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What can you do about thick fingers? (Read 26577 times)

Offline lostinidlewonder

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What can you do about thick fingers?
« on: March 21, 2012, 04:48:10 PM »
I have had a few students in all my years of teaching who have fingers so thick that they find it impossible to play certain chords. Good pianists hands are not only large enough to cover a good 1/3 of the piano, but also are thin enough to be able to play more inside the piano inbetween the black notes.

Today one of my students needed to play C# octaves with a G in between and he physically cannot play the G because his fingers cannot fit inbetween the F# and G#. He can curl (extreme contortion more like it) his finger so it works but it is totally unacceptable because of the strain it causes him (an as a teacher I can notice that no amount of practice in that formation would be healthy or even has the chance to improve!).

So far because I have no solution for this I have always omitted notes so that they can play predominantly what should be played and maintain a normal feel to their playing. This is the same thing we do when people with tiny hands cannot play certain intervals, it doesn't matter really if we change things to suit their hands.

So can people who have lived with their thick fingers tell me about their piano journey and maybe some tricks that helped you deal with your challenge? Even mention specific pieces or chords or whatever.
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Offline ajspiano

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #1 on: March 21, 2012, 11:37:31 PM »
increased forward momentum may help. - i have a few students who tell me they can't play in the black keys because their fingers don't fit and this almost always solves the issue. I'm sure that there are situations where its not appropriate though, or where a pianists fingers are simply too thick for it to change anything.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #2 on: March 22, 2012, 12:41:19 AM »
increased forward momentum may help. - i have a few students who tell me they can't play in the black keys because their fingers don't fit and this almost always solves the issue. I'm sure that there are situations where its not appropriate though, or where a pianists fingers are simply too thick for it to change anything.
Can you elaborate on forward momentum for me please?

Yeah some students have so thick fingers that nothing really can solve their problem, one suggested to me that piano keys should have little holes cut into the sides of the black keys so that their fingers could fit inside, I guess that would be an idea lol. One suggested making larger pianos, but I dread to imagine how large intervals would feel then!

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Offline ajspiano

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #3 on: March 22, 2012, 01:15:56 AM »
Thinner black keys perhaps?

Will try to elaborate on my understanding of it - you can take or leave the rest of the content ofcourse but you'll get the full explanation from one of the scenes in the taubman techniques, I cant remember which video and where in the video it is but there is a masterclass scene with a gentleman who has this problem.

When he attempts to play inside the black keys the keys either side of his finger also get depressed. Dorothy explains that she will make him feel as though the black keys are not there. You can observe how the guy currently plays, (if I remember rightly) he has a clear habit of pulling back out of the keys when he needs to play inside and it directly inhibits his speed and ability to have a smooth flowing movement throughout a passage.

Solution - she instructs him to move forward into the keys - the movement comes from the shoulder, pushing the hand further inside the keys toward the fall board. The guy does it and he immediately succeeds to depress the white key without the black keys going down.

If you were to do that movement exaggerated and without depressing the key your finger would slide across the key as your hand moves forward into the keys. I presume it works because it reduces the downward friction applied to the black keys, and instead replaces it sideways friction (so the keys don't go down because there is less downward force applied to them) - so its like a foreward push kind of thing, rather than a downward finger strike??  if that makes sense..

I say momentum rather than "move in" because it doesn't have to be large to work, and because i don't want students to over do it because then they'd just have a different problem - they just need to feel like they are moving forward, without actually moving forward significantly.

I havent had a lot of opportunity to test it extensively and in different situations though as its not something that I have a problem with, and my students that do have it are beginners not yet tackling situations that are more technically challenging.


Offline keyofc

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #4 on: March 31, 2012, 09:04:50 PM »
Are the Taubman videos available on the forum?

Offline pytheamateur

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #5 on: March 31, 2012, 10:52:50 PM »
Are the Taubman videos available on the forum?

I doubt it.  They cost a whopping 500 dollars from the official source.
Beethoven - Sonata in C sharp minor, Op 27 No 12
Chopin - Fantasie Impromptu, Nocturn in C sharp minor, Op post
Brahms - Op 118, Nos 2 & 3

Offline keyofc

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #6 on: March 31, 2012, 11:43:23 PM »
That's what I thought!  But the way it was mentioned - it sounded like we all had access to them.
Of course - I probably read it too fast.

That's a lot of do re mi :)

Offline ajspiano

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #7 on: April 01, 2012, 01:09:28 AM »
I was making the assumption that lostinidlewonder probably has access to them, not that we all do. Probably a poor assumption...


Well worth the 500$ though I'll add. Assuming your at a level ready to handle the intense information load presented. If your paying for piano lessons then you should pay or those videos. You'll learn for 500 what would take YEARS for a teacher to put across. - not that that removes the need for a teacher though..

Offline keyofc

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #8 on: April 01, 2012, 06:34:47 AM »
I see.  I have seen one or two of the videos, but they were old ones - and hard for me to really see the hand movements well.  Do you know if they have updated them?

Back to the subject of thick fingers - I think it's interesting that every jazz piano player that I know has fat fingers.  And they seem to be an asset for their playing.
I don't know if it's because they can play extended chords easier or why - but it's definitely true.
And I know some really good ones.

Offline ajspiano

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #9 on: April 01, 2012, 12:55:40 PM »
I see.  I have seen one or two of the videos, but they were old ones - and hard for me to really see the hand movements well.  Do you know if they have updated them?

I don't think so, there's a lot of newer content though at the golandsky institute site. - taubman vids 1-5 are older than 6-10 also, 6-10 were made several years later that the first lot and are filmed better (extra camera angles and such).

I actually found them at a local library.. 

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #10 on: April 01, 2012, 09:18:03 PM »
I have had a few students in all my years of teaching who have fingers so thick that they find it impossible to play certain chords. Good pianists hands are not only large enough to cover a good 1/3 of the piano, but also are thin enough to be able to play more inside the piano inbetween the black notes.

Today one of my students needed to play C# octaves with a G in between and he physically cannot play the G because his fingers cannot fit inbetween the F# and G#. He can curl (extreme contortion more like it) his finger so it works but it is totally unacceptable because of the strain it causes him (an as a teacher I can notice that no amount of practice in that formation would be healthy or even has the chance to improve!).


Are we talking of a situation where it's literally impossible to slide the finger between two black keys- even if done without playing them? In most cases, students who have problems just don't prepare the finger early enough. Either you fit in or and you can't- but many who think they can't actually can (although I'm open to the possibility that it's literally imnpossible in some rare cases).

I wouldn't rule out the curling myself. It depends how you move. Recently, i've been going so far as to regularly practise resting the nail flat on a surface and then extending the finger out to push the knuckle up and away (without the arm squashing down hard). I've never had the slightest jot of pain or strain from doing so and it's developed a good deal more power in freedom in my movements. I think the problem with curled fingers is when co-contractions are used to brace them into fixed position. If you're extending the finger out into movement, it's not dangerous (as long as you build up slowly and dont force needless arm pressure). Curved fingers coupled with depressed knuckles can require a lot of stiffness and bracing, but high knuckles and extension movements can make curling (or rather uncurling a formerly curled finger- upon actually moving the key) perfectly healthy. There's a film of Richter playing the revolutionary where he literally goes so far as to play the middle note within an octave with the nail flat against the key (as in the exercise I mentioned). Personally I'd sooner explore such possibilities than have to leave out important notes.

Offline beethoven_express

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #11 on: March 01, 2014, 10:45:35 AM »
Thick fingers have dominated my playing of the piano since a teenager and I could probably write a very dull book about the subject. There are so many variables in black key dimensions and their lateral play and physical state of my fingers that the rule is to assume the worst and prepare pieces accordingly - I do much accompanying and occasional solo stuff. I have quite thick fingers and even the width and lateral play of white keys is something I am aware of - some pianos have slightly narrower white keys with a larger gap between making accuracy easier, for example and those with little gap can make playing B and F in the black keys difficult. I have many ways of avoiding going between the black keys or at least making it feasible. Curling fingers is a technique that can be developed for some hands and I am still finding I can do things I thought impossible before. For example, in one piece I play Bb G Bb in the left hand either with 512 or 521 with the 2nd finger in front of the black keys - there is time to prepare the chord, however. Last night I played Schumann's Op. 73: in the 3rd piece there is a chord F# A B F# which I can play with 2 and 3 curled but not with any force, so I just left out the A (it's in the previous chord, I think, so not too noticable) but maybe it will get easier. Playing either side of a black key not only doubles the friction but means there is no lateral play at all. Just to give you an idea, if I place my 3rd finger squarely on a G or A half way down the black keys on the Yamaha where I teach, both black keys will go down - on an old Victorian upright I know it will simply hurt!

Offline worov

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #12 on: March 01, 2014, 01:27:38 PM »
Here's some words from Bernhard about thick fingers :

Quote
Yes thick fingers are the worst. Do you get them stuck in between the black keys?  Sad

This will seem crazy, but it is true. How overweight are you? If loose a lot of weight, your fingers will also get thinner (unfortunately it is not possible to loose weight locally, so you have to loose weight in general, which means aerobic and anaerobic exercise and food intake control). Have you ever seen people who have been married for a long a time and they cannot get the wedding ring of their fingers anymore? It is the reverse process. As they grew old, they grew fat, and the fingers thickened. If they loose weight to the point of reaching the weight they had when they first got married, they usually can get the rings off again. Because there are no muscles in the fingers (just tendons), if your fingers are really thick, chances are that it is mostly fat.

Source : http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=3039.msg27397#msg27397

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #13 on: March 05, 2014, 02:24:54 PM »
Here's some words from Bernhard about thick fingers :

Source : http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=3039.msg27397#msg27397

Bernard is usually on the ball but, although this might help some people, I think he's probably missing the point on this one. Bones don't shrink when you diet. Given that volodos and bronfman have no obvious accuracy problems, whereas serkin apparently did, there's more to the issue than body fat.

Offline elizasays

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #14 on: March 20, 2014, 08:11:20 AM »
Here's some words from Bernhard about thick fingers :

Source : http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=3039.msg27397#msg27397

My first thought on reading the original post was - is the pianist overweight and therefore has thick fingers. I have students with thick fingers, but not so thick that they don't fit. And their problem is not the finger size so much as the fact that their movements are lethargic due to a total lack of physical activity. So, we've been working on scale playing, and the students parents are enrolling him/her in a class with activity. It has made some difference, but will take a while before i really know how much.
Anitaelise

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #15 on: March 22, 2014, 02:00:35 AM »
My first thought on reading the original post was - is the pianist overweight and therefore has thick fingers. I have students with thick fingers, but not so thick that they don't fit. And their problem is not the finger size so much as the fact that their movements are lethargic due to a total lack of physical activity. So, we've been working on scale playing, and the students parents are enrolling him/her in a class with activity. It has made some difference, but will take a while before i really know how much.

I think you're missing the point of what was said. Look at volodos and look at serkin. Serkin had problems getting his big fingers in. Volodos certainly doesn't seem to. Being in good shape does nobody any harm but plenty of big players don't have lazy fingers and it's not responsible for what is being spoken of. I'm skeptical myself much of the time (as only a tiny percentage of fingers can't play cleanly by simply sliding in well in advance). However, Alan Fraser is not a fat man and has very large hands. He said he has to put his fingers slightly on the side when playing between black keys or they tend to move too. Although I'm convinced that most people who blame thick fingers have adequate room if they are precise enough about preparing, some hands just do have very wide finger bones that make problems. It's not a weight issue in the few genuine cases I've encountered.

Offline gvans

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #16 on: July 03, 2014, 06:58:46 PM »
I have large hands and thick fingers. My piano teachers, Cecil Lytle and (the late) Nathan Schwartz also have/had large hands. Cecil's make mine look small, yet he won an Int. Liszt Competition...the trick to playing between the black keys is to bend laterally (away from the thumbs) slightly at the wrist to fit your fingers deep into the white keys. Sounds awkward, works great. Nathan taught me this, he may have learned it from his teacher, Alfred Cortot.

P.S. I watched myself play last night, and I also bend medially, toward the thumbs, to fit. So, a loose wrist helps you fit fingers sideways. That was a movie, too, I think.

Offline stevensk

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #17 on: July 04, 2014, 11:26:30 AM »
So, the solutions are:

1) Forward movment technique
2) Thinner black keys   :o
3) Overall larger keys   :o
4) Diet
5) Bend laterally technique

My suggestions:
1) Surgery
2) Choose a repertoare that fits your fingers  ;)
3) Choose another instrument

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #18 on: July 05, 2014, 02:31:21 PM »
I have large hands and thick fingers. My piano teachers, Cecil Lytle and (the late) Nathan Schwartz also have/had large hands. Cecil's make mine look small, yet he won an Int. Liszt Competition...the trick to playing between the black keys is to bend laterally (away from the thumbs) slightly at the wrist to fit your fingers deep into the white keys. Sounds awkward, works great. Nathan taught me this, he may have learned it from his teacher, Alfred Cortot.

P.S. I watched myself play last night, and I also bend medially, toward the thumbs, to fit. So, a loose wrist helps you fit fingers sideways. That was a movie, too, I think.

Can you clarify? I don't follow either why you'd want to do any bending at the wrist (rather than adjust further back, while keeping  an aligned wrist) or how a bend at the wrist would get the fingers in easier. Can you offer more specifics on exactly what you mean here?

Offline gvans

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #19 on: July 05, 2014, 05:20:50 PM »
If your fingers don't fit onto the white keys between the black keys when playing "in the keys" you rotate the fingers slightly and they suddenly fit fine. To do this, you have to flex your wrist laterally or medially slightly and, perhaps, rotate your radius slightly at the elbow. Hard to explain anatomically and doesn't really require thought--but it works well.

If fact, it works so well I have been criticized sometimes for playing too close to the keys. But I like the feel of the black keys for orientation, especially in chamber pieces like Brahms Op. 87, where there are difficult all-white key passages.

Mr. Schwartz suggested I do this thirty years ago and I have had good luck with it.

Offline nanabush

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #20 on: July 15, 2014, 11:42:19 PM »
One of my friends at Uni had thick fingers, and he hated it haha.  The teacher gave us each a Chopin Etude to work on...the friend was making a joke list of all the Etudes that were "physically possible" and he had like 3 on the list haha.  I think he was working on the Op.25 #7, but the teacher wanted him to do 10/2... He was like "no f*cking way are my fingers fitting in that piece".

Forward momentum as mentioned earlier works really well... even for people with thinner fingers who are having trouble grasping a chord.
Interested in discussing:

-Prokofiev Toccata
-Scriabin Sonata 2

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #21 on: July 18, 2014, 05:35:40 PM »
If your fingers don't fit onto the white keys between the black keys when playing "in the keys" you rotate the fingers slightly and they suddenly fit fine. To do this, you have to flex your wrist laterally or medially slightly and, perhaps, rotate your radius slightly at the elbow. Hard to explain anatomically and doesn't really require thought--but it works well.

If fact, it works so well I have been criticized sometimes for playing too close to the keys. But I like the feel of the black keys for orientation, especially in chamber pieces like Brahms Op. 87, where there are difficult all-white key passages.

Mr. Schwartz suggested I do this thirty years ago and I have had good luck with it.

Quite honestly, I'm not getting the wrist thing at all. What has a bent or straight wrist got to do with the finger straightness? If I want to turn my fingers on their side, I can rotate the forearm. If I bend my wrist I'm just left with a crooked wrist, that will tend to disconnect fingers and arm. What benefit is there compared to simply rotating the arm? Perhaps I'm missing something, but I simply cannot understand what connection there could be between a flexed wrist and the finger, or why you'd want to synthetically bunch up with localised movement at the wrist rather than move via the arm as a whole. It's so much easier when the wrist is automatically aligned via length rather than angled off a straight line these positions are unstable and thus require a lot of stiffness to be maintained. Could you upload a video maybe?

Offline elizasays

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Re: What can you do about thick fingers?
«Reply #22 on: August 21, 2014, 05:11:11 AM »
I think you're missing the point of what was said. Look at volodos and look at serkin. Serkin had problems getting his big fingers in. Volodos certainly doesn't seem to. Being in good shape does nobody any harm but plenty of big players don't have lazy fingers and it's not responsible for what is being spoken of. I'm skeptical myself much of the time (as only a tiny percentage of fingers can't play cleanly by simply sliding in well in advance). However, Alan Fraser is not a fat man and has very large hands. He said he has to put his fingers slightly on the side when playing between black keys or they tend to move too. Although I'm convinced that most people who blame thick fingers have adequate room if they are precise enough about preparing, some hands just do have very wide finger bones that make problems. It's not a weight issue in the few genuine cases I've encountered.
Yes i understand. I've never had a student like this. Am trying to find some videos on you tube, where i can see the playing clearly and look at the pianists fingers.
Anitaelise