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Hello to all! I am happy to have found this community and look forward to gaining insight into playing the piano. This is my first post. I apologize if this topic has been covered elsewhere already, but I do appreciate you taking the time to indulge me. My struggle right now seems to be left hand movement down the keyboard. I can play G major 3 octaves no problem going up, but down….not so much. I get hung up bringing my thumb under. And then it feels like I’m rushing with my second finger after the thumb under to get it into the next striking position.

Side note / background: I am left hand dominate. You’d think that I’d be having problems with the right hand.

I’m also returning seriously to the piano after about 15 years since formal lessons. I have a pretty solid understanding of the fundamentals of music theory, but when I was younger I hated theory, didn’t really pay too much attention to technique, and only wanted to play the popular tunes of the day so to impress my friends. I’m trying to shy away from playing familiar pieces because I don’t want to continue playing them wrong. I am focusing primarily on scales and arpeggios with the hopes that along the way I’ll teach myself new ways to strike the keys and to move my hands. Becoming more proficient and expressive is the goal, but I’m starting small. Focusing on scales hands apart. Slow, but not laboriously slow. Andante to allegro.

Any insight into left hand thumb under exercises is greatly appreciated, and I look forward to getting to know some of you here!


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Practice playing only the transition and one note on each side. Play it in a continuous loop. Focus on keeping the sound even and your hand relatively steady.

What else are you doing besides scales and arpeggios? Are you playing some music?

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Passing the thumb under is one of the more difficult techniques in piano playing.I think it's normal to find that harder than passing the fingers over the thumb that one does in an ascending LH scale. Even though you are left hand dominant, actual piano music requires less thumb under playing in the LH than the RH so you have less practice at it. Like all technical problems, learning to do it well is not just a matter of practicing it a lot. Understanding how to do it is critical. If you don't have a teacher I suggest looking at one of the good online videos that deal with playing scales. Perhaps another poster can suggest one of those videos.

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"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 BrokenKeys
I get hung up bringing my thumb under. And then it feels like I’m rushing with my second finger after the thumb under to get it into the next striking position

Two things I’d suggest.

1. Make sure the thumb is coming along in line with the finger that is currently playing and isn’t just hanging around stuck in the same position as it was in when it played. If it is stuck then it has too much distance to cover in too short a time when the time comes for it to go under the 3 or 4 and play again.

2. Make sure that that the hand is lifted enough by the time you get to the 3 or 4 cross that there is room for the thumb to go under. If you use some rotation as you play this will kind of happen automatically. What works for me is to visualise a gradual increase in height as I go 2, 3, and max out at 4 leaving plenty of room for the thumb to just drop under naturally without having to force it.


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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Practice playing only the transition and one note on each side. Play it in a continuous loop. Focus on keeping the sound even and your hand relatively steady.

What else are you doing besides scales and arpeggios? Are you playing some music?

First, thank you for taking the time to reply. I have been trying to isolate the 3 and 4 thumb under by doing exactly what you're saying and really trying to analyze what's going on with my arm and hand during those motions. I'll start at the top of a major scale and just do 1-2-3-1 / 1-2-3-1-2 over and over and then proceed to continue with 2-3-4-1, working towards trying to combine both sections of the scale. It feels like my arm wants to go up to compensate for the thumb movement and hand rotation. I just don't know how far I should let my arm move. Some lift seems to help coming back down on the 2, but if I go too far then I feel like I'm rushing to "catch up" with my 2 finger.

I do play other music. I am working out of the "I used to play piano" method from Alfred and starting at the beginning. Also, I'm taking on the first movement from "Moonlight", hands together, and working slowly on that with particular attention to fingering and dynamics, but that movement isn't really dependent on much left hand. I'm not going to attempt 2nd and 3rd movements quite yet. Probably should step up to those smile I've been listening to lots of classical music too, but I'm relatively new to the genre so I don't quite know who / where to start. Bach, maybe?

Finally, along with playing, I'm journaling this time. Writing down what I worked on, what I've noticed about hand movements, things I'd like to work on, etc. I've even been writing down my scales, drawing them on the staff, and working through the circle of 5ths with the major and relative minor keys. Trying to recover /recommit all of that to memory. It's in there somewhere. Just gotta find it smile


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Like all technical problems, learning to do it well is not just a matter of practicing it a lot. Understanding how to do it is critical. If you don't have a teacher I suggest looking at one of the good online videos that deal with playing scales. Perhaps another poster can suggest one of those videos.

