Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Questions on learning to play the piano, and piano music.

Moderators: Feg, Gill the Piano

Post Reply
Firefox1701
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 11
Joined: 12 Nov 2011, 12:27

Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by Firefox1701 » 16 Nov 2011, 12:23

Anyone who's read the thread about the correct speeds at which to practise may well have shied away from reading this one, but still, I'd be curious to know what people think about this.

When I first started practising 'properly', i.e. in a disciplined, regimented and regular way, I played scales using whatever finger positions seemed to work best for any given scale. A couple of years further down the line I read online on a website that seemed pretty authoritative, that you should keep your fingers curled at all times when practising or playing, come what may, and that allowing yourself to play 'flat-fingered' was tantamount to Spock telling a knock-knock joke. So, I went back over all the scales I'd allowed myself to play entirely or partially flat-fingered - the likes of B major or F# major being examples - and re-learnt them with fingers carefully curled throughout ( imagine you're holding a tennis ball or a baby bird, the website suggested ). In some cases this turned out to be significantly more difficult, but I persevered with it.

Surprisingly recently, given that I was weaned on progressive rock, I've seen some video footage of some of the keyboard players I revere most, in closeup on their hands. I've noticed that Keith Emerson seems to play a strange hybrid of curled and flat-fingered ( mostly curled as far as I can tell ), keeping f4 and f5 curled under the hand almost the whole time unless those fingers are actually playing a note. Rick Wakeman, on the other hand, seems to play far and away the majority of the time with his fingers virtually flat - in fact on a recent video that I saw, it almost looked as though his middle finger was curled slightly upward as though in spasm!! Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, though, seems from what I've seen to play not only with fingers curled, but curled almost to a degree that you'd have thought impossible ( though arguably no more impossible than Mr. Emerson's method ). Some of the footage I've seen of him makes it look as though his palm is actually below the level of the keyboard and that he's curling his fingers up and over the keys.

You may or may not like any of the above players, but their credentials are, I would suggest, beyond question, and certainly all three have had classical training. So the question is, is there in fact a right way, or does it basically just come down to the exact position that I started from - i.e. if the result is pleasing to the ears, it doesn't really matter which way you play it?

I await comment with interest!!

Gill the Piano
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 4114
Joined: 25 Oct 2003, 19:39
Location: Thames Valley

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by Gill the Piano » 16 Nov 2011, 19:46

You don't see a spider moving with its legs out straight...curved fingers facilitate movement. But those playing with flat fingers may be self taught or have fallen into 'bad' habits. It makes me shudder to see a kid playing flat-fingered because I imagine the problems lying in wait! I don't think you'd ever find a teacher endorsing flat fingers, really.
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

User avatar
Colin Nicholson
Executive Poster
Executive Poster
Posts: 1829
Joined: 04 Jul 2010, 19:15
Location: Morpeth, Northumberland
Contact:

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by Colin Nicholson » 17 Nov 2011, 14:06

Adults are notoriously more difficult to get any kind of 'shape' into their hands for playing the piano than kids. Children (about the age of 8) dont have nail extensions (sorry Gill, gave your secret away!!!!) .... and nor do they lift bricks, heavy items and nor do they suddenly become a short-hand typist!

I teach several lady adult learners - most of them with huge long stuck-on finger nails!! Blokes usually have hands like shovels - like one I teach who is a builder.

I suggested to one adult that instead of using a tennis ball - he used a brick!!

I had someone last week asking me how to reach a 9th? - and without breaking his little finger, or getting his 8 year old son to 'pop in' the note when the music reaches that part! (This is a section of the Moonlight sonata).

There is however a difference between playing with 'flat fingers' and 'flat finger tips'. When I was at college, a concert pianist showed me a "Russian technique" .... that is playing with more with the 'pad' of your fingers than the tips...... and only for certain parts of a melody.... and of course this greatly helped for the etude in G flat major by Chopin Op 10 No 5 (I think!)

Most important though - is the 'pencil trick' ...... this tests your hand balance, hand/wrist and arm deportment and a good curvature of the fingers.... so try balancing a ROUND pencil on the back of your hand, and play some scales.... it should remain perfectly still, and never roll off!!
AA Piano Tuners UK

Colin Nicholson Dip. Mus. CMIT CLCM PTLLS
Piano tuning & repairs. Full UK restoration service
http://www.aatuners.com
Tuition ~ Accompaniment ~ Weddings
http://www.pianotime1964.com
Member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen

dancarney
Persistent Poster
Persistent Poster
Posts: 105
Joined: 22 Feb 2011, 19:55
Location: Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by dancarney » 17 Nov 2011, 16:14

Gill, Horowitz seemed to get around the keys without too much trouble! 8)

To achieve a natural curve:

Let your arms and hands hang naturally from your relaxed shoulders. Your hand will naturally curve. That's it.

