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For TINY HANDS: how to do fast octave scales if I can only reach an octave max? (Read 13659 times)

Offline ffchopinist

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(Not sure if this belongs in Student Corner or Performance, so posting it again here):

Hello, fellow Piano Street-ers!  I have a problem that's been bugging me throughout my entire piano life (~10 yrs of lessons, then another 5-10 yrs of playing recreationally without a teacher):

Most of the larger romantic works I love require long passages of rapid 16th note octave scales, which I can't manage to execute fast enough without hitting some nearby notes.   This brings me to my question:

Does anyone with similarly sized hands (can only reach an octave with 1-5 fingers at edge of keys) have any advice or success stories on being able to play rapid, long, blocked octave runs?  

Before that, some relevant background on hand size, stretches I have tried, the pieces I am trying to play, etc.:

I have tiny hands - my left hand can reach an octave cleanly, and my right hand can reach an octave but just barely.  I can only reach the octave on white notes with my right hand if I play *at the edge of the keys*. I can do large broken chords with no problem (via rolling method) and can do short spurts but can't do the long octave runs necessary in so many of the works I like - I especially struggle with chromatic octave runs, since my right hand has to shift from the edge of the keys (to play the white notes) then move up quickly to play black keys, repeat, etc. (Fortunately, I can play a black key octave with 1 and 4, so that alleviates some of the discomfort, but I can't comfortably play a white key octave with 1 and 4 without hitting something else at present or without having to angle my entire wrist inward dramatically (thus my whole body must ship, since my arm and elbow dig into my side - it takes too much time to do quickly.)

I've tried many of the things mentioned in various forum threads here, but most of them either don't apply or haven't worked.

Stretching: My hands probably aren't going to stretch anymore - I've used all sorts of stretching devices prescribed by my teacher when I was a kid, and my right hand when stretched out is nearly in a parallel line to the keys  (ie: my hand is nearly doing a "split") when I play the octave.  I can  Therefore, I don't have enough "arch" room in the right hand to play fast blocked octave runs without hitting someone else.  I don't think there's much more room (if any) for them to stretch out without injury, since I've been playing since I was a kid and am now 30 yrs old.

Bouncing: I tried bouncing, but this won't work with my right hand - as I mentioned above, I can only play the octave with my fingers and wrist at the far edge of the keys (so I can't easily bounce with the right hand esp in chromatic octave scales, due to not being able to play the octave in the "middle" of the keys). :( Similarly, I tried using my shoulders more, but that didn't work.

Wrist: I tried using wrist movements, but this doesn't work, because I need my hand span to be fully outstretched to reach the octave (wrist movements tend to mess this up) -  not sure if I'm doing something wrong here.

Adapting the piece to fit a small hand: While this works for blocked large chords (where you can roll or drop a note), sadly this doesn't apply to long octave runs in 16th notes - you either hit the octave notes or you don't - there's nothing to drop or roll. :(

Choosing "easier" pieces for small hands or pieces without octave runs - I've seen this suggested elsewhere, but the heart wants to play what it wants to play! I'm determined to learn Hungarian Rhapsody, Chopin's Winter Wind Etude, Liszt's Mazeppa and La Campanella, and hopefully some challenging, beautiful pieces by Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, etc. that all have rapid, long octave runs. They're on my piano bucket list, and I love them to pieces.

I've attached some visuals to hopefully help illustrate (will also add them to the initial post).








 
Does anyone with similarly sized hands (can only reach an octave with 1-5 fingers at edge of keys) have any advice or success stories on being able to play rapid, long, blocked octave runs?

If so, I'd love any advice you have, as I've been struggling with this for ages. Thanks in advance, and your input is much appreciated. :)

--

P.S. This is my first post on Piano Street - after lurking silently for some time, I thought I'd take the plunge and become a more active member. Nice to meet you all! :)


Online outin

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I have exactly the same problem, but no answers unfortunately... Would like to hear some...

Offline michael_c

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First of all, tell yourself this: it's not your fault if the standard keyboard isn't the right size for your hands. As you see from the first response here, you are not alone. In fact there are many others in the same situation. Hands come in all shapes and sizes.

Get in touch with Pianists for Alternate Size Keyboards, an association that is trying to address this problem. On their site you will find (sadly very few) addresses of manufacturers who propose alternate size keyboards.

If you don't have the money to spare for a narrower keyboard, you may just have to bite the bullet: there are probably pieces that you will never be able to play on a standard, "one-size-fits-all" piano. Yes, I know that the heart wants to play what it wants to play, but if the body isn't suited, there's no point insisting. All singers have to contend with this: maybe your favourite aria is Nessun Dorma, but if you have a natural bass voice you just won't be able to sing it.

Find out what your hands can be good at and play pieces that use those qualities. For instance, I know pianists with small hands who are, out of necessity, very good at leaps. Maybe you're good at delicate, filigree passagework. Cooperate with your hands, don't expect them to do things that they are not suited for.

OK: you can't buy yourself a piano with a narrower keyboard and you still want to play pieces with octave runs. Here are a few ideas that may be of some help:

1. If possible, redistribute notes in the other hands. I do this all the time, even though my hands are not particularly small. If you have an octave run in the right hand and the left hand is free at some point to take over some of the bottom notes of the octaves, don't have any qualms about doing it. It's not cheating, it's making the best use of your capacities to get the best possible musical result. Even one or two notes taken over by the other hand can be a great help. I'm constantly on the lookout for ways of redistributing the notes between the hands to find more efficient technical solutions to a passage.

2. Try playing with the fifth finger on the black keys as well as on the white. It's important to be aware of the tradeoffs in this situation: if you play with the fourth finger on the black keys, you will be stretching the hand more and rotating laterally at the wrist, but you will minimise in-and-out movements (when the hand moves towards or away from you). If you play with the fifth finger on both black and white keys, you will have more in-and-out motion but the hand will be less stretched and the wrist will stay aligned.

For a small hand I recommend more in-and-out motion: the smaller the hand, the more the octave played with the fourth finger will stretch it and the more the wrist will need to rotate laterally in order to come into position on the black keys. The in-and-out motion (coming from the upper arm) may seem clumsier at first if you're not used to it, but it should be more efficient for you in the long run.

If somebody says that you must play the black note octaves with the fourth finger, tell them: Poppycock! Balderdash! If you look carefully at videos of the very best pianists playing octaves, you can see all sorts of variations of fingering. There's no best way that suits all hands, it's up to each pianist to find out what suits their particular morphology.

3. Something to try. Maybe it will work, maybe not.

- Hold one hand a few centimetres above the keyboard. The forearm is in line with the back of the hand  (wrist in "neutral" position) and the fingers are completely relaxed, spanning whatever width they naturally span.
- Let the hand drop onto the keyboard, and as it drops open it fast, so that you play an octave. Play the octave staccato, bouncing off the keys and coming back to the original position, relaxing the fingers as fast as you can.

Can you manage this on both black and white notes? If so, there's hope for octave runs. If not, don't insist. Remember that you can damage the hand by playing with the fingers too far stretched out. If you want to have the pleasure of playing the piano for a lifetime, take care of those hands and don't ask them to do the impossible.

