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#3199811 03/08/22 05:36 PM
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Hello!

First of all, I apologize for the self-centered nature of this post. I have hesitated for a while because I don't want to clutter this great forum asking about an individual case. However, I've come to the conclusion that this is the best way to reach pianists who might have similarly shaped hands and have found ways to adapt.

My goal is to be able to consistently play white key to white tenths, and maybe even white to black minor tenths.

I've always struggled to play any interval greater than an octave, and even octaves present a challenge when it comes to staying relaxed.

I've noticed many of my favorite pianists play tenths this way, and though their hands are likely larger than mine, I am going to try everything I can to eke out tenths.

I am already aware of many ways to compensate for the inability to reach tenths (broken, revoiced, distributed between hands, etc.). What I'm specifically wondering about is if anyone has had experience stretching to reach a harmonic, simultaneous tenth at the edge of the keys and advice at getting better and more consistent about it.

Thank you to anyone who takes the time to read this or shares their experience!


(Maximum stretch against keys)
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FaZn-RrvRCVyE2hI2dp93EcKifvjpU9m/view?usp=sharing

(Current hand position for reaching white to white tenths, very inconsistent)
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nh8d1Jr3SoT63vJl3h7jXEwZw0Bvs1b2/view?usp=sharing

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Originally Posted by indomitablesquid
My goal is to be able to consistently play white key to white tenths, and maybe even white to black minor tenths.

Don't quite get the "maybe even". What white to black minor tenth is a bigger stretch than white to white major?

My advice is don't. Break them. Get good at breaking them. But don't damage your hands - which is a real possibility.

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To me it seems like you have a fairly usual stretch. A lot of people dont go beyond a ninth or even an octave. Practising mild extensions, stretching and proper practice (in reasonable amount) will allow to gain some minor additional reach but also make it more comfortable to play in an extended position. What you can achieve is greater elasticity of the hand. That said a number of great pianist like Ashkenazy had small hands (a 9th I believe). For piano I think that elasticity, speed, accuracy and relaxation are more important than pure stretch.

But beyond that, based on your pictures, I doubt you can achieve something that would be a gamechanger. On the other hand, pursuing agressively and also potentially without proper supervision certain exercices can definitely lead you to a major injury, maybe even irreversible. Therefore, I would advise a lot of caution when trying to increase the elasticity of your hands.


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Please STOP doing what you're doing before you hurt yourself.
Find a teacher to help you - locally, or on the internet.
There is a Peter Feuchtwanger exercise that can help with stretching, but this is not something to attempt without some supervision.
If you MUST persist, at least take this advice: STRETCH briefly, then RELAX; STRETCH briefly, then RELAX.
Do this a few times, build up SLOWLY.

Yes, there were pianists, and are pianists, with smaller hands who manage larger intervals.
Ruth Laredo was one; I didn't know about Ashkenazy until I read it here.
The "trick" is flexibility and being able to relax in between stretches.

That said, I've got a 10th, but I don't play Scriabin much, because I find I need to roll the chords, and they just don't sound right.
Rachmaninoff I can do - currently working on Rach 3; Scriabin, no.

Take care of your hands; you only get two.


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Originally Posted by indomitablesquid
I've always struggled to play any interval greater than an octave, and even octaves present a challenge when it comes to staying relaxed.

I've noticed many of my favorite pianists play tenths this way, and though their hands are likely larger than mine, I am going to try everything I can to eke out tenths.
How old are you?

If you're over 21, you will not be able to reach 10ths safely - ever. Don't risk damaging your hands by over-stretching.

My hands are bigger than yours, but I can only reach 10ths in LH with preparation (and certainly not at forte or louder), and cannot reach 10ths in my RH. That doesn't stop me playing Rachmaninov, which I play a lot of. I roll almost all chords bigger than 9ths, as well as many 9th chords too. Who are the pianists who have those big hands you're talking about? (Vladimir Ashkenazy has recorded all of Rachmaninov's piano music, and all Scriabin's sonatas too, and he cannot play 10ths without rolling. He has admitted that there are a few occasions when he has to leave out a note, but I challenge anyone to tell me where, just from listening to his recordings........)