Thank you for the reply! 100% agree with you on this. Fortunately, I'm very curious by nature, so I'm eager to figure out the "how" and the "why" behind the technique. I don't have a teacher, and sadly probably can't afford one right now. I have 3 school age kids. YouTube is an excellent reference, and I have watched a few videos. Nothing can replace one-on-one instruction, but I'm going to try and do the best with what I've got to work with.


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Originally Posted by dogperson

I wish my hands were as big as Graham's smile This is great info on thumb technique! Thank you for sharing!


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Originally Posted by scirocco
Two things I’d suggest.

1. Make sure the thumb is coming along in line with the finger that is currently playing and isn’t just hanging around stuck in the same position as it was in when it played. If it is stuck then it has too much distance to cover in too short a time when the time comes for it to go under the 3 or 4 and play again.

2. Make sure that that the hand is lifted enough by the time you get to the 3 or 4 cross that there is room for the thumb to go under. If you use some rotation as you play this will kind of happen automatically. What works for me is to visualise a gradual increase in height as I go 2, 3, and max out at 4 leaving plenty of room for the thumb to just drop under naturally without having to force it.

I really appreciate your suggestions! I'll try and apply them tonight when I practice. I noticed you said "some" rotation, and this is pretty insightful. Question is how much rotation, and where is that rotation coming from? I feel the rotation in my shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand, but balancing and proportioning the entire motion between all of those body parts is....tricky smile


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Originally Posted by BrokenKeys
Question is how much rotation, and where is that rotation coming from? I feel the rotation in my shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand, but balancing and proportioning the entire motion between all of those body parts is....tricky smile

Sorry, I should have been more clear. I was referring to forearm rotation. It’s too complicated to describe in detail a forum post, but the net effect is for the forearm to rotate the wrist a little inwards (so to the right in the left hand) as each of the fingers is played. When the thumb comes to play it actually uses the nail because there is a sensation of “dropping” it onto the key rather than a sideways pushing movement.

But this only works if the hand has been lifted high enough by the time that the cross finger is played that there is room for the thumb to be under it so it can drop. And this if course also requires the thumb to be in position ready to drop - if it is still lagging behind in its initial playing position to the right of the 2 it will never happen.

You have to be strict with moving the thumb behind each finger as it plays. I struggled with this a lot. But the rotation helps it “come along”.


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Originally Posted by scirocco
Originally Posted by BrokenKeys
Question is how much rotation, and where is that rotation coming from? I feel the rotation in my shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand, but balancing and proportioning the entire motion between all of those body parts is....tricky smile

Sorry, I should have been more clear. I was referring to forearm rotation. It’s too complicated to describe in detail a forum post, but the net effect is for the forearm to rotate the wrist a little inwards (so to the right in the left hand) as each of the fingers is played. When the thumb comes to play it actually uses the nail because there is a sensation of “dropping” it onto the key rather than a sideways pushing movement.

But this only works if the hand has been lifted high enough by the time that the cross finger is played that there is room for the thumb to be under it so it can drop. And this if course also requires the thumb to be in position ready to drop - if it is still lagging behind in its initial playing position to the right of the 2 it will never happen.

You have to be strict with moving the thumb behind each finger as it plays. I struggled with this a lot. But the rotation helps it “come along”.

No, you were clear, I understand what you’re saying. It is a difficult movement to put into words because it does require multiple things to happen at once, but you did a good job of explaining, and I do thank you. I believe I have made some improvement tonight, and I’m starting to believe much of my initial struggle is simply related to not using my fingers (and thumb, in particular) to make music on the piano in quite some time. I need to rebuild some strength and stamina, but that’s almost the easy part. Left hand thumb under is still a difficult movement that takes careful and deliberate planning while building the muscle memory.


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My teacher suggested a few things you could try

1) scales slowly but loud (pressing keys quickly) so you focus on the movement

2) practicing only the pivot turns the movement of the scale eg 2-1-3 -1-2 -1- 3-1-2 and 2-1-4-1-2-1-4

I have mastered scales now but i also do this still but my teacher said this piece below was good for left hand. I really can't play it but I was just told to just practice the long left hand passages hands separately really relatively slowly. I only do a few but just wanted to point out Chopin wrote an etude which has thumb under and it's crazy hard. The left hand passage on its on slowly however is not too hard though so maybe have a go 👍


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The other thing to practice is arrpeggio which has turns similar to scales to practice. I never practiced scales too much now. I found them very boring and did only the requirements for the exam.

I think you can find nice scale passages in pieces. I think Mozart k545 is a better one than the etude. It has a nice scale passage pattern at the start written for the right hand but you could try that pattern with the left hand. You can also transpose it to other keys.


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It should come natural really. I think you're making it unnecessarily difficult.

Just loosen up your muscles and joints. You should feel relaxed. Do some relevant Hanon or Schmidt exercises as well.

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Originally Posted by meghdad
It should come natural really. I think you're making it unnecessarily difficult.

Just loosen up your muscles and joints. You should feel relaxed. Do some relevant Hanon or Schmidt exercises as well.

I’m not understanding how just doing exercises is effective. In order for them to be beneficial, you need to be practicing them with the right technique. That technique, in this case, is knowing how to pass the thumb under.


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Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by meghdad
It should come natural really. I think you're making it unnecessarily difficult.

Just loosen up your muscles and joints. You should feel relaxed. Do some relevant Hanon or Schmidt exercises as well.

I’m not understanding how just doing exercises is effective. In order for them to be beneficial, you need to be practicing them with the right technique. That technique, in this case, is knowing how to pass the thumb under.
Exactly. If playing scales was so easy, why would some very advanced pianists still practice them quite a bit? They would have mastered them very early on.

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Originally Posted by meghdad
It should come natural really. I think you're making it unnecessarily difficult.

Just loosen up your muscles and joints. You should feel relaxed. Do some relevant Hanon or Schmidt exercises as well.

I appreciate the reply, and while I do agree that the particular movement being discussed (passing thumb under) should feel natural, it doesn’t feel natural to me yet. The goal is to get it to the point of feeling natural and effortless.

I might give some time to Hanon or Schmidt as you say. Thank you for those suggestions.

Also I’ll clarify that playing scales / arpeggios have sort of a dual purpose for me, since in addition to working out how to play them well (technique), I am also very interested in music theory.

Last edited by BrokenKeys; 11/24/21 10:31 AM.

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Originally Posted by Moo :)
My teacher suggested a few things you could try

1) scales slowly but loud (pressing keys quickly) so you focus on the movement

2) practicing only the pivot turns the movement of the scale eg 2-1-3 -1-2 -1- 3-1-2 and 2-1-4-1-2-1-4

I have mastered scales now but i also do this still but my teacher said this piece below was good for left hand. I really can't play it but I was just told to just practice the long left hand passages hands separately really relatively slowly. I only do a few but just wanted to point out Chopin wrote an etude which has thumb under and it's crazy hard. The left hand passage on its on slowly however is not too hard though so maybe have a go 👍


Thank you very much, Moo, and to your teacher as well! I like these suggestions. I have heard that Chopin is great for building technique given the complexity of some of his passages. I will give this a shot! It's dauting for me to pick up a Chopin piece, however lol smile


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I remember when I had this problem a long time ago. Practice the transitions back and forth, as has been recommended. I also did a lot of C major scales fingered 123 descending. Remember to do all of your technique work slow at first. Try it at different dynamic levels, in crescendos and decrescendos, and with different articulation (staccato, nonlegato, legato). If you find the sound to be uneven, slow it down and repeat it at a manageable tempo--you never want to practice it and reinforce it the wrong way, so work your way up from what's manageable. Technique work takes time, and what's important is playing what you can to a high standard, with control over the sound that you want to produce. You'll gradually get quicker, and the focus on the sound will help you when you get to more demanding repertoire.

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A traditional approach to learn thumb under movement is to abduct a wrist gradually and at the same to move thumb smoothly under the palm while fingers 234 are playing, with the hand staying relatively still in other dimensions and the elbow not going up and down.

Picture link

There are many good exercises for thumb under. Playing Hanon exercise no. 1 just with fingers 12 (and then 13, 14, 123, 1234) is a particularly good one in my opinion.
Also you may hold down E with your LH finger 2 and play C interchangeably by 1 and 3 or play CDCD with fingers 3131.
Also you may play (LH) CE-B-AC-G-FA-E-... with fingers 23-1-23-1-23-1-...

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