Offline stevensk

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Choose a repertoire that fits your handsize, stretching capacity, etc. Dont play pieces that dont suits you. There are tons of other pieces

Offline diomedes

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Quote
beautiful pieces by Scriabin

It's acknowledged that he had tiny hands, possibly smaller than yours. He was unable to play his etude in 9ths, never performed it once. That didn't stop him from playing all of his other repertoire which somehow feels like it's for giant hands and makes irrational demands on the pianist. He was, it seems, exceptionally skilled in compensation. As a technician at the piano, close enough to unmatched. Try to avoid killing yourself over Don Juan like he did, however.

So if you want to throw yourself at the 2nd Rhapsody or any Scriabin for that matter, go right ahead. If your heart actually wants it you'll find a way. I think rachmaninov 3 might be a stretch though. (hello there pun)...

If you can do 1-4 on black keys that's not too bad, btw. Fast octaves, work at it, work on something else, come back to it, etc and you'll find they speed up with time.
Ravel, Alborada del Gracioso
Schumann, Kreisleriana
Scriabin, Sonata nr.3
Liszt, Don Juan

Offline mjames

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It's acknowledged that he had tiny hands, possibly smaller than yours. He was unable to play his etude in 9ths, never performed it once. That didn't stop him from playing all of his other repertoire which somehow feels like it's for giant hands and makes irrational demands on the pianist. He was, it seems, exceptionally skilled in compensation. As a technician at the piano, close enough to unmatched. Try to avoid killing yourself over Don Juan like he did, however.

So if you want to throw yourself at the 2nd Rhapsody or any Scriabin for that matter, go right ahead. If your heart actually wants it you'll find a way. I think rachmaninov 3 might be a stretch though. (hello there pun)...

If you can do 1-4 on black keys that's not too bad, btw. Fast octaves, work at it, work on something else, come back to it, etc and you'll find they speed up with time.

Ashkenazy has small hands and he can play Rach's 3rd just fine. I think it all boils down to technique. Fortunately my fingers and webs are really stretchy/flexible despite the fact my hands are very small for my age (19, m).


As a solution I think you should try what Schumann did. Not sure if it was a hand-stretcher or cutting his webs. Pretty sure it worked out for him. :D
Composing/improvising

Chopin's 4th ballade and 3rd sonata.
Scriabin Op. 42 no. 1, 2, and 3.
Bach Partita No.4

Offline ffchopinist

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Hey Michael, thanks so much for the detailed answer and suggestions - you're the best! I'll definitely be looking into all of these (perhaps except the smaller sized piano, sadly - it looks like it won't do any good if I ever want to play on a piano other than my own - alas!) . I do have a few quick follow up questions on some of your advice:

1. For the "in and out" motion you suggested, I'm assuming you mean "out" meaning playing whites at edge of keys (with palms not above the keys) and "in" being going in for the black keys. (Feel free to correct me if this isn't what you meant!)

    A) Using this "in and out" method going from edge of keys (white) to black etc., would it actually be possible to play chromatic octave runs "up to speed" for pieces?  (or is the needed speed sacrificed with this method - ie: one must inevitably play more slowly than if one does not go in and out?)

    B)  I tried doing this shoulder method you mentioned (great tip!) and got halfway through the scale with no errors but then would inevitably start to hit notes in the middle - esp the key directly to the right of my R thumb or the key directly to the left of my R pinky, and my hand starts to feel really tense since it's hard to relax in this stretched position.  (I wonder if I'm doing something wrong or if I just need lots and lots more slow practice of *all* the octave sales to "lock in the muscle memory" of how to angle the hand for each individual note(s).  Do you happen to have any tips on how to avoid hitting keys 2 and 7 when using the in and out method?
   c) Should I be keeping my hand/finger position constant for all keys when doing the 1-5 in and out method, or should I be reconfiguring and shifting my hand position slightly between notes?



If somebody says that you must play the black note octaves with the fourth finger, tell them: Poppycock! Balderdash! If you lookt carefully at videos of the very best pianists playing octaves, you can see all sorts of variations of fingering. There's no best way that suits all hands, it's up to each pianist to find out what suits their particular morphology.

3. Something to try. Maybe it will work, maybe not.

- Hold one hand a few centimetres above the keyboard. The forearm is in line with the back of the hand  (wrist in "neutral" position) and the fingers are completely relaxed, spanning whatever width they naturally span.
- Let the hand drop onto the keyboard, and as it drops open it fast, so that you play an octave. Play the octave staccato, bouncing off the keys and coming back to the original position, relaxing the fingers as fast as you can.

Can you manage this on both black and white notes? If so, there's hope for octave runs. If not, don't insist. Remember that you can damage the hand by playing with the fingers too far stretched out. If you want to have the pleasure of playing the piano for a lifetime, take care of those hands and don't ask them to do the impossible.

<---I can do this at the "edge" of the keys (with my palm not above the keys) with no problem! :)  However, when I try to do this in the middle of the keys (palm above white keys), the 2nd key (the one to the right of my thumb) is slightly pressed (though doesn't always make a sound if I play carefully)....

Did you mean I should be able to do this drop exercise above the middle of the keys, as well, and does it count if another key is slightly pressed in the process (though no or minimal sound comes out of the stray key)?   Or did you mean that being able to do it at the edge of the keys is good enough and there's hope yet?

I've attached some visuals to hopefully help illustrate (will also add them to the initial post).








Thanks so much again in advance - I truly appreciate your advice and time. :)

Online outin

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Ashkenazy has small hands

Having small hands for a man is not the same as really having small hands.

Offline verqueue

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After looking at pictures I think you should use fourth finger in octave runs - you'll not be the first person who do it - just look at this:
=4m8s

Offline stevensk

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Skip piano, try piccola flute  :D

Offline ffchopinist

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After looking at pictures I think you should use fourth finger in octave runs - you'll not be the first person who do it - just look at this:
=4m8s


Whoa interesting - you mean to just use 1-4 exclusively (and not use 1-5 at all), right? I hadn't ever thought of doing that (thanks for the link).  

Hmm... the problem when I try to do 1-4 on whites, though, is I can't play it with a straight wrist (ie: my Right wrist must turn all the way left beyond 45 degrees, and my arm/angle must dig into my side - unless I really lean my entire body very far to the left)... thus I had always thought it isn't a good thing and "doesn't count" as actually being able to do 1-4, since I know the body is supposed to be "relaxed".

Is it OK to play with a Right wrist/arm dramatically turned left and inward (with arm/body unnaturally thrust to the left) in order to do the runs in all 1-4 on whites... or would it potentially cause any injury (or just be plain bad technique)?  

Offline mjames

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Having small hands for a man is not the same as really having small hands.


Wait, you're not a dude?
Composing/improvising

Chopin's 4th ballade and 3rd sonata.
Scriabin Op. 42 no. 1, 2, and 3.
Bach Partita No.4

Offline rachmforever

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Just don't play Tschaikowski B moll and it will be Ok!
Oh and I forgot Chopin octave etude.....
Chopin etudes op.10 No 1,3,12 op.25 No 12
Schumann and Grieg piano concertos A minor
Beethoven sonatas No.17, No.14
Rachmaninoff prelude B minor
and more...
learning:

Offline pianoplayer002

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Is it OK to play with a Right wrist/arm dramatically turned left and inward (with arm/body unnaturally thrust to the left) in order to do the runs in all 1-4 on whites... or would it potentially cause any injury (or just be plain bad technique)? 

