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#3205321 03/30/22 09:25 PM
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This question is actually about an organ student, but I’m sure there are teachers here who can give me good advice.

I just started a new student, a college freshman. He is really excited to learn pipe organ, and I want him to have a great experience. He’s a big kid—not overweight, just big—including his hands and fingers. I noticed it was hard for him to do some of the fingerings in a piece we looked at, especially when moving by steps. His fingers looked crowded on the keys.

Do allowances need to be made for students with very large hands and fingers? Is it reasonable to expect them to use the same fingerings that work for those of us with slimmer fingers? Do any of you have experience with this?

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The purpose of fingering is to facilitate playing of the marked notes and positioning for the next notes comfortably. If it is not comfortable then the outcome will be sub - optimal musically and physically. There is no rule that marked fingerings must be followed - they should be adapted to the player.


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You might find this tutorial by Shirley Kirsten useful, as it addresses the issue of two notes being accidentally played due to hand size



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Originally Posted by Gotta Play
Do allowances need to be made for students with very large hands and fingers? Is it reasonable to expect them to use the same fingerings that work for those of us with slimmer fingers? Do any of you have experience with this?
It's worth checking to make sure his difficulties aren't mainly down to inexperience and technique. Lots of fat concert pianists with large (fat) fingers, like John Ogdon, can easily play intricate stuff like Gaspard - and anybody who's ever played its Ondine will know about its finger-twisting passages, often requiring fingers to be very closely bunched up, and hands on top of each other:



BTW, fat fingers mostly belong to fat people, because there's a thick layer of subcutaneous fat around the fingers (and toes). When they slim down, so do their fingers, and their shoe size also goes down a size or three.


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Originally Posted by bennevis
BTW, fat fingers mostly belong to fat people, because there's a thick layer of subcutaneous fat around the fingers (and toes). When they slim down, so do their fingers, and their shoe size also goes down a size or three.
I agree.

I have a few overweight (or 'big') teenaged students and they all have thick fingers. They manage because they have developed sufficient technique. Large hands (i.e. big hand spans) may have slim fingers, and small hands may have thick fingers too.

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I want to bump AJB's post, because this very important point is being lost.

Originally Posted by AJB
The purpose of fingering is to facilitate playing of the marked notes and positioning for the next notes comfortably. If it is not comfortable then the outcome will be sub - optimal musically and physically. There is no rule that marked fingerings must be followed - they should be adapted to the player.

There is nothing sacred about fingering written into a score. The nature and reason for fingering is fundamental and important.

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Originally Posted by keystring
I want to bump AJB's post, because this very important point is being lost.

Originally Posted by AJB
The purpose of fingering is to facilitate playing of the marked notes and positioning for the next notes comfortably. If it is not comfortable then the outcome will be sub - optimal musically and physically. There is no rule that marked fingerings must be followed - they should be adapted to the player.

There is nothing sacred about fingering written into a score. The nature and reason for fingering is fundamental and important.


Isn’t the major problem with wide fingers is in playing the natural between two black keys ? When the natural is played, the finger accidentally grazes the flat, producing the sound of two notes. Per Shirley Kirsten’s video, fixing this requires a change in technique.

Last edited by dogperson; 04/01/22 01:39 PM.

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Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by keystring
I want to bump AJB's post, because this very important point is being lost.

Originally Posted by AJB
The purpose of fingering is to facilitate playing of the marked notes and positioning for the next notes comfortably. If it is not comfortable then the outcome will be sub - optimal musically and physically. There is no rule that marked fingerings must be followed - they should be adapted to the player.

There is nothing sacred about fingering written into a score. The nature and reason for fingering is fundamental and important.


Isn’t the major problem with wide fingers is in playing the natural between two black keys ? When the natural is played, the finger accidentally grazes the flat, producing the sound of two notes. Per Shirley Kirsten’s video, fixing this requires a change in technique.

This is the OP's opening post describing the problem and asking the question:

Originally Posted by GottaPlay
I noticed it was hard for him to do some of the fingerings in a piece we looked at, especially when moving by steps. His fingers looked crowded on the keys. (highlights are mine)

Do allowances need to be made for students with very large hands and fingers? Is it reasonable to expect them to use the same fingerings that work for those of us with slimmer fingers? Do any of you have experience with this?


(Nothing was mentioned about black keys.) There seems to be a major misperception that fingering written into a score must be followed. Fingering at best is a suggestion. The good piano teachers I've been with have all stressed the importance of finding good fingering; well what AJB said. It is a major principle.

