Getting a grip on the piano: The importance of proper hand shape

Of all the things I stress while teaching piano lessons, the most important is proper technique. This starts from the very first lesson with my beginners and is so important as to often merit not advancing in skill level and complexity so we can attain proper hand and arm form.

(Before I go on: My apologies, it's been awhile since I've written an original advice post—February 6.)

If you're wondering what proper form entails, it's actually very simple: it's natural and relaxed, meaning your arm, wrist, hand and fingers are meant to be relaxed. To illustrate what hand relaxation should actually look like, you need to know what it should not look and feel like first:  put your hands up and extend your fingers out all the way. Stretch your finger tips out as far apart as possible. This is a strained hand and is requiring dozens of muscles, putting them to work to such an extent that if you keep doing this for some time, those muscles will fatigue. Much like a frown using more muscles than a smile, the proper hand form should actually utilize fewer. In fact it often feels wrong at first because it is, mechanically and technically, easier.

Are you still hanging out with your fingers extended? They'll probably hurt then! Completely relax your fingers (if you can't or don't know how, then shake your hands out) and let your fingers go limp. Your fingers should be naturally curved like they are when they're at your sides while you walk. Now extend your hands and fingers again while closing your eyes. Did you feel each muscle tighten? Do you feel the little muscles surrounding the bones on each finger? As you stretch out your fingers your palms flatten and those muscles tighten as well. This is the opposite of how you play piano!

(Let those hands relax again).

Most new or returning adult students I see don't have much of an issue with getting a good hand curvature, but relaxing muscles while they play is much harder. Children tend to want to stretch their fingers out because their hands are small and they think, much like when using objects like doorknobs and forks and tennis balls designed for grown-ups' hands, they have to work at it really hard. But they don't need to do that, and as they progress and get the curve down, it's important to stress the hand and muscle relaxation that my adults sometimes struggle with.

Playing with a relaxed hand begins in the arms and wrists, which is another article. Don't hesitate to comment or ask me a question before then, and thanks for reading!


Proper hand position and curvature for piano playing of all styles

Proper hand position and curvature for piano playing of all styles

Stressing About Musicality and Failures - Is It Ruining Your Music?

Do you stress about music and your musical life? That is, do you find yourself growing anxious about:

  • your musical progress, whether playing an instrument or learning voice?
  • your long-term musical goals?
  • practicing correctly and regularly?
  • enjoying music and sharing it with those you care about?

You're certainly not alone, I suffer from this (yes, even teachers do, or maybe especially teachers do). Creative individuals and those drawn to the arts are thinkers; people who idolize certain artists and ideals of performance and art -- and then try to imitate it and expect rapid, amazing results. What begins as amazing drive winds up kicking us in the rear.

Failures are not something to be avoided. You want to have them happen as quickly as possible so you can make progress rapidly.
— Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel

There are obvious things wrong with this, and our self-defeat really is the fault of one misconception: that masters of art produce amazing works each and every time. I had this realization not too long ago: I love certain artists (singer-songwriters, indy bands, composers, pianists and vocalists) and when I listen to their discography I'm awed by the quality and sometimes proliferation of their work.

But what I'm not seeing and hearing is their failures. We don't see what went into that work and how that person accomplished what they have. We can't see the 'bad' songs (by some accounts, 90% of what songwriters produce they don't -- or shouldn't -- release); we don't see the stops and starts, the false-starts, the self-doubt or series of 'no's that artist heard along the way.

We also don't see the practice, group rehearsals, lessons, and thousands of hours that encompasses. I think if we did, we would forgive ourselves more, understand that art is a journey, and perhaps even be better musicians as a result. I know I'm still working on this - and good musicians always do.

So if you are in music lessons - wonderful, you're already ambitious. In my experience, at least half of adults wish they had learned as a child or wish they were currently learning music or an instrument. Most do not. So take that ambition and don't be afraid of failure, or as this guy (Luke Johnson) says, "Success is not about being ambitious – that is easy. It’s about overcoming adversity. In my experience, what separates the winners from losers in business – and probably in life – is how they handle disappointment."

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
— Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)