The angle is not what's important, it's the internal state of the muscles. If you turn your hand outwards, for example the right hand to the right, and hold it there with muscular tension, so that you encounter resistance if you grab your right hand with your left and try to move it to a different angle, then yes, it is injurious.

However, if you still allow your wrist to be completely free and supple (ie if you hold your right hand angled outward and can grab it with your left hand and immediately move it around without ANY sensation of resistance whatsoever) then it doesn't matter what angle your hand is. Just look at Martha Argerich playing octaves.

The way you describe you doing it doesn't sound like it would be healthy though. If it feels bad, tense or awkward, it is bad.

The way you describe how your elbow digs into your body when you play a 1-4 octave leads me to believe you might hold the octave span with tension. Try to allow the entire arm to be completely supple in every joint, relax your right hand and let it rest on the keys. Then with your left hand, help arrange the fingers of your right hand so they touch the correct keys. The right hand and arm is still completely passive and "dead". Then move just the finger tips (of the right hand) to play the keys while still allowing the arm and hand to be completely passive and free. Make sure you feel the movement right in the finger tip and not anywhere further back. Try to allow the finger tip to follow the same path as the key it is moving. Try this both with 1-5 and 1-4. Does your elbow still dig into your side?

Offline ffchopinist

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Wait, you're not a dude?

I am of the female gender.

Offline ffchopinist

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Hey PianoPlayer002, you're absolutely right! It looks like I totally lock up my hand/wrist when I play the octave even with 1-5. I tried doing the exercise you mentioned and was able to do it without tensing up the wrist as much for 1-5 but not for 1-4.  I can only move my wrist up and down though when holding the octave at the edge of the keys; sadly, I can't actually move it side to side beyond a few millimeters at best if my fingers are holding the octave. 

I had previously thought I should be keeping my hand/wrist/forearm in a fixed position (and moving from the upper arm and shoulder) to do the octave scales quickly, but this indeed leads to a lot of tensing in the hand/wrist/forearm (especially the forearm - it gets so sore starting only halfway up the scale)....

I tried doing a  chromatic octave scale with the wrist more relaxed as you suggested, and it feels a lot better! (though I still start to hit neighboring notes partway up the scale)

Should I be actually bouncing my wrist up and down  slightly with each note(s) when actually doing the chromatic octave scale?    (not sure if this is what you're suggesting when actually executing an octave scale)

Offline michael_c

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1. For the "in and out" motion you suggested, I'm assuming you mean "out" meaning playing whites at edge of keys (with palms not above the keys) and "in" being going in for the black keys. (Feel free to correct me if this isn't what you meant!)

Yes

    
Quote
A) Using this "in and out" method going from edge of keys (white) to black etc., would it actually be possible to play chromatic octave runs "up to speed" for pieces?  (or is the needed speed sacrificed with this method - ie: one must inevitably play more slowly than if one does not go in and out?)

Yes. If (as it looks from the photos) you are obliged to play the white keys right at the edge, the in and out motion will be considerable, so you probably won't be able to go quite as fast as somebody who can easily span octaves on white keys keeping the hand near the edge of the black keys. It's certainly more efficient than waggling your elbow from left to right, which your particular hands apparently force you to do if you play fourth finger on the black keys.

    
Quote
B)  I tried doing this shoulder method you mentioned (great tip!) and got halfway through the scale with no errors but then would inevitably start to hit notes in the middle - esp the key directly to the right of my R thumb or the key directly to the left of my R pinky, and my hand starts to feel really tense since it's hard to relax in this stretched position.  (I wonder if I'm doing something wrong or if I just need lots and lots more slow practice of *all* the octave sales to "lock in the muscle memory" of how to angle the hand for each individual note(s).  Do you happen to have any tips on how to avoid hitting keys 2 and 7 when using the in and out method?

Well, as I said up there, you're probably obliged to play the white notes right at the edge in order to avoid playing other notes. As you say, "if you play carefully" you can avoid making a sound with the key that is slightly pressed, but you won't be able to do this at speed.

Quote
c) Should I be keeping my hand/finger position constant for all keys when doing the 1-5 in and out method, or should I be reconfiguring and shifting my hand position slightly between notes?

You should definitely not be keeping the hand position constant: that's a recipe for stiffness and fatigue. Remember this: the only moment that you really need tension in the fingers and wrist is the moment when you play the note. The point of this exercise is to work on this sequence:

- just before playing, as relaxed as possible
- at the moment of playing, just enough tension in the wrist and fingers to allow you to securely play the note or chord
- at the moment just after you have played the staccato chord, relax as quickly as possible to come back to the first state.

Quote
Did you mean I should be able to do this drop exercise above the middle of the keys, as well, and does it count if another key is slightly pressed in the process (though no or minimal sound comes out of the stray key)?   Or did you mean that being able to do it at the edge of the keys is good enough and there's hope yet?

Now that I've seen your hands, I'd recommend this: first do this exercise with an interval that is comfortable for you. Sixths should be fine.
- Play a sixth staccato on white notes in the way I explained, dropping down from a position where the fingers are relaxed.
- At the moment of playing it's as if you grab the chord. There's a brief moment of tension as the hand opens out to the width of the sixth.
- As soon as you have played the sixth, come back to the original position, letting the fingers move of their own accord to the position where they are the most relaxed.
- Stay several seconds in this position! Be aware of the feeling on the hand: is it as relaxed as it can be?
- Now play the next sixth in the scale. Keep going up the scale of sixths, waiting several seconds after each sixth.
- When you are sure that you feel the hand relaxing fast as soon as you have played a sixth, you can start gradually speeding up the tempo. You still drop onto the sixth and bounce back, but as the tempo gets faster you shouldn't bounce so far. Also, as the tempo gets faster, there will come a point where you won't be able to completely relax the hand between each sixth.
- When you get really fast, it looks as if your hand is staying fixed at the width of a sixth. In fact (if you're doing this properly!) it is relaxing slightly right after each note. At speed, it's hard to feel the moment of relaxation, but look for it: your hands still have the memory of what they were doing when you left more time between each note.

Work on staccato scales in sixths on white notes with both hands, first separately, then together. When the sixth are as brilliant as you would like your octaves to be, try the whole thing again with sevenths (I know it doesn't sound so pretty, but you get used to it!). Make sure you start slow again. When the sevenths are really good, try octaves.

If the sixths and sevenths are working fine: fast, secure, controlled, brilliant..., but the octaves just refuse to work like the sixths and sevenths, then maybe you will have to accept the fact that your are asking something impossible of your hands. I know you have set you heart on certain pieces, and you probably are thinking something like this:
- If I practice enough it'll work
- If I find the correct technique it'll work
- It's got to work: if I believe, it'll work

But all that isn't true. If your hands are not adapted to playing fast octave runs on a standard-width keyboard, you can't force them. I must stress this: it's not your fault, there's nothing wrong with your hands, it's just that the standard width for a piano keyboard is best adapted to the average male hand.