If they aren't classical pianists, I won't comment, as that's not within my realm. But if you're talking classical, there're lots of famous pianists, past & present, who easily manage with comfortable octave stretches. Only those who find even octaves difficult would have problems with a lot of the classical rep.

My advice to you is to concentrate on playing octaves (and chords encompassing them) consistently and with ease, and forget about trying to play 10ths. 9ths might be within your reach as you develop your piano technique in the years to come.


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Why do you feel it's so important to be able to reach a tenth? I don't think much of the classical literature requires that big a stretch.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Why do you feel it's so important to be able to reach a tenth? I don't think much of the classical literature requires that big a stretch.

Exactly my question: why? It seems to be a goal more fraught with potential risk than one leading to better performance.

Regards,


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We should also keep in mind that rolling chords and bass note leading were part of performance practice in the 19th Century and into the early part of the 20th Century. It was not always indicated on the music since it was understood.

There are copious letters from Brahms' acquaintances and listeners who wrote about his performance practice, for example, including copious unmarked arpeggiated chords, bass note leading, and how he meant hairpins to be interpreted.

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Thanks so much to everyone who has responded.

I agree with the majority of posts saying that avoidance of simultaneous tenths is probably the safest route. I am 23, so my hands will only shrink from now on.

However, I find myself in the unfortunate situation of wanting to pursue music that does seem to require unbroken tenths in the LH.

For example, I am in love with some of Poulenc's music right now, and I find the tenths in his LH accompaniment to be weak unless played unbroken. I know there are plenty of pieces that better accommodate rolling techniques, and I'll certainly continue to study those.

I am also currently trying to make a living as a jazz pianist in NYC, and most jazz pianists will acknowledge that tenths allow the RH freedom higher on the piano. This is doubly the case in a solo piano context, which constitutes a significant majority of work opportunities. Many jazz piano styles are based on tenths in the LH for EVERY chord (Hank Jones, Tatum, Johnson, some Powell). Even pianists known for their rootless voicing (Evans, Tyner) constantly incorporate tenths. Rolling tenths this constantly sounds messy to me, and pedaling is often limited by RH activity.

I know I can't change the reality of my hand size, and certainly will take the advice here against stretching toward injury. It would be very sad to lose mobility from stretching the wrong way/too fast. I am mainly checking to see if there are any safe-ish strategies I haven't encountered yet.

Ultimately, I know I'll never be able to easily play any of the tenths. However, if there are exercises that allow me to play them even every once in a while, then I think it is worth trying. They are such beautiful intervals and give music so much color. Any specific exercise suggestions would be highly appreciated.

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I think the best you can aim for is to be able to play occasionally a tenth more or less securely. But beware that when you stretch your hand beyond its comfort zone to play a large interval for example, you immediately reduce its elasticity which will impact the subsequent sequence. So playing that stretched tenth followed by a scale run will in fact reduce the fluidity of the scale. The various exercices will only allow you to reach a point where you have as straight as possible a line between the thumb and the pinky. And that will be the maximum you could do and nothing else will increase your hand span beyond that point.

Regarding the point about music beauty and plain chords vs broken chords, I am sorry to say but I think you are making a problem that does not exist. Poulenc music wont become suddenly significantly more beautiful just because you have been able to play a few tenth solid. And for jazz, even though of course being able to play a tenth would be a plus, you have to work with what you have and find solutions to make beautiful music with the capabilities that nature has given to you. My experience is that constraints help to develop more efficient technique. So you can compensate a somehow limited hand span with increased mobility and speed for example.

That said here are 2 videos which can help.





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Hi

In my experience you can gain some increase in your hand size by working on stretching. I spent a lot of time (decades ago) working on my LH stretch for Jazz playing. But as others have said you do need to be careful, and not overdo it.

As a result my LH stretch is about 1/2 an inch larger than my RH. But that benefit took several years of work to achieve, so you shouldn't expect any gain quickly.

That said I still can't hit white key 10ths without preparation. 9ths and easier minor 10ths are really my limit. But I was older than you when I started working on stretching.

However, looking at your pictures I'd say my hands are bigger than yours, so you may be trying to achieve something that is physically impossible.

Cheers


Simon

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Originally Posted by indomitablesquid
I am also currently trying to make a living as a jazz pianist in NYC, and most jazz pianists will acknowledge that tenths allow the RH freedom higher on the piano. This is doubly the case in a solo piano context, which constitutes a significant majority of work opportunities. Many jazz piano styles are based on tenths in the LH for EVERY chord (Hank Jones, Tatum, Johnson, some Powell). Even pianists known for their rootless voicing (Evans, Tyner) constantly incorporate tenths. Rolling tenths this constantly sounds messy to me, and pedaling is often limited by RH activity.
It may be possible to learn to roll tenths so quickly that the roll becomes virtually inaudible. I used to play chess at the indoor atrium of some large office building in NYC in the 50's between Madison and Park Ave. They had a regular stride pianist(can't remember his name) playing there who I got very friendly with who was absent one day. His substitute was also a terrific stride pianist who had very small hands. I asked him how he played the tenths so easily in his LH and he said he learned to roll them very quickly.

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Very cool!

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Originally Posted by indomitablesquid
Hello!

First of all, I apologize for the self-centered nature of this post. I have hesitated for a while because I don't want to clutter this great forum asking about an individual case. However, I've come to the conclusion that this is the best way to reach pianists who might have similarly shaped hands and have found ways to adapt.

My goal is to be able to consistently play white key to white tenths, and maybe even white to black minor tenths.

I've always struggled to play any interval greater than an octave, and even octaves present a challenge when it comes to staying relaxed.

I've noticed many of my favorite pianists play tenths this way, and though their hands are likely larger than mine, I am going to try everything I can to eke out tenths.

I am already aware of many ways to compensate for the inability to reach tenths (broken, revoiced, distributed between hands, etc.). What I'm specifically wondering about is if anyone has had experience stretching to reach a harmonic, simultaneous tenth at the edge of the keys and advice at getting better and more consistent about it.

Thank you to anyone who takes the time to read this or shares their experience!


(Maximum stretch against keys)
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FaZn-RrvRCVyE2hI2dp93EcKifvjpU9m/view?usp=sharing

(Current hand position for reaching white to white tenths, very inconsistent)
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nh8d1Jr3SoT63vJl3h7jXEwZw0Bvs1b2/view?usp=sharing

My understanding is that for most the web space between the thumb and index finger is where you can make the most progress or have the greatest limitation to your hand span when playing the piano. I am able to reach a 10th with reasonable comfort meaning I am still able to flex my distal interphalangeals when my thumb and pinky are resting on a white key 10th. Based upon what you show in your images it looks as if you have already reached your physiological limit. I can't imagine you can stretch any farther than you already are stretched. Maybe you can gain some range, but you are stretching beyond your safe physiological limit. You actually have very good flexibility in your hands. I would listen to what the others are saying here and consider adapting to the challenge of 10ths with your rolling technique rather than risking injury. You are going to overstretch the joint capsules in your hands and cause the fingers to become unstable. That could lead to early onset osteoarthritis especially in your thumb.

For anyone considering stretching their hands here's some useful info as well:

Pros, cons, dangers of stretching hands.

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This topic comes up once in a while here, and, given all the nay-saying, I always feel that I have to point out that Alicia de Larrocha DID increase her hand span, and did not wreck her hands while doing it. If I remember correctly, before she started working on it, her span was barely an octave. She got it up to a tenth.

I'm not sure of the complete process she used, but one exercise she did is a very simple push and twist movement. One forearm is pushed between a pair of fingers of the opposite hand, and then the hand is rotated, palm up and then palm down. I don't know the number of repetitions of the twist, but guess that each individual trying it can find what works for them. This is done between each pair of fingers, and then the sides are switched to the other arm and other hand. This can also be done using the top of the thigh instead of a forearm. Of course, one wants to be careful and patient when trying this kind of thing.

If this is done regularly, eventually the tendons and ligaments of the hand that get pulled by doing this exercise will grow a bit longer, giving a bigger span. It doesn't happen overnight. I understand that de Larrocha did these every day during her concert career, first to increase her span, and then to prevent her hands from going back to their original size. It doesn't take long to do the routine, and it can be done anywhere, so that's not some huge burden.

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Do you possibly have a source for the information about Dr Larrocha? What I thought was she did not increase her hand span, but rather learned to roll chords at lightening speed. Maybe what Ive read is just a myth; I would love to see an authenticated source.


