\"\"
Piano Forum logo

Awkward left hand when playing (Read 967 times)

Offline c_minor

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 54
Awkward left hand when playing
« on: June 30, 2019, 12:54:01 PM »
Hi everyone,

I noticed that sometimes, when playing, my left hand has difficulty pressing the keys (my pinky especially). Here's a sample of my playing:
(this is the best angle I could get for now). The difficulty occurs during the Alberti bass and arpeggios in the left hand. My previous teacher suggested slow practice to avoid the collapsing/"tripping" of the fingers, but even after trying, it still doesn't seem to work.

Could anyone give possible reasons for this and suggestions to fix this? I also noticed that this often happens at the piano at my house. When I play at my teachers' studios, this rarely happens. I'm pretty sure the bench height and distance from the piano are the same everytime.

Offline brogers70

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 919
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #1 on: June 30, 2019, 10:25:23 PM »
Hopefully others will chime in. The fist thing I notice is that your LH is pointing too much to the left. If you want your fourth and fifth fingers to work well you need to have there be a straight line along your arm down the fourth or fifth finger to the key. As it is, the line comes down your arm and then bends to the left to move down your fourth and fifth fingers.

Another way to say it is that in the video your wrist is in adduction when you are using the 4th and 5th fingers, but it should be neutral. Here's a link showing what adduction and abduction look like (neutral is just an intermediate position between the two). It's a picture of the right hand, but you should be able to figure it out for the left. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Abduction-and-adduction-movements-of-the-wrist-joint-Source-Adapted-from-Hall-2009-p_fig3_291030064

To say it still another way - make sure there is a straight line along the outside of your left arm that extends straight out to the pinky, when you are using the fifth finger.

I also agree with your teacher that your pinky joints are collapsing. Having your wrist in the correct position will help. You can strengthen the relevant muscles to keep the collapse from happening by finding a clothes pin and opening it by compressing the ends with your thumb and pinky while making sure your pinky joints don't collapse. Don't overdo it, though, just do a few reps until you feel a little fatigue. A little every day will help. Don't go even close to the point of pain. Or you can just set your hand up in the correct position with a good arch in the pinky, press down a key (or even a table) and let the arm weight rest on the pinky without allowing the joint to collapse. If you need to, at first, you can use the 4th finger or the thumb to help support the weight until your pinky is strong enough.

One you are happy with all that. Try the first few exercises from Beren's Exercises for the Left Hand (available on IMSLP)  and do them slowly making sure your pinky behaves itself. Good Luck.

Offline outin

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 7978
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #2 on: July 01, 2019, 02:44:56 AM »
Sometimes the problem is in the shoulder area, if not mobile enough, your wrist can not aline because the arm won't move freely. I had this issue because of an old shoulder injury. Physiotherapy and exercise was needed to improve the situation. It can also be just "lazyness" in the arm or weak upper back muscles. It's always important to look beyond just hand and fingers.

Offline c_minor

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 54
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #3 on: July 01, 2019, 12:14:56 PM »
To say it still another way - make sure there is a straight line along the outside of your left arm that extends straight out to the pinky, when you are using the fifth finger.

Hi, thanks for the advice. I remember trying this after watching one of the Taubman videos. For some reason my hand has difficulty aligning when playing (could it be weak fingers?). I also checked my arms as outin suggested, but they seem free (my elbows are located near the front of my body).

Offline brogers70

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 919
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #4 on: July 01, 2019, 01:53:02 PM »
I'd be surprised if weak fingers kept you from aligning your arm and fingers. If you're used to reaching for notes with your left pinky by adducting your wrist you probably just have a strong muscle memory of doing it that way and it's hard to overcome. So I think you should just work on the proper alignment by doing something simple and slow - don't go back to that Mozart since you've probably trained in the wrong wrist position there.

And Outin is definitely correct, the arm and shoulder are important, too. Don't be afraid to get your elbow out to the side far enough that it's easy to line up the arm and fingers. My teacher reminds me to "let the armpits breathe."

Offline c_minor

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 54
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #5 on: July 04, 2019, 01:46:19 PM »
Hi again brogers70 (and other members), but would you mind another question? I've attached a picture of my left hand when on the middle of the keyboard. Is this position bad? You said that there should be a straight line from the arm to the fourth or fifth finger, but this seems to be possible only when I:
(i) rotate my wrist a little clockwise so that the pinky moves further into the keys (pressing and reaching other keys is harder in this position), or
(ii) sit further to my right (in the picture I'm sitting between E and F), but this can't be a solution since I'd have to make other adjustments when my hand is in a different location, am I right?

I'll try to ask my teacher for possible solutions during my next lesson, but I was hoping that maybe you can give advice regarding this. This is getting frustrating I admit..

Offline ted

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3677
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #6 on: July 06, 2019, 10:33:38 AM »
I am probably the least qualified to comment, having had no technical tuition, but a noticeable difference between your hands seems to exist. In addition to the ulnar flexion, the fingers of your left hand are very passive compared to those of your right hand, with rotation and weight doing most of the work. Perhaps the reflection trick could help balance your hands. As the keyboard is mirror symmetrical about D and Ab, and the hands are mirror symmetrical, any figure one hand plays can be precisely executed by the other by reflecting the figure about D or Ab.