Offline pianoplayer002

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Hey PianoPlayer002, you're absolutely right! It looks like I totally lock up my hand/wrist when I play the octave even with 1-5.

 I tried doing the exercise you mentioned and was able to do it without tensing up the wrist as much for 1-5 but not for 1-4.  I can only move my wrist up and down though when holding the octave at the edge of the keys; sadly, I can't actually move it side to side beyond a few millimeters at best if my fingers are holding the octave. 

Good! Looking at your pictures it should be possible for you to do with 1-4, at least on black keys. Don't worry if it takes some time to figure it out. You can keep using the exercise to investigate just how free you can be. If somebody else were to come and grab your wrist while you were playing the octave they should be able to shake it around or pull it away from the piano in any direction without feeling any resistance from you (of course your fingers might be pulled off the key when this happens, but as long as they can play the octave it should be held down to the bottom). You can also try this yourself by grabbing your wrist with your other hand. 

Watch out so you don't feel like you are holding the octave span "in your hand". I.i. don't try to "reach around" the octave with your hand. Don't feel like you are spreading out your hand at all, the activity is only in the fingertip. Your hand should basically seem like it is made of jell-o even while the finger tips are holding down the keys of the octave. You should feel as if the fingertips are leading the way, moving down with the key, and everything else just follows, completely passive and free. You can imagine you have little lead weights right at the end of your finger pads, that help the finger to sink down with the key.

Quote
I had previously thought I should be keeping my hand/wrist/forearm in a fixed position (and moving from the upper arm and shoulder) to do the octave scales quickly, but this indeed leads to a lot of tensing in the hand/wrist/forearm (especially the forearm - it gets so sore starting only halfway up the scale)....

As you correctly observed this approach leads to tension and soreness, which is a surefire way to tell you should try another approach. Octaves need finger activity with a supple hand and arm.

Quote
I tried doing a  chromatic octave scale with the wrist more relaxed as you suggested, and it feels a lot better! (though I still start to hit neighboring notes partway up the scale)

Great! If something feels a lot better it should mean you are on the right track. Keep experimenting and refining it. You need to be patient and carefully practise an approach that feels good, keeps all your joints supple and free, and doesn't tense you up. Practise in a tempo where you have enough time to monitor that everything is free and easy during the playing of each octave, moving smoothly from octave to octave.

Quote
Should I be actually bouncing my wrist up and down  slightly with each note(s) when actually doing the chromatic octave scale?    (not sure if this is what you're suggesting when actually executing an octave scale)

The wrist can be free internally even if it is not moving. Check how it responds to an external force, such as your other hand, trying to move it. I do not view the wrist as the "source" of the movement. Try it, and see if it helps you or hinders you. We all have our own mental view of our movements. I suggest your starting point should be getting the fingers active, leading the movement with the fingertips, and keeping the hand and arm completely free of tension, smoothly following the lead of the fingertip. For example, if you play the octave c, and release it, fingers still on the keys, your hand rests over the octave, completely free of tension - then as you decide to move to octave d, you feel as if the fingertips are getting pulled towards those d's, and everything else just follows. No part of your arm should "try to arrive" at the next octave before, or after, your fingerstips do.

I'm kind of repeating myself so if anything is unclear just let me know.

Online outin

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Offline ffchopinist

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Michael_C - This sounds like a fantastic exercise! I will definitely be doing this - and lots of it - starting today and over the next few weeks. :) I'll report back on the results of this exercise again after I've had enough time to drill it in in case you (or any lurkers also with small hands) are curious to see if it works.  Thanks again!

PianoPlayer002 - Aha, now I understand what you mean about "walking" the fingers". I'll try visualizing it like this and see if it helps. Thanks a bunch! :)

Offline jaxcard

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There is a whole section on octaves in the Taubman tapes (you can find other entries about these tapes in the forum). The tapes are expensive, but they did wonders for my playing. The whole point of the Taubman method is to avoid injury. The tapes recommend avoiding use of the fourth finger on octaves. If you can't reach or play smoothly, then use the pedal. By the way, Schumann had to abandon a concert pianist career after permanently injuring his fingers using a stretching apparatus. So please be careful.

Offline ffchopinist

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Hi All! I'm the original poster of this thread, and I'm back with an update - and some good news:

With a few months of work, I've managed to "stretch" my hands to be able to play an octave with hands above the keys (literally just barely in terms of reach but with decently consistent accuracy) and quite comfortably at the edge of the keys.

I wanted to post some updated pics here in order to give hope to other small-handed pianists out there who may be struggling with the same problems.  (We need support groups for the small-handed pianist, truly.)






If you compare these with the first set of pics I posted a few months ago (see first post in this thread) where I couldn't play octaves above the keys at all without depressing other keys in the middle and couldn't play at the edges comfortably, you can actually see a difference.  

Here's what I've been doing that has led to being able to play octaves more comfortable plus an actual slight increase in span:

1.  Extremely careful daily stretching (I cannot emphasize the word "careful" enough.  No increase in span is worth an injury that would lead to being unable to play at all.)

2.  Learning to play octaves with no tension via relaxed arm weight and "bouncing" motions: Michael_C and PianoPlayer002's advice was spot on. (Thank you!)   I started working with a teacher again about 2 months ago, and she had me doing these "drop exercises" starting with smaller chords and eventually to octaves in order to be able to play loud and consecutive octaves with arm weight and no tension.  We also practiced a lot of "bouncing" and "rebound" motions to move between octaves. (Previously, I couldn't achieve great volume over a long duration for octaves without massively tensing up or hitting incorrect notes due to small hand size.)  In addition to practicing the concept of the "relaxed drop" when playing octaves on the piano itself, she had me practice this drop motion in my daily life (ex: dropping my arm on a pillow repeatedly while not at a piano).  I must have done this thousands of times if not more over the course of 2 months.  For those of you who have the same anatomical problems, keep practicing this.... it really works and will do wonders for your octave playing.  I nearly cried from sheer relief the day I realized I was finally able to play octaves at max volume from above the keys with little or no tension consistently when my teacher said "good job" (after a lifetime of struggling with Small-Handed Pianist Syndrome and months of grueling, daily work on all of the above).

3. Deliberately tackling pieces that have lots of octaves.  Call me a masochist or whatever, but I figured I may as well tackle this head on... so I've deliberately been practicing daily with pieces like the following, which have helped:

--Chopin's Opus 10 No 12 Etude (all right hand octaves)
--Schumann's Papillons (the pieces themselves aren't difficult and don't require Very Loud octaves, so this is an easy way to get warmed up in a relaxed way)
--*very slow* practice of various octave passages from Liszt like Mazeppa, Hungarian Rhapsody, the end of La Campanella, etc. (the reason being that I'm trying to get used to playing consecutive and/or loud octaves in different scenarios - ie: don't want my hands to fall into a habit of playing octaves *only* for the note patterns in the above)
--*slow* chromatic octave scales (I've found it's important to do this slowly in order to stay relaxed and not build bad tension habits).    
It's amazing how the hand does eventually get used to this until it becomes almost second nature, and it's possible this may have contributed ever-so-slightly to the stretch in span I've been able to get thus far.