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Originally Posted by wr
This topic comes up once in a while here, and, given all the nay-saying, I always feel that I have to point out that Alicia de Larrocha DID increase her hand span, and did not wreck her hands while doing it. If I remember correctly, before she started working on it, her span was barely an octave. She got it up to a tenth.

I'm not sure of the complete process she used, but one exercise she did is a very simple push and twist movement. One forearm is pushed between a pair of fingers of the opposite hand, and then the hand is rotated, palm up and then palm down. I don't know the number of repetitions of the twist, but guess that each individual trying it can find what works for them. This is done between each pair of fingers, and then the sides are switched to the other arm and other hand. This can also be done using the top of the thigh instead of a forearm. Of course, one wants to be careful and patient when trying this kind of thing.

If this is done regularly, eventually the tendons and ligaments of the hand that get pulled by doing this exercise will grow a bit longer, giving a bigger span. It doesn't happen overnight. I understand that de Larrocha did these every day during her concert career, first to increase her span, and then to prevent her hands from going back to their original size. It doesn't take long to do the routine, and it can be done anywhere, so that's not some huge burden.
Do you know at what age she started doing these exercises? My guess is that she began doing them before she and her hands were completely grown. To me, going from barely and octave to a tenth once the hands are completely grown does not seem reasonable.

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Originally Posted by wr
This topic comes up once in a while here, and, given all the nay-saying, I always feel that I have to point out that Alicia de Larrocha DID increase her hand span, and did not wreck her hands while doing it. If I remember correctly, before she started working on it, her span was barely an octave. She got it up to a tenth.

I'm not sure of the complete process she used, but one exercise she did is a very simple push and twist movement. One forearm is pushed between a pair of fingers of the opposite hand, and then the hand is rotated, palm up and then palm down. I don't know the number of repetitions of the twist, but guess that each individual trying it can find what works for them. This is done between each pair of fingers, and then the sides are switched to the other arm and other hand. This can also be done using the top of the thigh instead of a forearm. Of course, one wants to be careful and patient when trying this kind of thing.

If this is done regularly, eventually the tendons and ligaments of the hand that get pulled by doing this exercise will grow a bit longer, giving a bigger span. It doesn't happen overnight. I understand that de Larrocha did these every day during her concert career, first to increase her span, and then to prevent her hands from going back to their original size. It doesn't take long to do the routine, and it can be done anywhere, so that's not some huge burden.
WR, Alicia de Larrocha also had to have surgery- guess where, in her R thumb because a cyst had formed on one of her phalanx and it disintegrated requiring hand surgeon to reconstruct it. We don't know if that cyst had formed as a result of the mechanical stresses she had been placing on her thumb through all those stretches but it is suspicious because that kind of surgery is rare. Normally your thumb doesn't just implode when you open a door.

Her hand story.

What we do know now in orthopedics is that more joint injuries are caused by a lack of stability rather than a lack of flexibility. If you over stretch joint capsules you will be more prone to injury and early onset osteoarthritis in certain joints especially the CMC of the thumb. I have treated two retired accomplished concert pianists with severe osteoarthritis in both hands most notably their thumbs in their old age. These pianists were females tiny in body but had unnaturally large hands due to severe stretching techniques they had undergone in their youth. One was Russian trained and she was required to do hours of Hanon with a group of other pianists as a warmup using the high fingers technique (not good either). These concert pianists can no longer enjoy playing the piano and it is a painful situation for them in more ways than one.

I can understand a world class or a potentially world class pianist going to extremes whether it be through surgery or extreme stretching but the risks for the amateur are too great and not worth the risks. Looking at the OP's hand anatomy, I don't forsee that there is any way he can safely stretch his hands to reach a 10th. He can overstretch, but the risks for injury would be too great.

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Interesting thread. I've had tendonitis from poor left hand technique and now I am super careful not to overstretch or create tension in either hand. In my opinion and experience it is better to accept whatever our physical limitations are, and work within them, than to try to force the delicate bone and tendon structures that are our hands to do things they really cannot. Being relaxed is paramount, for me at least.

As it happens I am a tall man with quite long fingers, and I can span a tenth without trouble or stress, but as I only play classical repertoire at a fairly advanced level, it is rare that I need this coverage. As long as I could comfortably do octave chords I would be happy with my lot.


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Another alternative.


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