In general, you can't go wrong with maintaining your natural curve - aiming to transfer energy through the finger (not letting any joints wobble - a pet hate of mine!), right through to the tip.

Flattening the fingers can be useful, however. Play two identical excepts with a traditional curve, and try again with flat fingers. Large difference in sound/tone.

As Colin correctly says, some people use the tip, or the pad of the finger (then you can use the tip of the tip, the tip of the pad, the pad of the tip, or anywhere in-between!). They all sound different, and can make life much easier (or more difficult!) to the pianist.
Dan Carney BMus(Hons) DipABRSM

Junior Piano Technician

Gill the Piano
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 4114
Joined: 25 Oct 2003, 19:39
Location: Thames Valley

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by Gill the Piano » 17 Nov 2011, 17:32

You forgot the pad of the pad, Dan... :D
Yes, I never know how people can play with long nails. I have to have my nails slightly longer on my right hand for classical guitar and it drives me mad on two counts - if they ARE long it feels odd and I don't feel in control of my fingers (so no change there then) but it's GETTING the b*ggers long; I defy anyone to fit a new piano string/damper spring and keep a fingernail intact!
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

dancarney
Persistent Poster
Persistent Poster
Posts: 105
Joined: 22 Feb 2011, 19:55
Location: Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by dancarney » 17 Nov 2011, 17:38

When I started teaching piano I used to keep nail clippers nearby. Had students use them on a regular basis! Probably against human rights, nowadays! :lol:
Dan Carney BMus(Hons) DipABRSM

Junior Piano Technician

Firefox1701
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 11
Joined: 12 Nov 2011, 12:27

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by Firefox1701 » 22 Nov 2011, 15:17

Where to start ...

Well, you don't see a spider moving with it's legs out straight, it's true. By the by, speaking as a devout arachnophobe, thanks for that particular analogy! I'd have to say I haven't seen too many spiders playing the piano either ... plus which I don't know that spiders actually have the physical capability of keeping their legs perfectly straight even if they wanted to ...

Tongue out of cheek for a moment though, whilst I understand the point you're making, I'm not sure the analogy does necessarily hold up. All living creatures, all the time, move and position their limbs and bodies in what they perceive to be the most functional way for the task that they have to perform. No living creature other than humans do this as a result of doctrine, but rather as a result of instinct. That's not to say that I'm arguing the case in favour of flat-fingered playing; but it does seem to me that there are some pieces, even perhaps some scales, where flat-fingered seems to work better than curled. By way of example, the dreaded B flat harmonic minor scale that I've mentioned elsewhere: I can't imagine I'm the only player in history to struggle with the gap between f3 and f4, on the left hand particularly, when straddling the A to F# part of the scale. Having practised this literally hundreds of times, I continue to try to play it with curled fingers because I'm told that that's the correct thing to do; although I've achieved some measure of success with this, it's certainly easier to get that straddle - especially at any kind of speed - by playing flat-fingered on the black notes. As regards flat-fingered players being either self-taught or having fallen into bad habits, again, I'd have to cite Mr. Wakeman - certainly not self-taught, and if the habit is in fact a bad one, it seems to work well enough for him!! I wonder if perhaps it's the case that once you reach a certain level of proficiency - which I suppose would be different for different players - you can pretty much play any way you want, inasmuch as no-one's ever going to challenge it.

Colin: pencil on the back of the hand, eh? Hmm ... this seems to me to be on a par with going on a permanent beer-free diet: I don't need to try it to know that I couldn't do it. I must say I shudder to imagine your more rigorous teaching methods - in light of the fact that no-one could possibly play with bamboo shoots under their fingernails, I guess electrodes on the nipples would probably do the trick ...! ( What was Dan saying about human rights? ) As with my other thread concerning the correct speed at which to practise scales etc., it is very clear to me that your abilities massively outweigh mine. Unless I'm going to give up altogether ( an option that's looking increasingly like something I should consider ), I think I may have to accept that as strict as I thought I was being with myself, I was obviously wrong!!

