Learning the correct hand position on the piano can take a while – especially for young kids, or students who have already established bad habits. Here, Portland teacher Bonnie M. shares an easy way to explain it…
In The Lion King, do you recall Pumbaa relaxing in a watering hole in the desert with Timon and Simba? Proper hand position for playing piano involves bubbles similar to the ones Pumbaa… contributed.
Imagine capturing one of those bubbles in your hand. To do this, your fingers must be curved and the tips must be near your thumb. Looking at your hand from the thumb side, your fingers would form a loose ‘C’ shape. Catch one of these bubbles and turn your hand over. Feel how airy the space below your palm is, and how natural your fingers feel. Now, place your fingers on the keyboard. Since your pointer finger and middle fingers are so much longer than your thumb, keep them curved so that all your fingers have equal opportunities to reach the keys.
Pressing down on the keys provides greater control and ease of movement. This bubble position, which keeps your curved fingers near the center of the keys, also draws your finger pads into contact with the keys. Now when you press a key, you press ‘down’ instead of ‘away-and-down.’ Beginning piano music frequently asks pianists to play the song twice: once at forte and another at piano. Playing ‘down’ onto each key reduces tension in our fragile fingers and enables a greater dynamic contrast between the first and last time through the piece.
Some of us have shorter fingers than others. My fingers are really long, which could get in my way if I let them splay out flat on the keyboard. If I wanted to play a C scale and forgot to grab a bubble to support my palms, my fingers #2, #3 and #4 would run into all the black notes. Not only would that not sound like a C scale, my fingers don’t like bumping into things as sturdy as black keys!
Rounding your hand as if a bubble is supporting your palm is important for another reason. When playing scales up and down the keys, your thumb must traverse the space inside that bubble in order to cross under the other fingers. For an example, play a two-octave scale in the key of C using your right hand. Because all the notes in this scale are white keys, your finger pads are kept near to each other and don’t raise to play any black notes. After beginning the scale on finger #1, #2, #3, your thumb crosses under finger #3 to play the fourth note in the scale. And so, #1, #2, #3, #4 and then the thumb needs to skip ahead again! It crosses under once more and begins the pattern over again.
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Bonnie M. teaches piano, singing, flute, music theory and opera voice lessons to students of all ages in Portland, OR. She joined the TakeLessons team in November 2012, with a Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Music Education from Willamette University. Learn more about Bonnie, or search for a teacher near you!
Photo by pedrobonatto