My approach to piano technique is based on using movements that are most natural to the body, movements that are free, loose and that feel good. It is most important that we are in touch with physical sensations as we play – our feet in contact with the ground, freedom in the legs and thighs, support from the piano stool, mobility in the torso, looseness in the shoulders and arm, and not least the absence of tension from our wrists, hands and fingers. Touching the keyboard can feel delicious and sensual, or strong and energetic. It should never feel tight or awkward.
I have read elaborate descriptions for the correct hand position for piano playing, but finding the position is actually surprisingly simple. If you stand up and allow your arm to swing freely from your shoulder, you will discover your palm is facing behind you. Swing your arm up to a table or your piano keyboard and land there. Provided you have not tensed up or done anything to change the hand shape, you will have found your ideal hand position. There will be a natural curve in the fingers, and all the knuckles will be aligned and supported.
Curved, not curled
We avoid the two extremes, flat fingers and overly curled fingers because they tend to lead to tension. The natural curve is the best default position for piano playing as it encourages the best coordination.
Don’t isolate the fingers
Traditional pedagogy supplied the pianist with copious finger exercises in which each finger was to be lifted high in isolation from the other fingers, which were to remain on the surface of the keyboard. Modern thinking has moved on, and we don’t do this any longer. The fingers lift together as a unit, often assisted by rotational movements from the forearm.
I inherited the tradition of extension exercises (stretching between the fingers) but as I have evolved as a pianist and teacher I consider these not only unnecessary but potentially harmful. I no longer use such exercises nor would I recommend them. The hand can open quite wide between the thumb and the 2nd finger, but not so far between the other fingers. As a general guideline, we close the hand up as soon as possible after a stretch.
Online Academy Technique Library
I have recently launched the first few modules of a technique library that will expand over time (further information on these resources is available here). In this brief video, I look at some of the points I cover on hand position in the Elementary Technique – Introduction & Basics module:
Elementary Technique – Introduction and Basics is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the module index if you are already a subscriber.