I wonder in this case whether the secret may lie in the ( pretty subtle, in my very humble opinion ) difference between flat fingers and flat fingertips. I'll experiment. By the by, it never ceases to amaze me that people even attempt to play the piano with long fingernails, but since they do - how on Earth do they overcome the flat-finger problem then??!

Referring back to Dan's post, this seems to me ( I say 'seems' ) to hit the nail on the head with the phrase 'flattening the fingers can be useful'. I can't comment on the work of Horowitz, but it does seem that although the curled-finger approach is clearly the more desirable one and is recommended, for good reason, for the majority of the time, there are some instances in which flat fingers can be useful. I think it will be some way into the future before my own abilities are anywhere close to being able to distinguish between the tip of the tip etc., but in the meantime it seems that the lesson to be learned is that no method is singularly and unswervingly correct in all possible situations. I realise that the majority of contributors to this forum are probably far more acquainted with classical players than the likes of Mr. Emerson, Mr. Wakeman and Mr. Rudess, but I would welcome any observations from anyone who is familiar with the playing styles of any or all of these.

My thanks to everyone who's responded; I would, of course, welcome any further observations on the matter ...

User avatar
Colin Nicholson
Executive Poster
Executive Poster
Posts: 1829
Joined: 04 Jul 2010, 19:15
Location: Morpeth, Northumberland
Contact:

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by Colin Nicholson » 22 Nov 2011, 18:14

Firefox....

are you using the correct fingers for B flat minor?
Slight stretch needed from G flat (not F#!) to A natural using the 4th finger on Gb and 3rd finger on A (ascending).... also may need to turn wrist slightly so its not so awkward.

Here is the left hand scale.... (if you using these fingers - sorry, just thought I'd mention it)......
Bbminor.JPG

Colin
AA Piano Tuners UK

Colin Nicholson Dip. Mus. CMIT CLCM PTLLS
Piano tuning & repairs. Full UK restoration service
http://www.aatuners.com
Tuition ~ Accompaniment ~ Weddings
http://www.pianotime1964.com
Member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen

Firefox1701
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 11
Joined: 12 Nov 2011, 12:27

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by Firefox1701 » 27 Nov 2011, 19:19

Yep, that's the fingering I'm using, straight from the Green Book. No need for the apology: anything that might make this any easier is always appreciated. My problem with the stretch from the 4th to the 3rd finger is that it just doesn't feel natural; consequently, although it's do-able at relatively slow speeds ( a snail's pace, in fact, compared to some of the mind-numbing figures being quoted in my other thread ...! ), at anything over about 165 - 170 b.p.m ( by which I mean, actual notes played per minute - just humour me for the moment ), it starts to become extremely difficult to keep up any kind of flow without sounding unintentionally staccato or just plain messy. I've found that flattening the 4th finger on the G flat ( my apologies to F#! ) and to a degree on the B flat itself does seem to alleviate the problem, hence my question; should one strive to maintain curled fingers at all times ( as some websites would advocate ), come what may, even when it is clearly easier to play a particular piece at least partially flat-fingered? As I say, it does seem to me that the wrongness of bending the rules ( and in this case flattening the fingers ) does seem to depend at least to some extent on who you are ...!

Firefox1701
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 11
Joined: 12 Nov 2011, 12:27

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by Firefox1701 » 28 Nov 2011, 00:01

... as a postscript ...

I've just watched Lang Lang on Sky Arts, and having done so, in addition to the 'depends on who you are' comment in the previous post, I'd like to add that not only does it depend on who you are, it depends on what you're playing: which is to say that the bottom line seems to be, whatever position or configuration your fingers need to be in to make the thing sound right, whether it's an octave of C major up and down or a Chopin etude in A flat, that's what you need to do. Of course, if anyone wants to challenge Lang Lang based on the fact that he played some of the left-hand part flat-fingered, I'd be most interested to hear the response ... !!

pinocazzolino
New Member
New Member
Posts: 1
Joined: 14 Jan 2012, 13:14

Re: Correct finger positions for practising and / or playing

Post by pinocazzolino » 14 Jan 2012, 13:21

I think Rick Wakeman plays flat fingered only when he is playing the old Mini Moog, I think is has some thing to do with getting a certain articulation and attack on the keyboard to get it to trigger a certain way with the envelope setting to get a desired sound.....correct me if I am wrong anyone who has owned a Mini Moog......

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests