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I have always claimed that I hate dogmatism.
This also means that I have to change my mind, when opportune, and accept my mistakes.

We have debated a lot whether we must make the hands and fingers stronger, whether there's such a thing as finger strength, whether the muscles in the hand matter, whether they can become bigger.

My position has always been that control of the fingers at the piano is just neurological, a matter of coordinated individual impulses from the synapses. There are no "relevant" muscles in your hands, you can't make your hand bigger or hypertrophy the muscles in the hand because they're too small to respond to hypetrophic stimulus.

I still believe that most of speed, coordination and piano control is mostly a matter of coordinating neurological impulses, but I don't believe anymore that "hand strength" has no any relevant role in it all.

I'm interested in finding the old posts or the old members that claimes they could observe increased size of their hand muscles or even of the small finger muscles or who claimed that playing piano made their hands look different from a someone who doesn't play it.

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You might try the search function. But I know from personal experience that the muscles in the palm experience hypertrophy with use, e.g., piano or (more LH) guitar. smile


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To put it simple: No muscles would result in no movement at all. I also think that hand muscles matter a lot for pianists, definitely more than the finger muscles. I think most healthy normal-weight adult can support most of his body weight on their fingers, that will really do for piano playing. But stretching the fingers for wide chords is done by the muscles located in the hand. And it seems to me that a bit more strength helps here.

I never did anything special to develop muscles for piano playing but I noticed that during the last year, when I restarted playing, I got a firmer grip. But I am not aware of any visible difference.

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Someone said his fingers were thicker (suggeting an increase in lumbricals muscles) the fleshy part below the thumb was bigger and wider and so was the side below the pinky. He also said the hand was wider. These were the visible differences someone claimed between weaker hands before and stronger hands after.

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Since I started studying with a concert pianist 4 months ago, I noticed that my strict regimen of technical exercises has great increased the size of my forearm muscles. You can not be born, live till you're 20, and have the muscles required to play the Rach 3.

However your point about neurological impulses is well taken - Kissin's forearms are not too big compared with Argerich or other players, but he's amazing.

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In my opinion, finger strength matters, but one should not do anything besides play normally. My forearms (mainly powering fingers 2345 and wrist) are unusually big.


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A few thoughts...

Seems to me that strong muscles are easier to control, react faster, last longer.

Aerobic exercise typically does not automatically lead to larger muscle mass as it typically does with anaerobic exercise.

I would think the thickness, width, or size of your fingers, hands or forearms, with or without exercise, has more to do with genetics.

While I'm not sure about neurological impulses, but I agree with the premise. Practice strengthens the one's ability to control where those little pinkys go.

...and, with a lot of practice, they hopefully go where we want them to go.

...I'm still working on that.

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Originally posted by lizzy's dad:
I would think the thickness, width, or size of your fingers, hands or forearms, with or without exercise, has more to do with genetics.
I would have agreed with you in the past, but no nowadays. There are muscles that support the palm and the thumb, muscles that can be made bigger.
I have recently seen people with pretty skinny hands starting climbing rocks and developing thicker, stronger, veinly I would have say swollen hands. I have even seen a recovering anorexic being almost completely unable to use her hands to produce any sound, so much for my old thesis that even someone starving could play the piano like a virtuoso. Besides her hands look exactly like her body, skinny, bony, devoid of any flesh. I think muscles in the hands are more important than I thought and definitely able to hypertrophy and increase the volume of the hand.

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If you have gained strong fingers you will also acquire a smallish bump about an inch or so back from the top of your wrist. This is the hand extensor which is constantly pulling your hand up (knuckles higher than wrist) in reaction to the resistance of the keys which is trying to push your wrist up (wrist higher than knuckles).

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Originally posted by Danny Niklas:
I have always claimed that I hate dogmatism.
This also means that I have to change my mind, when opportune, and accept my mistakes.

[...]

I'm interested in finding the old posts or the old members that claimes they could observe increased size of their hand muscles or even of the small finger muscles or who claimed that playing piano made their hands look different from a someone who doesn't play it.
I'm interested in what led you to change your opinion from what you previously believed, and if you consider it on the order of an epiphany or belated recognition of something prosaic.

Steven

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Well, as I said I had the chance to observe how the hand can hypertrophy when stimulated and also I met this anorexic recovery piano student which really showed me that you can have too little muscles in the playing apparatus to even produce a weak sound.

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Originally posted by Danny Niklas:
Well, as I said I had the chance to observe how the hand can hypertrophy when stimulated and also I met this anorexic recovery piano student which really showed me that you can have too little muscles in the playing apparatus to even produce a weak sound.
Okay ... then I wonder why you now believe it matters (if in fact you do). After all, those two examples represent extremes of hypertrophy and atrophy. I don't see what bearing they have on pianists generally.

Severe anorexia would likely hinder one from opening a jar, so its consequences to piano playing seem predictable; by the same token, I wouldn't expect even athletic piano practice for 10 hours daily to lead to hypertrophy. After 150 years of current piano technology and many pianists doing just that, wouldn't there be a lot of both documented and anecdotal evidence of it?

I don't mean to be devil's advocate here and I admit I don't even have a great deal of interest in the subject; I'm just looking for clarification in trying to understand its relevance.

FWIW, to me the idea of strength is in the same category as tension and relaxation; for each of them, you need as much as you need to perform the task successfully (and, optimally, no more and no less). I'm as prone to overanalyzing as the next person, generally speaking, yet (for better or worse!) these areas have always seemed very straightforward and uncomplicated to me.

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My teacher wrote in her Etude article that after beginning her studies with Gabrilowitsch in Berlin and doing the assigned exercises and compositions in the manner he prescribed that her hands started to expand and she had to buy bigger gloves because of that. She emphasized a developed hand and wanted me to do the same to develop my hand.

She had died when I was working on my doctorate so I arranged to work with my former teacher in Hawaii. When I deplaned in Honolulu the first thing he did was take my hands and examine them and then said, 'Yes!' as they were much more developed than when I had previously studied with him. My forearms are larger as well.

Tho a small woman my teacher in Chicago had rather large hands and very well developed. Mine have 'grown' from the exercises and the way I practise. I firmly believe in developing the hand as well as neurological ability.

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Originally posted by Danny Niklas:
I have always claimed that I hate dogmatism.
This also means that I have to change my mind, when opportune, and accept my mistakes.
Good attitude!

There are two different aspects of your post:

(1) do the muscles matter? (as opposed to only neurological adaptations)
(2) are there macroscopic changes (i.e. that you can see)?

Regarding (1) a clear 'yes' -- and it doesn't matter if these muscles are located in the hand or in the arm or somewhere else.

Regarding (2) I guess that most of it is invisible macroscopically. Some sports people distinguish between hypertrophy training and training of intramuscular coordination (I think IC changes can be seen microscopically in the alignment of the cells). I am a complete layman in this, but would guess the muscular adaptations mostly to be of the latter (IC) kind.

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Originally posted by sotto voce:
Quote
Originally posted by Danny Niklas:
[qb] Well, as I said I had the chance to observe how the hand can hypertrophy when stimulated and also I met this anorexic recovery piano student which really showed me that you can have too little muscles in the playing apparatus to even produce a weak sound.
Okay ... then I wonder why you now believe it matters (if in fact you do). After all, those two examples represent extremes of hypertrophy and atrophy. I don't see what bearing they have on pianists generally.

Severe anorexia would likely hinder one from opening a jar, so its consequences to piano playing seem predictable; by the same token, I wouldn't expect even athletic piano practice for 10 hours daily to lead to hypertrophy. After 150 years of current piano technology and many pianists doing just that, wouldn't there be a lot of both documented and anecdotal evidence of it?
There's anecdotal evidence of it indeed. In fact I created this post to contact those people that in the past told me they had much bigger hand muscles than non-pianists. The changes though are subtle enough that you could observe them in a before and after picture, but won't realize it without a comparison of a previous state. That's why I guess it's often overlooked that the muscles of the hand can do expand, besides it is just something that happens; so there's no need to talk about it, if not theorically.

Besides in the past I claimed that even someone starving would have enough muscle to play the piano, but now I have experienced first hand it's not the case. Also what I noticed about the recovery girl is that her hands are really less fleshy than anyone else, so I guess muscles (even the small lumbricals) makes a difference in the hands aspect. Lately I discussed this with a lumberjack and a massagger. Both told me their hand got not only stronger but aestetically different, bigger, thicker, as they progress through their tasks.

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I'm as prone to overanalyzing as the next person, generally speaking, yet (for better or worse!) these areas have always seemed very straightforward and uncomplicated to me.
But I wonder now wether some people are facilitated at the piano for having already conditioned their hands with other activity. Likewise some people (sedentary, skinny, underweight) might actually have undeveloped hand muscles and hands that appear indeed too thin and unmuscular. I know many (including myself in the past) would have scoffed at the idea that hands can be muscular, but I have indeed seen hands becoming muscular.

Concretely speaking in the hand there's the muscle of the thumb which is rather big. I think the thumb is where you see the biggest difference between a non developed hand a developed one. If someone with small undeveloped hands try to push the fleshy part of the thumb up from below, it will notice his hand expands and looks larger.

The you have the muscles of the fifth finger. They too are prominent enough and indeed once developed would widen the size of the hand. Again someone pushing those flashy part from below would see his hand getting larger.

Then there are the lumbricals. I guess they make the hand appear thicker once developed. I think they can be developed but we should ask keyboardklutz to know for sure. All the muscles combined forms a well prominent layer of muscles covering the whole palm.

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Originally posted by pianovirus:
Good attitude!

There are two different aspects of your post:

(1) do the muscles matter? (as opposed to only neurological adaptations)
(2) are there macroscopic changes (i.e. that you can see)?

Regarding (1) a clear 'yes' -- and it doesn't matter if these muscles are located in the hand or in the arm or somewhere else....
What I still can't comprehend is why muscles matter. Is a "bigger is better" principle implied, or is that not the point at all?

Like a great many pianists who manage to play with satisfactory skill, I do not have visibly "muscular" hands or forearms. The muscles that are there are of the size and strength required to do what I do. It never occurred to me that they might not suffice for that purpose!

If hypertrophy of the hands exists among pianists, it's far from universal. Is it now a point of pride or badge of seriousness for one to have muscular hands? Isn't the potential for such development perhaps genetic (as part of the endomorph/mesomorph/ectomorph continuum)?

In a recent thread about handspan, some of those with large ones were disturbingly gleeful (almost as though bragging about a different kind of endowment entirely). Does reaching a twelfth help one play better? Does having visibly muscular hands? Should those who don't feel ashamed or inadequate?

There's a story that Abraham Lincoln, when asked how long a man's legs should be, responded "long enough to reach the ground."

I already said I didn't mean to be a devil's advocate; neither do I wish to put anyone on the defensive here (nor feel that way myself). I'm just not getting the point of this, and that's perplexing. Maybe it's just the observation that some pianists are apparently prone to heightened muscular development in the hands and forearms, but there seems to be an implication that it's desirable, too (if not that the underendowed among us are deficient!).

Is it desirable, then, and, if so, why?

Steven

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Originally posted by sotto voce:
Quote
Originally posted by pianovirus:
[b] Good attitude!

There are two different aspects of your post:

(1) do the muscles matter? (as opposed to only neurological adaptations)
(2) are there macroscopic changes (i.e. that you can see)?

Regarding (1) a clear 'yes' -- and it doesn't matter if these muscles are located in the hand or in the arm or somewhere else....
What I still can't comprehend is why muscles matter.
[/b]

A fact I have often overlooked is that stronger muscles generate stronger coordination and speed.
So coordination is also influenced by muscle size, for some kind of physiological reason.

I even overlooked the fact that stronger muscles allow for less tension. This is known in rehabilitation quarters where the goal is to increase muscles strength not just neurological coordination of synapses impulses.

For example a mechanism which is not purely neurological is the ability to maintain the hand wide open. Anyone with undeveloped hand muscles would be unable to open the hand wide (to reach a chord) and keep it open. The weak muscles simply let the hand close mechanically.

Quote
Like a great many pianists who manage to play with satisfactory skill, I do not have visibly "muscular" hands or forearms.


You will probably notice more development in the fleshy part of the thumb and the side of the hand below the fifth finger, then someone who doesn't use his hands for repetitive demanding tasks.

Quote
If hypertrophy of the hands exists among pianists, it's far from universal.


hypertrophy doesn't mean getting huge or bulky.
A person with a single weight lifting session would experience hypertrophy of his muscles but the change would be invisible. After four session you will see changes, but will mostly be a matter of defition, certainly he won't be huge and bulky and gross. But it's hypertrophy nonetheless. In females hypertrophy doesn't make them look generally bulky or muscular for that matter, but it's visible.

If you look at Barbara Lister-Sink hands, which is a small woman with small hands, you will definitely notice a development which is peculiar of the way she uses her hands. Compared her hands to someone not using them for music and you will notice immediately she is the pianist between the two.

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Originally posted by Danny Niklas:
Then there are the lumbricals. I guess they make the hand appear thicker once developed. I think they can be developed but we should ask keyboardklutz to know for sure. All the muscles combined forms a well prominent layer of muscles covering the whole palm.
Building up the intrinsic muscles of the hand (lumbricals and interosseous) will result in thicker more pronounced pads on the palm at the base of the fingers.

If anyone wants to do some research I would suggest it is the ligaments and tendons (where they affix to the bone) that are of more relevance. They have an extremely poor blood supply and, therefore, build (and re-build) very slowly. From wiki:
Quote
Tendons have been traditionally considered to simply be a mechanism by which muscles connect to bones, functioning simply to transmit forces. However, over the past two decades, much research has focused on the elastic properties of tendons and their ability to function as springs. This allows tendons to passively modulate forces during locomotion, providing additional stability with no active work. It also allows tendons to store and recover energy at high efficiency. For example, during a human stride, the Achilles tendon stretches as the ankle joint dorsiflexes. During the last portion of the stride, as the foot plantar-flexes (pointing the toes down), the stored elastic energy is released. Furthermore, because the tendon stretches, the muscle is able to function with less or even no change in length, allowing the muscle to generate greater force.

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Another important thing to say is that "strength" is not required at the piano to depress the keys easily or to create a forte sound.

The equivocal idea often promoted by those who have emphasized muscle development for piano playing, is that we need "stronger muscles" to produce strong sounds and to depress the keys properly.

But as I and others have said, the piano keys need very little weight to be depressed.

The exact opposite is true. It requires far less muscle strength to produce a forte sound than to produce a piano sound. So "strength" is actually not required to strike the keys with force to produce a loud sound, but to calibrate the speed of descending so as to produce a clear piano. Descending at a lower speed to produce a piano sound would require a resistance against the natural action of gravity, and it's in managing such resistance that stronger muscles perform their task better. It's the very same set of muscles. The same muscles that provide articulation by mean of lifting (fingers are lifted when playing the piano no matter what, what is to be discourage and harmful is lifting them unecessarily high) are the ones that provide the slowing down of descending by mean of resistance against gravity. They (the extensor muscles) are also the muscles naturally less developed in people because most tasks we perform with our hands entail mainly the flexors muscles which result already developed, so much that the interossei have quite a few problems keeping the palm wide open (in playing chords and octaves for example) against the developed action of the muscles that allows the closing of the palm.

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Try playing a big chord forte and tell me it doesn't require strength.

The extensors have evolved to be weaker.


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