth the injury.
I believe you have begun with too advanced exercise. You need to play something easier at first in order to feel how to move your fingers effectively in a stretched position. Fingertips must stay tenacious.

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I think I remember now, certain Czerny etudes (bless his heart, he wrote etudes for every occasion!) are dedicated to Spannungen or extension of the hand, for examples the selection from Op. 740 below. FWIW I don't think the idea is that these etudes will actually make the hand span larger, but they train you to get the maximum use of your hand span, however large it is.

[Linked Image]
[Linked Image]


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Originally Posted by cygnusdei
I think I remember now, certain Czerny etudes

I must try a Czerny etude, I've heard lots of good stuff about them in other similar threads.

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Rather than playing things with big stretches (puts a lot of strain on your hand muscles, you have to quit after feeling pain) is stretching against tables or hooking your finger and using the other hand to pull another finger. Don't pull hard enough to make the joints hurt, skin is the only thing that can stretch and grow out a significant amount. The goal of this is to stretch the skin and maybe help loosen up generally if stiffness is a problem.

I personally have a lot of webbing on my hands that restricts movement, but reasonably long fingers and very loose ligaments. I had to do these skin stretching exercises to play 6ths without pain.

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