The nature of the figure doesn't matter in your case, so invent a short exercise with your right hand, perhaps using notes from a scale, which uses single note finger striking. Then execute the same figure, reflected about D or Ab, with your left hand. Doing this will render differences glaringly obvious and enable you to work on making the left hand play like the right.

It's an old practice trick, but it could be ideal for your particular problem.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline Bob

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 15803
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #7 on: July 06, 2019, 05:37:35 PM »
It sounds like you're answering your questions in your post.

Strengthen the pinkie if it's a concern.  To push a key down, you've got the finger, the hand, forearm, upper arm/shoulder, and torso.  Arches are good.  Try just leaning forward from the torso and getting the keys to go down.  You'll see where there fingers need to go for good support/arches.

Try scratching the keys with your pinkie (or other fingers) like you were trying to scratch the paint off.  Extend farther than you would for practice, compared to actually playing the piano.

For the pics, straight/in line is good and more relaxed.  If you have to, bend at the wrist a little.  Or shirt in the seat or lean over.


Just from watching the video, other things....
Right hand.  Finger tips.  Try the scratching thing.  It doesn't look like the first sections of your fingertips are coming in much.
In general, don't be afraid to be more aggressive.  It might off/politically incorrect, but I've seen a lot of female musician focus more on sound and playing correct.  That's the effect they generate -- sound is "nice" and it's all correct, but... who cares?  Don't be afraid to hit/press/smash the keys more.  The piano's not going to break.  And if it does, it's fixable.  I just got that careful-but-nice-sound musician vibe when I watched the video again.
- On that idea, experiment with weight -- Same thing, you've got fingers, hand, forearm, upper arm/should, and torso.  If the piano (or use something else) has a lid, put the lid down, then put your hands in playing position, leaning forward, and use the piano lid to start pushing your body up.  You've got that much power available.  What I see in the video is someone kind of brushing their fingers along the keys.  Somewhere I read it's the torso for the main power, and then metered down in stages down to the finger tips.  Try setting your finger tips on the keys or lid and then make your hand leap up by moving your wrist (or scratch in with the wrist).  Your missing all that power available.  It's not just the left hand pinkie.  In the video your pinkie is there, but it looks like pinkie is being played by as part of the forearm in the middle of the video.  In the beginning, it looks more tensed up, functioning as part of the hand.  I'd add more arch, relax the left hand, Alberti bass is more of a rotating wrist like twisting a door knob. 

Even the language, "finger" "pressing" key.  What about dropping the hand onto the keyboard? Springing off the keys?  Scratching?  Fingers as hammers?  Leaning into the keys? 
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline brogers70

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 919
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #8 on: July 06, 2019, 10:11:58 PM »
Hi again brogers70 (and other members), but would you mind another question? I've attached a picture of my left hand when on the middle of the keyboard. Is this position bad? You said that there should be a straight line from the arm to the fourth or fifth finger, but this seems to be possible only when I:
(i) rotate my wrist a little clockwise so that the pinky moves further into the keys (pressing and reaching other keys is harder in this position), or
(ii) sit further to my right (in the picture I'm sitting between E and F), but this can't be a solution since I'd have to make other adjustments when my hand is in a different location, am I right?

I'll try to ask my teacher for possible solutions during my next lesson, but I was hoping that maybe you can give advice regarding this. This is getting frustrating I admit..

Yes, I'd say you should rotate your wrist a little clockwise so your pinky is in line with your arm - that will give your pinky, the weakest finger, the greatest mechanical advantage, so even if it's less ideal for the thumb and index finger; also you can keep your wrist loose and adduct or abduct it as you need to while you are playing the figure so that whatever finger is playing a key is lined up with the arm while it is playing. It's just a gentle, small movement at the wrist, but it helps a lot.

The alignment that does not matter quite so much is the alignment of your finger with the key itself - it's OK if your pinky comes in at a bit of an angle to the key itself. That would happen if you moved your elbow away from your body a bit and angled your forearm to the center. You do not have to change where you sit, but it is very good to learn how to shift your torso from side to side depending on what part of the keyboard you are playing - that often makes it easier to line up your arm and fingers.

Edit: By that I mean that you keep your bottom fixed on the bench but shift your torso from side to side as needed, keeping it as vertical as possible.

Offline timothy42b

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3101
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #9 on: July 10, 2019, 11:45:11 AM »
Here's my impression.

Nice playing, by the way.  That sounds pretty good.

But here's what I notice, and don't consider me an expert at all.  But I pay a lot of attention to larger movements because I'm struggling with some bad habits throwing a disc.

Anyway, when your right hand moves to the right, you lead with the elbow, and your hand is in a strong ergonomic position.  When your left hand moves left, you lead with the hand, and the wrist ends up cramped and awkward.  You can't possibly have any power in your pinkie in that position.  Think of a golfer who doesn't rotate the body, just reaches with the club emdash never going to work. 

What I think might help is to find that Bernhard post about pearly scales, where he describes the 4 things you need to do to play scales rapidly.  One of the critical elements is that elbow forearm alignment he talks about at length.  Then work back and forth right and left hand mirroring each other (right hand ascends, left hand descends). 
Tim

Offline c_minor

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 54
Re: Awkward left hand when playing
«Reply #10 on: August 03, 2019, 02:12:13 AM »
Thanks to everyone for all the advice. I've been trying slow practice on the Mozart using your advice and it seems to be getting better for me.