Then on top of this there is also the issue of how to use your hands; how you can move in and out of the keys; angle the hands etc. and here the links given by you and Bennevis are on point.

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Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by keystring
I want to bump AJB's post, because this very important point is being lost.

Originally Posted by AJB
The purpose of fingering is to facilitate playing of the marked notes and positioning for the next notes comfortably. If it is not comfortable then the outcome will be sub - optimal musically and physically. There is no rule that marked fingerings must be followed - they should be adapted to the player.

There is nothing sacred about fingering written into a score. The nature and reason for fingering is fundamental and important.


Isn’t the major problem with wide fingers is in playing the natural between two black keys ? When the natural is played, the finger accidentally grazes the flat, producing the sound of two notes. Per Shirley Kirsten’s video, fixing this requires a change in technique.

I have large hands, long fingers, not fat fingers, and sometimes I have this problem indeed. When there are pieces where you play with more flat hands then I sometimes touch a black key.

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But most of the time I think having large hands is an advantage. I feel like I have more options to play something.

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The issue, however, was whether it's ok to change fingering written in the score. The question itself suggests missing a principle, or having absorbed a wrong one (that one must adhere to fingering in the score). Since the person asking is teaching organ playing, I'm thinking that it's important to bring this across.

(1) It is more than ok for the fingering to be altered for your student, so that it suits his particular hand.
(2) How you move your hands (angles, rotations, etc.) is also a factor

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Originally Posted by keystring
Since the person asking is teaching organ playing, I'm thinking that it's important to bring this across.

Good point. And someone with large hands may have more trouble on organ than on piano. On organ, you only have to get a finger somewhere near the wrong key for it to sound, unlike piano where beginners get away with some inaccuracy not being centered in the right key.


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Originally Posted by TimR
Originally Posted by keystring
Since the person asking is teaching organ playing, I'm thinking that it's important to bring this across.

Good point. And someone with large hands may have more trouble on organ than on piano. On organ, you only have to get a finger somewhere near the wrong key for it to sound, unlike piano where beginners get away with some inaccuracy not being centered in the right key.
That is not the case. Maybe you're thinking of cheap unweighted electronic keyboards (of which I have little knowledge), but in my experience of real (pipe) organs, the keys need to be depressed at least halfway before the notes sound.

Pianists only have to brush a wrong key very slightly, if hard enough, for the inertia to throw the hammer and hit the strings. When playing at full stretch, it's quite difficult to ensure that false notes don't sound - which is why pianists like me playing tenths with tips of fingers cannot play them loudly, and require 'preparation'. Therefore, I normally just roll them.

In fact, when it comes to organ literature by classical composers - Bach, Mendelssohn, Franck, Liszt, Widor, Saint-Saëns etc - large hands are an even greater advantage (and more essential) than for a pianist, because whereas pianists can roll big chords and rely on the sustain pedal to hold all the notes, organists can't. And rolled chords (which are meant to be played whole) sound really ugly - as well as 'wrong' - on organ.


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Originally Posted by TimR
Originally Posted by keystring
Since the person asking is teaching organ playing, I'm thinking that it's important to bring this across.

Good point. And someone with large hands may have more trouble on organ than on piano. On organ, you only have to get a finger somewhere near the wrong key for it to sound, unlike piano where beginners get away with some inaccuracy not being centered in the right key.
But the point I'm making is NOT about large hands. It is about fingering. The fingering written into a score is never sacrosanct. There is a general principle that fingering should be chosen in such a way as to make playing as easy as possible. In fact, the same thing applies in violin. And that is regardless of whether the player's hands are large, small, or have some weird shape etc.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by TimR
Originally Posted by keystring
Since the person asking is teaching organ playing, I'm thinking that it's important to bring this across.

Good point. And someone with large hands may have more trouble on organ than on piano. On organ, you only have to get a finger somewhere near the wrong key for it to sound, unlike piano where beginners get away with some inaccuracy not being centered in the right key.
That is not the case. Maybe you're thinking of cheap unweighted electronic keyboards (of which I have little knowledge), but in my experience of real (pipe) organs, the keys need to be depressed at least halfway before the notes sound.

I exaggerate slightly, but I am talking about church organs that I have played personally. A brush against an adjoining key that would not be noticed on a piano often sounds a wrong note on organ.


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