Piano Hands: Myths, Technique & Tips
What does it mean to have piano hands? Are the myths true? Read all about it and discover how you can improve your playing technique.
You want to play the piano but weren’t given the gift of “piano hands.” Can you work with what you’ve got, or should you choose a different instrument to play?
Even if you weren’t born with pianist fingers or hands, you could still play the piano—you wouldn’t be the first person with small or average-sized hands to tickle the ivories.
Take Mozart, for example. His hands were those of a three-year-old when he started on the piano. So, if your hands are small or child-sized, you are in good company.
We’ll show you some ways to exercise your muscles and stretch your fingers to hit those hard-to-reach notes. If you don’t naturally have piano hands, you can practice until you do!
- What are piano hands vs. normal hands?
- Myths related to piano hands
- How to improve your playing technique.
- Final tips for keeping your fingers relaxed while playing piano.
What are piano hands vs. normal hands?
We often use the term “piano hands” informally to describe a particular hand type. Usually, we think of hands with long, slender fingers that can easily span an octave or more. However, even if you weren’t born with hands that can stretch like silly putty, you can still play the piano.
Most musicians don’t use the term piano hands to describe how their hands look. Instead, they use this term to refer to how your hands should look on the keys.
By following a few pointers when you position your hands on the keys, you, too, can work around your “normal” hands to play the piano.
First, relax your hands
The first tip when you sit down at the piano is to relax. If your muscles are stiff and tight, your music can sound tense and harsh. You want to keep your palm open and your muscles relaxed. Pretend to hold a ball in your hand to get a rounded shape. When you relax your hands, it allows the music to flow through your fingertips.
Check your finger placement
The placement of your fingers is also essential. As you play the keys up and down the scales, you want to make sure you use the correct fingering. Keeping your fingers on the right keys is easy for a five-finger scale. However, when you start playing an octave or more, you must pay attention to where your fingers should switch off to play the keys seamlessly.
As a beginning piano student, you may want to look for songs with the proper fingering next to the notes. A number next to the note name indicates the finger you should use.
- 1 indicates the thumb
- 2 represents the index finger
- 3 the middle finger
- 4 is the ring finger
- 5, the pinky finger
You can check out the Top 10 Beginner Piano Songs for Kids for some music that is simple but satisfying to play.
Increase your dexterity and speed
As you practice playing the piano, try slowly increasing your tempo as you go. You can use a metronome to keep your beat consistent. If you find your fingers are making several errors, slow down your pace until you have mastered your finger position.
Hit the notes with accuracy
And last but not least, your main goal as you play the piano is accuracy. Playing staccato notes, scales, and Hannon exercises can help you improve your accuracy and help you achieve your goals at the piano.
Playing the piano is less about whether your hand is big or small or if you have long or short fingers. It’s more about training normal hands to increase their strength and reach.
Myths related to piano hands
Many myths about which hands are wrong or right are still floating around in the 21st century. But don’t let these discouraging myths dampen your dream. Let’s take a look at where these statements get it wrong.
Myth #1: You need big hands to play piano
Although big hands can undoubtedly make playing the piano easier, you don’t have to have large hands to play. Not every pianist is blessed with large hands and long fingers. You just may have to teach your fingers new tricks.
The biggest obstacles for pianists with small hands are four-finger chords and the octave span. But your reach can improve with hand exercises and stretches.
Just like you stretch your muscles before you go for a run, you should stretch your hands before playing the piano. This improves your reach and protects you from hurting your hands as you play.
Myth #2: You can’t play piano with short fingers
If you have small hands, you will likely also have short fingers. If the regular-sized keys on a traditional piano seem daunting, you might consider playing on a keyboard as you start out. Keyboards generally have thinner keys. This can level the playing field, so to speak, and make more pieces accessible to you.
Or, if you plan to play the piano, you can modify the music until your hands are used to the large reach. This may mean dropping a note out of a chord or quickly rolling the octave note instead of pressing the octave keys down simultaneously.
Myth #3: Piano is bad for your hands
While it is true that if you practice the piano using bad habits, you can damage the muscles in your hands, arms, or back. If your fingers begin to feel numb or cold, or you notice a cramp in your neck or shoulders, it’s time to take a break. Practicing good posture and techniques at the piano is important to prevent aches, pain, and damage.
However, if done correctly, playing the piano can provide a myriad of benefits to your hands (and more). You can improve your hand-eye coordination, strengthen your arms and muscles, and sharpen fine motor skills. Piano players are known for the strength and agility of their fingers.
How to improve your playing technique.
After ensuring your posture and hand position are correct, it’s time to work on your technique.
Here are some ways you can improve your piano playing abilities.
Before you even start playing, take some time to warm up the muscles in your hands, arms, and neck. This can ensure that your hands are ready and relaxed when they touch the keys. Check out these 10 Best Piano Exercises for Beginners for ways to increase strength and improve posture.
Look through your music before you play. Think through your hand placement and look for the trouble spots. If you see large chords or tricky octave runs, you may want to isolate these segments and practice them first. This can help your flow when you practice the piece as a whole.
Slow it down
Most piano pieces have a tempo marking at the beginning of the piece. Some common examples are largo, adagio, andante, and allegro. Each temp marking matches a specific speed range on the metronome.
If you are learning a new piece, it is wise to play through the music at a slower pace starting out. This forces your fingers to find the notes and improves accuracy. Then, when you conquer the notes, work your way up to the full tempo speed.
As you continue to play the piano, challenge yourself with new material. Once you learn to play eighth notes, it might be time to try out sixteenth notes or triplets. If you are comfortable with pieces where your hands take turns, try a bit that has both hands together. Push yourself at a slow, steady pace until you master your skills at the piano.
Practice, practice, practice
We hear the phrase: “Practice makes perfect.” When it comes to piano, it’s a true statement. Small practice sessions are usually more beneficial than extensive practice sessions. Even fifteen minutes a day can make a difference.
Everyone makes mistakes, so give yourself grace as you learn and grow. For an easy way to teach yourself the piano at home, learn with us using the Simply Piano app. We’ll teach you the basics, and keep your fingers on the right notes as you go.
Final tips for keeping your fingers relaxed while playing piano.
Some of you may have hands built for the piano (okay, we’re a little jealous), while the rest of us have normal hands. Whatever your hand type, it is vital to use the proper hand position and slowly but surely build muscle strength to play those keys.
When it comes to playing the piano, size doesn’t matter. Just keep going with steady practice and good technique. You’ll be able to reach that octave stretch soon.