Also, I think it's about training your body to recognize the right "angles" required to hit the octave from above until you can do this via muscle memory.   (This angle differs depending on where on the scale the octave is and whether it's black or white keys, etc... so it's important to train yourself to be able to do this for a variety of octave notes.)  

The challenge with small hands is that if I'm off by even a millimeter... you hear dissonance.  There is literally zero room for error when landing octaves for the small-handed, so it unfortunately takes us probably 100x more repetitive practice to get an octave-filled virtuoso piece down without imperfections vs. the rest of the population.  It necessitates consistent accuracy down to 1-2 millimeters or fractions of millimeters (hopefully more for you if your hand is bigger than mine)....which means lots of patience, determination, and hours of repetitive practice.

4.  Adjusting my bench to sit higher has also helped

5.  Playing octaves with my wrists slightly higher has also helped

I still have a ways to go and am somewhat hopeful (but not delusional) that my hands my stretch a bit more.  Longer passages (ie: many measures) of fast or loud consecutive octaves are still a work in progress as far as accuracy, speed, and keeping it tension-free goes.  I don't think I'll ever be able to play a 9th above the keys comfortable (though I guess you never know), but I think (hope?) that being able to play an octave above the keys with little/no tension opens up most of the repertoire....since it means being able to play octaves at max volume or consecutive octave scales without as much in/out motion, and every chord above an octave can more or be rolled, rearranged, redistributed, or occasionally played an a dropped note.  I'm still trying to figure out how to play the opening of Rach 2 in a way that doesn't sound weird with quickly rolled chords, but hey it's a start.  I'm also just an amateur, so hopefully no purists will be too outraged if I end up having to take some of the necessary liberties with scores that I've just described if I'm ever fortunate enough to have the chance to perform these in public someday.

My main point:

Don't give up, fellow small-handed pianists!  You would be surprised what you can do if you persevere.  (....though do it safely; don't pull a Schumann or worse.)

Also, your hands *may* expand slightly even after you think you are done growing.  (Hey, I'm in my 30s and have been playing since I was 5 - though to be fair, only 12 of those years was with a teacher.)

Thanks so much to everyone for the friendly, helpful tips thus far. What a great community this board is. Hope this helps encourage the other small-handed folks out there. :)

Offline jasper14

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 I'm not going to give you any false hope, which often happens...  Looking at your hand span I would  certainly recommend you consider investing in a smaller Steinbuhler piano keyboard (Probably the small 7/8 size)

  Your hands look so physically strained and uncomfortable on the conventional size, I am concerned you could put yourself at very high risk of injury. You will also only reach your full potential on the most suitable size keyboard !

 As someone else mentioned you are not the only pianist who is unfairly disadvantaged with the traditional LARGE 'one size fits all' system.  The fact is the piano keyboard was built for the average large male hand. The industry would rather keep this a secret and continue the myth that size does not matter and it's all about technique...       

Offline ffchopinist

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No false hope here on 9ths above the keys...I think I'm pretty realistic about my limits, sadly.  The smaller sized keyboard is a no-go for me, unfortunately. I had considered buying one in the past, but it would mean never being able to play on any other piano other than the one in my home - much less actually performing in public.  (As an amateur musician, I enjoy sharing music with others.)  It would also mean having to re-learn and re-train muscle memory for all of my repertoire to date to fit the narrower keys and would also mess up my muscle memory for when I do play on regular pianos - ie: at my teacher's place, for friends and family, for the very occasional public venue, etc.  Sadly, until the day a portable acoustic piano is invented and we can bring our instruments along with us wherever we go and until the day the smaller sized keys are accepted widely in performing venues, competitions, etc., I think they unfortunately won't be practical for most.  Otherwise, I'd certainly love to get one of those.

If you re-read my latest post above, you'll see that I've actually managed to do the octave at the edge of the keys comfortable with no tension when dropping my arm from a significant height and can get by with usually no tension when above the keys.  My teacher has verified this over the course of many lessons, and we spent months working on eliminating tension.  Looking at the pics again, they do look a bit strained (I wonder if my contortions while juggling my phone camera with my other hand had anything to do with it. I also notice that I curved fingers 2, 3, and 4 for the pics for some reason, and I'm not sure why I did that...usually I keep them relatively straight when playing for max relaxation), but the good news is that I actually feel 100% relaxed when I play, especially at the edges.  No one is more paranoid about injury than I.

I also think that in my particular case, 2-3 additional mm would make a huge difference. My left hand's span is about 2 mm longer than my right hand's, and my left hand plays relaxed octaves from above the keys and chromatic octave scales with relaxed ease.  I do think 2-3 additional mm of expansion for the webbed part of my right hand fingers would be a reasonably achievable goal over time. 

..but yes, I do want to emphasize again to other small-handed readers of this thread out there:  Be careful.  If you feel any pain, stop immediately.  The key is to stay relaxed!  Be realistic and know your limits, but also don't always assume your limits are where you think they are. In any case, seek the help of a professional teacher who can help you figure out what your limits are in a safe environment that safeguards against injury.


I'm not going to give you any false hope, which often happens...  Looking at your hand span I would  certainly recommend you consider investing in a smaller Steinbuhler piano keyboard (Probably the small 7/8 size)

  Your hands look so physically strained and uncomfortable on the conventional size, I am concerned you could put yourself at very high risk of injury. You will also only reach your full potential on the most suitable size keyboard !

 As someone else mentioned you are not the only pianist who is unfairly disadvantaged with the traditional LARGE 'one size fits all' system.  The fact is the piano keyboard was built for the average large male hand. The industry would rather keep this a secret and continue the myth that size does not matter and it's all about technique...        

Offline briansaddleback

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I havent read all your post due to its length, but I was going to ask what age are you....
but it is implied to me you are of adult age because of your long-winded but organized way of writing (pics show kid's hands but maybe that is just how the photo was took, as sometimes mine can look like a kid's as well depending on how the pic angle is)

all i can say for advice is there is hope.

I have an acquaintance from a past church that is a piano performance major (in jazz, but can play classical amazingly as well) who has tiny hands as well. A very petite woman and I believe she cannot even do an octave but she has methods and such where when she plays to the trained ear you may be able to distinguish she is applying a different mehtod in playing octaves and such but to most people it is indiscernible.

I believe she does roll but lightning fast, not sure, but i never asked her as that was not on my mind years ago when I watched her play.
Work in progress:

Rondo Alla Turca

Offline ffchopinist

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Hello! I am indeed an adult female in my early 30s. I'm just over 5 feet tall and weigh around 100 lbs which may explain a bit the lack of size.  I totally agree that my hands look like a kid's...my (lack of) decent span is the bane of my piano-playing existence.  Fortunately, I have been able to get some stretch and improved accuracy / relaxation when playing consecutive octaves from above the keys with months of work.  Thanks for the encouragement!

