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How to Play Piano – The Importance of Your Hand Shape

As a previous classical pianist who trained at a professional performing arts school I know a few secrets when it comes to playing piano well. One of these secrets is all about hand shape when you play.

The shape of your hand when you play piano has a direct influence on how well you can play. This is because your hands drive and control your fingers. They have more muscle and strength than your fingers so are an important physical resource if you want to play well. Your hand shape also dictates what types of movements you can make with your fingers.

The perfect shape for the pianistic hand is an ‘upside down cup’ or ‘bridge’. To find this shape place your palm flat down on a table then curve your fingers (keeping the tips of your fingers on the table). Bend your knuckles while keeping your thumb resting on the table (although it will curve a little). If your hand changes to look like an upside down cup, bridge or even a hill you are on the right track. This is actually the strongest shape your hand can have for playing piano. This will help you gain power and speed. It will also enable you to move your fingers in the best way for sound quality and speed. (A quick tip: Don’t worry if you can’t keep your hands in this position for long. It takes muscle strength and time to be able to do this naturally. So it needs to be practiced – not only at the piano, you can also practise it when you are sitting it a table.)

Now this hand shape works best not with the finger movement many people use to play piano. (The most common movement is a lift and hit, which will not help you play at your best.) In fact this hand shape means you are able to use the better movement – which is to pull your finger tip towards you like you are stroking the key (your movement has to be strong enough to push the key down of course). This type of movement creates a better sound quality and makes it much easier to play faster because your fingers are not moving away from the keys. The closer your fingers are to the keys the better the sound quality will be (if you hit the key you will get a harsher sound because the piano is actually a percussion instrument – the hammers inside the piano strike the keys). Also the less your fingers have to move the faster you will be able to play because there is less distance to travel. Athletes do the same thing – keep their movements ‘efficient’. You don’t see runners waving their arms about – it would slow them down and tire them out quickly.

So keep an eye on your hand shape and see how it improves your playing over time.

This video (below) of the amazing pianist Emil Gilels not only demonstrates a good hand shape while playing but also what correct technique can help you achieve.

Photo: Piano Keys by JoshSemans – Flickr.

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