I havent read all your post due to its length, but I was going to ask what age are you....
but it is implied to me you are of adult age because of your long-winded but organized way of writing (pics show kid's hands but maybe that is just how the photo was took, as sometimes mine can look like a kid's as well depending on how the pic angle is)

all i can say for advice is there is hope.

I have an acquaintance from a past church that is a piano performance major (in jazz, but can play classical amazingly as well) who has tiny hands as well. A very petite woman and I believe she cannot even do an octave but she has methods and such where when she plays to the trained ear you may be able to distinguish she is applying a different mehtod in playing octaves and such but to most people it is indiscernible.

I believe she does roll but lightning fast, not sure, but i never asked her as that was not on my mind years ago when I watched her play.

Offline jasper14

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 Who said you can't learn to switch from a smaller keyboard back to conventional  :) 

 Many smaller handed players are now adopting for a personal smaller ergonomic size and can adapt back to the conventional when they need to.  All the research suggests that adaptability is really not a great issue (Providing you practice on both sizes), its more of an assumption most pianists make ! 

 http://www.smallpianokeyboards.org/what-pianists-say.html

Online outin

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Hi All! I'm the original poster of this thread, and I'm back with an update - and some good news:

With a few months of work, I've managed to "stretch" my hands to be able to play an octave with hands above the keys (literally just barely in terms of reach but with decently consistent accuracy) and quite comfortably at the edge of the keys.




Hello again! It's great to hear you've managed to get there :)

I haven't really seen that much progress myself. While the strength and stability of my 5th finger has increased enough to manage the over streching of the joints a little better (I am double jointed), my RH thumb has not gained any more flexibility and still does not open and straighten fully the way the left one does. So instead of desperately trying to play into the keys, I have just worked hard to be able to play on the egde without slipping or sounding weak. Sometimes I manage, other times not. Because of the funny shape of my thumb, I can't play the lower note with the thumb tip at all but have to use the inside of the 1st joint and it's really tricky to do. Just like with you, there's no margin of error, one mm wrong in the hand position and it fails. Fast clear octaves are impossible, but slow ones are getting a bit better.

I sometimes use the "grapping" motion of the thumb and 5th if I have to play a single octave into the keys, but that causes double tension which really is not good so I don't practice that for octave runs anymore.

When trying out different pianos I have found a few where the octaves are easier and more secure. So that will be an important thing to consider when (still) looking for my future grand...

Offline sabtan

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I completely understand the predicament of having small hands.

In time, the more your practice and "stretch" you'll find that your finger spans do increase over time.
But sometimes depending on the piece you'll find that you there should be more emphasis on the top note, in which, you'll have to put more emphasis on your pinky.
With that, of course you can shift your wrist pressure towards the pinky.
Depending on the piece, you'll find different wrist/ shoulders/ elbow movement make it more relaxed, and you can execute the scales better.

Otherwise, like other have mentioned before, some pieces are just completely out of reach for tiny hand spans. You can always try, sight read and play a few times. But if you want pieces that you can "execute" well ( say in a recital or concert), then one seriously need to consider repertoire that are not so physically challenging.
Current repertoire:

Haydn Sonata in C maj Hob 50
Bach Toccata and Fugue in G maj
Faure Nocturne no.2 in B maj Op 33
Faure Impromptu no.3 in A major Op 34
Debussy Reflets dans l'eau

Offline ffchopinist

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@outin - Hi again, and it's good to hear from you! What kind of *safe* stretching (if any) have you been trying? Just curious! I totally feel you on the double jointed part.  My right thumb is double jointed and drives both my teacher and me inside. The double joint reduces sound and power there whenever it collapses inward, and I've been trying to train the joint to not collapse when I play large chords (the dropping exercises helped a lot there).  That's also interesting that you mentioned octaves being a factor in piano selection!  I'm in a similar boat in terms of trying to figure out what kind of grand I want for my next piano.  Was there a particular make and model you found worked really well for you or piano type?   In any case, hang in there my fellow small-handed pianist... we shall persevere. :)

@sabtan - " But if you want pieces that you can "execute" well ( say in a recital or concert), then one seriously need to consider repertoire that are not so physically challenging. "  

Piece selection is definitely key.  While not an issue in a concert or recital necessarily (where "perceived" difficulty of a piece by judges doesn't matter), piece selection has been a challenge for me when I was growing up and participating in young artist competitions where others choose huge virtuoso pieces AND have great musicality.  (Hey, I am not an aspiring professional and no longer compete currently in piano with a demanding corporate profession, but I do like feeling challenged when I play.)  

Got any suggestions as to technically demanding virtuoso pieces / a good challenge that doesn't require lots of octaves?

(I say technical because I already have plenty of pieces where I can work on musicality and really just need more for technique.)  Recommendations would be awesome!  :)

Online outin

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@outin - Hi again, and it's good to hear from you! What kind of *safe* stretching (if any) have you been trying? Just curious! I totally feel you on the double jointed part.  My right thumb is double jointed and drives both my teacher and me inside. The double joint reduces sound and power there whenever it collapses inward, and I've been trying to train the joint to not collapse when I play large chords (the dropping exercises helped a lot there).  

I used to do a lot of streching away from the piano but if I do it too much it just makes my hand "smaller", so causes tension. Now I  mainly just try to relax my hand and strech on the keys occasionally, playing big chords and large intervals.

The thumb issue doesn't seem to respond to any kind of exercises. It can only open upto a 7th without the tip turning totally outwards. Also the middle joint is very much turned inwards (so the thumb is not straight). It makes my teacher grazy too. If I use my other hand to keep the middle joint straight, the thumb is long enough for the octave with the tip still functioning, but without outside help it wont work.

My left thumb functions much better and also the 5th is a bit less double jointed, so left hands octaves are fine.

That's also interesting that you mentioned octaves being a factor in piano selection!  I'm in a similar boat in terms of trying to figure out what kind of grand I want for my next piano.  Was there a particular make and model you found worked really well for you or piano type?   In any case, hang in there my fellow small-handed pianist... we shall persevere. :)


No special model...Obviously the ones with lower key depth are easier and also some really old ones were better, maybe the keys were actually a little smaller on those...but my tech tries to talk me out of buying something really old...

Offline musicalengineer

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I know this is an old thread, but I'm new here, so hopefully this revival from the dead is worth what I have to say.

I'm a 34 year old male and I've been playing for a number of years, although casually, with large time gaps in between, unfortunately.  I can barely reach an octave in my right hand and often resort to the edge of the board just like you show in your pictures.  I have the double genetic curse of short fingers and tight muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue.

My wife is a physical therapist and I asked her about hand stretching, as I had heard anecdotes of injuries from doing so for the purpose of increasing reach.  She examined my hands and was able to determine the muscles and tendons were much tighter than the ligaments between the phalanges.  She concluded I could safely stretch the muscles further and the fascia in the process.

One bit of supporting info she found was that my left could reach an octave easier than my right, despite having identical finger lengths.  She explained this was because I'm dominate in my right hand and use it much more, thus the muscles are more developed and also tighter (which was sounded counter intuitive until she explained it).  I mention that because I think I recall reading you had a similar experience.

So I'm working on stretching now.  I desperately want to play Liebestraum through, and the triplet octave and run of octave eighths in the second variation has been the big obstacle.  I've also got my sights set on the heroic polonaise and the butterfly etude, as well as the entertainer.  The octave with the added third is even maddeningly more difficult, but I'm hoping I'll get there with persistence and discipline.

Online outin

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... beautiful pieces by Scriabin...


Here's a little update from me too:
While my span has not increased I finally got the courage to start learning Scriabin. And what I noticed was that much of his music fits quite well for my type small hands. Unlike Chopin, which is a nightmare because of the clarity needed, in Scriabin I can fully depend on the pedal and the occasional mixing of harmonies and rolled intervals (added to the polyrhytms already there) seem to fit fine with the music...in my ears at least :) And I can often redistribute the middle voices between my hands and use my long 2-4 to compensate for my immobile RH thumb.

The fast pieces with huge chords probably are out of the question, but there are still a lot of pieces that will be within my reach.

Offline ffchopinist

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Hey musicalengineer, nice to meet you. Stretching safely definitely helps!  Outin - it's great to hear your update, and I'm glad to hear you've found more pieces you like that work for your hands.

Here's an update from me (the OP, for those who are new to this thread):

About a year after my initial post, I've made a ton of progress on loud and consecutive octaves.  My hand span has also increased slightly on my right hand to be almost as big as my left.  It's not hueg, but it's enough for me to now play relaxed, loud octaves above the key (instead of just edge to edge)!

The thing that made the biggest difference for me was actually having an excellent teacher.  After a long (10+ year) break from lessons, I reconnected with my old teacher last year, and I've learned loads from her on how to property use the "bouncing" motion with a relaxed arm combined with arm weight to play consecutive octaves quickly and with volume.  She had me spend literally weeks practicing dropping my arm onto a pillow while completely relaxed and using the power of gravity / arm weight.  I did this over and over - probably hundreds of times per day and thousands of times per week. Next, she had me practice dropping my arm onto the keyboard from above using the same motion (relaxed, arm weight) with a loose fist.  Then, I did the same for a few months every day using a comfortable 5th interval, then 6th, then 7th, and finally worked up to dropping my arm down to an octave. (It's OK if you hit some wrong notes on the side at first. The most important part is to stay relaxed.)  I believe another poster in this thread also suggested a similar exercise.  I also often lightly feel the underside of my right forearm when doing this exercise to "check" and make sure there is absolutely no tension. 

If the octave played using a relaxed arm weight "drop" is done correctly, there should be a slight rebound off of the key that happens naturally on its own. Once mastering the arm weight octave drop, I then practiced using the rebound to "bounce" to the octave on the next key over (ex: C octave to D octave).  After being able to do 2 in a row in a relaxed way, I gradually worked up to being able to do 3 (C octave, bounce to D octave, bounce to E octave etc.) until I eventually was able to do the full scale.

When encountering fast passages with big chords (octaves filled in with more notes in the middle), it's a little bit harder, but the principle is exactly the same. My teacher has me practice those passages with just the outside notes of the octave only until I can play the passage in a relaxed way with no tension. Then, she has me fill in 1 additional note in the chord... then 2, etc.

On occasion, I still have to drop a note or rearrange a chord that I simply can't reach, but I feel much more confident / competant in my octave scale / fast octave chord playing abilities since my first post.  I haven't attempted anything that involves an entire page of consecutive octave scales, but I can now comfortably get through all of the octaves in Chopin's Revolutionary Etude, Ballade No 1, etc. and previously struggled quite a bit.

In terms of stretching, I do see a slight improvement in my right hand and can now play octaves more comfortably above the key instead of just edge to edge. A millimeter or 2 really makes a world of difference for us small-handed folks.  Being now able to play above the key is really quite key (no pun intended) and makes the above a lot more possible than when playing edge to edge only.  I didn't think my hand would stretch any further given how long I'd been playing already from a young page, but it actually did stretch. 

I'm planning to keep trying to challenge myself with harder octave-filled pieces in hopes of one day being able to play some octave-intensive Liszt pieces (the etudes, Erlkonig, Hungarian Rhapsody) one day. 

Hope these tips help! Don't give up, fellow small-handed pianists who can only manage an octave. There is hope out there. We may have to work a lot harder than those blessed with larger hands, but we can all eventually get there.

Offline louispodesta

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(Not sure if this belongs in Student Corner or Performance, so posting it again here):

Hello, fellow Piano Street-ers!  I have a problem that's been bugging me throughout my entire piano life (~10 yrs of lessons, then another 5-10 yrs of playing recreationally without a teacher):

Most of the larger romantic works I love require long passages of rapid 16th note octave scales, which I can't manage to execute fast enough without hitting some nearby notes.   This brings me to my question:

Does anyone with similarly sized hands (can only reach an octave with 1-5 fingers at edge of keys) have any advice or success stories on being able to play rapid, long, blocked octave runs?  

Before that, some relevant background on hand size, stretches I have tried, the pieces I am trying to play, etc.:

I have tiny hands - my left hand can reach an octave cleanly, and my right hand can reach an octave but just barely.  I can only reach the octave on white notes with my right hand if I play *at the edge of the keys*. I can do large broken chords with no problem (via rolling method) and can do short spurts but can't do the long octave runs necessary in so many of the works I like - I especially struggle with chromatic octave runs, since my right hand has to shift from the edge of the keys (to play the white notes) then move up quickly to play black keys, repeat, etc. (Fortunately, I can play a black key octave with 1 and 4, so that alleviates some of the discomfort, but I can't comfortably play a white key octave with 1 and 4 without hitting something else at present or without having to angle my entire wrist inward dramatically (thus my whole body must ship, since my arm and elbow dig into my side - it takes too much time to do quickly.)

I've tried many of the things mentioned in various forum threads here, but most of them either don't apply or haven't worked.

Stretching: My hands probably aren't going to stretch anymore - I've used all sorts of stretching devices prescribed by my teacher when I was a kid, and my right hand when stretched out is nearly in a parallel line to the keys  (ie: my hand is nearly doing a "split") when I play the octave.  I can  Therefore, I don't have enough "arch" room in the right hand to play fast blocked octave runs without hitting someone else.  I don't think there's much more room (if any) for them to stretch out without injury, since I've been playing since I was a kid and am now 30 yrs old.

Bouncing: I tried bouncing, but this won't work with my right hand - as I mentioned above, I can only play the octave with my fingers and wrist at the far edge of the keys (so I can't easily bounce with the right hand esp in chromatic octave scales, due to not being able to play the octave in the "middle" of the keys). :( Similarly, I tried using my shoulders more, but that didn't work.

Wrist: I tried using wrist movements, but this doesn't work, because I need my hand span to be fully outstretched to reach the octave (wrist movements tend to mess this up) -  not sure if I'm doing something wrong here.

Adapting the piece to fit a small hand: While this works for blocked large chords (where you can roll or drop a note), sadly this doesn't apply to long octave runs in 16th notes - you either hit the octave notes or you don't - there's nothing to drop or roll. :(

Choosing "easier" pieces for small hands or pieces without octave runs - I've seen this suggested elsewhere, but the heart wants to play what it wants to play! I'm determined to learn Hungarian Rhapsody, Chopin's Winter Wind Etude, Liszt's Mazeppa and La Campanella, and hopefully some challenging, beautiful pieces by Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, etc. that all have rapid, long octave runs. They're on my piano bucket list, and I love them to pieces.

I've attached some visuals to hopefully help illustrate (will also add them to the initial post).








 
Does anyone with similarly sized hands (can only reach an octave with 1-5 fingers at edge of keys) have any advice or success stories on being able to play rapid, long, blocked octave runs?

If so, I'd love any advice you have, as I've been struggling with this for ages. Thanks in advance, and your input is much appreciated. :)

--

P.S. This is my first post on Piano Street - after lurking silently for some time, I thought I'd take the plunge and become a more active member. Nice to meet you all! :)


Per your original post (groan, oh here he goes again), I post the following.

1) I wear a lady's wrist watch size band, and I ain't no lady/female.  I have a very small wrist (unlike yourself) with thin and spindly fingers.

2)  Throughout the years (I am 64), I have tried every stretching exercise known to man.  And, in the case of the extreme Brahms Exercises, it almost ruined my hand.

3)  My coach, Dr. Thomas Mark (a former practice coach of Dorothy Taubman), also teaches an Octave Seminar.  He combines the Taubman Technique with the Alexander Technique (all of which you very much need to explore).

4)  Your are welcome to contact him by email at his website (www.pianomap.com), and he will school you in resolving the specifics of your situation (which is very solveable).

For the record, every female student of Fredric Chopin (all aristocrats) had your so-called "tiny hands."  Do not ever use that term again.  Your goal is the true beauty of music.

Accordingly, I list a link, which will show you that most (if not all) of the female pianists of the 19th and early 20th centuries had "tiny hands!"

And, if you desire any further advice, please do not hesitate to contact me by personal message (PM):


Offline henselt1

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  I'm glad your not letting your hand size hold you back :).  Although looking at your hand span, I would say you could certainly benefit from playing on steinbuhler's narrower ergonomic piano keyboards (probably the small 5.5-7/8 size) The keyboards can be installed in to most upright/grand pianos and switch back to the original keyboard I believe... 
 
 You may already be aware of these piano keyboards, here is a link anyway !   
  www.smallpianokeyboards.org
 


Offline louispodesta

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  I'm glad your not letting your hand size hold you back :).  Although looking at your hand span, I would say you could certainly benefit from playing on steinbuhler's narrower ergonomic piano keyboards (probably the small 5.5-7/8 size) The keyboards can be installed in to most upright/grand pianos and switch back to the original keyboard I believe... 
 
 You may already be aware of these piano keyboards, here is a link anyway !   
  www.smallpianokeyboards.org
 


Thank you for your very informative link, it may help me with my small hand and thin spindly fingers.

In regards the OP, (back in the day) Josef Hofmann had the Steinway Company build a special piano for him because of his small hand.  Absent his chronic alcoholism, he would surely have become the greatest pianist of the 20th century!

Further, as I have stated many times before in this and other posts, most of Chopin's students (that were female) had very small hands.  Accordingly, the average male was no taller than 5' 7".

So, this business about the pianistic ability of large hands was just junk, as referenced by my historical piano news story video.  Were the hands of Franz Liszt, Frederic Chopin and others large?  Yes, they were, but that does not mean anything.

Not only were chords and octaves broken/rolled/arpeggiated, they were "customarily" done so specifically for expressiveness sake.


Online outin

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Further, as I have stated many times before in this and other posts, most of Chopin's students (that were female) had very small hands. 

Then again, from what I have read he didn't let them study his own compositions...

Offline mrcreosote

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I weep for you... I'm 63, male and am in your boat with 9ths and octaves are tensiony.

I tried to see if you mentioned your age but I didn't find it - are you done growing?  When I was growing, I would have considered HGH (human growth hormone) if it would have been effective.

For speed, I try to hit the octave but focus on landing the thumb - if pinky can manage to hit a few, that is a win.

And there is great joy in leaping!  I think it is the most satisfying accomplishment.  Although being able to do Der Erlkonig would really be something.

But there is something much worse than small hands:  a limited range baritone voice - you have no hope whatsoever to sing the melodies you hear in your head.

Lots of nice advice and support here.                                                                             

Offline dratinistar

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I'm not going to give you any false hope, which often happens...  Looking at your hand span I would  certainly recommend you consider investing in a smaller Steinbuhler piano keyboard (Probably the small 7/8 size)

  Your hands look so physically strained and uncomfortable on the conventional size, I am concerned you could put yourself at very high risk of injury. You will also only reach your full potential on the most suitable size keyboard !

 As someone else mentioned you are not the only pianist who is unfairly disadvantaged with the traditional LARGE 'one size fits all' system.  The fact is the piano keyboard was built for the average large male hand. The industry would rather keep this a secret and continue the myth that size does not matter and it's all about technique...       

I have similar sized hands, but how can this be practical for a professional music student(still in highschool). I somehow have very good technique  ;D but stretching has caused injury too, but what if you plan on applying to large competitions(ie van cliburn)? You can't use a smaller keyboard :(
Beethoven:
Sonata no16
Concerto no 3
Schubert Impromptu op142 no1
Chopin:
Nocturne in D flat
Etude op25 no6
Sonata no3
Liszt Wild Jagd
Helps Homage Faure
RachmaninoffConcerto 2
Mendelssoh

Offline pianoplayerstar

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small hands is 'relative'.

s. dinnerstein has small hands; so did alicia de larocha; and the mega-virtuoso Barenboim.

They're awesome pianists.  And you can be too!

I actually don't know if stretching fingers for too long is healthy? will it cause and speed up knarls and arthritis?

Offline jinfiesto

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Whoa interesting - you mean to just use 1-4 exclusively (and not use 1-5 at all), right? I hadn't ever thought of doing that (thanks for the link).  

Hmm... the problem when I try to do 1-4 on whites, though, is I can't play it with a straight wrist (ie: my Right wrist must turn all the way left beyond 45 degrees, and my arm/angle must dig into my side - unless I really lean my entire body very far to the left)... thus I had always thought it isn't a good thing and "doesn't count" as actually being able to do 1-4, since I know the body is supposed to be "relaxed".

Is it OK to play with a Right wrist/arm dramatically turned left and inward (with arm/body unnaturally thrust to the left) in order to do the runs in all 1-4 on whites... or would it potentially cause any injury (or just be plain bad technique)?  

Nope. Not ok. It will wreck your hands eventually. You should just not do it and work on the stretch between 1 and 5. There are some Alicia DeLarrocha exercises floating around somewhere? She had notoriously small hands and also had issues getting to an octave. Didn't stop her from playing Gaspard, Hungarian Rhapsodies etc...

Oh btw, it can help to practice octave runs with just the thumbs if the octaves are tense for you. That way you can practice the stretch separately and just add in the pinky when it gets more comfortable. You just have to pretend like you're playing octaves and use the same sort of technique. I guess the pinky can just chill on the surface of the keys.

Also, in the image where you show a 2nd key being depressed when you play an octave into the keys, why does that matter if it doesn't sound?