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Tips for improving the Thumb? (Read 784 times)

Offline slurred_beat

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Tips for improving the Thumb?
« on: June 14, 2021, 02:13:25 PM »
Hi all. I have heard that I have the problem that my thumb is stiff. It is heavy. Do you all have some tips for fixing it? How can I make the thumb move better? How can I get more agility?

Thank you  ;)

Offline brogers70

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #1 on: June 14, 2021, 04:11:28 PM »
One exercise I have used is just to play hands separate chromatic scales with the fingering 12121212 all the way through. That puts your thumb (awkwardly at first) up on the black keys some of the time. Just focus on keeping relaxed and then build up the speed gradually over time. And gradually means at a rate slow enough that you are putting back tension as you try to speed up.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #2 on: June 14, 2021, 05:58:46 PM »
From what I've heard, try to play with the tip of your thumb to the side, with the thumb slightly bent. Place your thumb in that position and then consciously relax your hand.

I might also try to work on scales and arpeggios.  Chromatic scales, I find, also loosen up the thumb quite nicely.

Online lelle

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #3 on: June 14, 2021, 10:55:10 PM »
From what I've heard, try to play with the tip of your thumb to the side, with the thumb slightly bent. Place your thumb in that position and then consciously relax your hand.

I find the thumb automatically ends up in the right shape if you make sure to really relax it (and your hand and wrist), can you relate to that?

Offline ranjit

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #4 on: June 15, 2021, 01:14:39 AM »
I find the thumb automatically ends up in the right shape if you make sure to really relax it (and your hand and wrist), can you relate to that?
It's possible, but from my experience you can also end up with a flat thumb, which isn't what you want either.

Online lelle

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #5 on: June 15, 2021, 11:40:16 PM »
It's possible, but from my experience you can also end up with a flat thumb, which isn't what you want either.

When your thumb is flat, is it completely relaxed like cooked spaghetti, or is there some extra tension in some joint? Can you be equally relaxed with a flat and a bent thumb?

Offline ranjit

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #6 on: June 15, 2021, 11:54:04 PM »
It's probably slightly "suspended" from the shoulder, and it's not tense at all. Flat fingers don't feel tense, I started out with those when I was teaching myself lol  ;)

Online lelle

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #7 on: June 16, 2021, 07:03:40 PM »
It's probably slightly "suspended" from the shoulder, and it's not tense at all. Flat fingers don't feel tense, I started out with those when I was teaching myself lol  ;)

I don't understand what you mean by suspended from the shoulder, but I was thinking more about the muscles that directly control the thumb, which are in the hand and forearm. I'm mostly curious what shape your thumb ends up in when all those muscles are at their most relaxed, what the thumb's "neutral" resting position is if you will. Is it flat or bent?

Offline ranjit

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #8 on: June 16, 2021, 08:20:11 PM »
I would say it's "flat", parallel to the arm.

Online lelle

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #9 on: June 18, 2021, 11:25:11 PM »
I would say it's "flat", parallel to the arm.

If your thumb has that shape when it's at its most relaxed, I don't think there is any wrong with that shape. We are interested in being relaxed and neutral as a base, and not a particular position being right or wrong, in my opinion. It depends a bit on your body structure exactly what shape your hand is in when it's relaxed.

Offline slurred_beat

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #10 on: June 22, 2021, 07:15:09 PM »
Thank you all it is interesting to read the discussion. Is the only advices that are needed to play chromatic scales with 1212 and playing scales & arpeggios? And also to relax the thumb? Is that it?

Offline j_tour

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #11 on: June 22, 2021, 08:20:46 PM »
Is the only advices that are needed to play chromatic scales with 1212 and playing scales & arpeggios?

I wasn't really following this thread, so I missed this suggestion.  Intriguing, but I've never tried it (I just use the "regular" fingerings for chromatic scales, i.e., from C, 1 3 1 3 1 2 3 1.....etc), so can't comment other than that it sounds like it's worth a shot.

What I have been playing with is the Chopin étude Op. 10 no. 2, and the corresponding Godowsky version for LH alone. 

While I have not been very diligent nor successful with the peculiar fingering Chopin uses (and which Godowsky sort of inverts for the LH), the thumb does come into play in the accompanying chordal figurations.

So, regardless of the rest of the RH, literally all the thumb and index finger are doing is dropping very quickly onto the keys.  Again and again.  I don't see how you could possibly play it with any tension at all in those two fingers.  They just fall onto the keys, since fingers 3, 4, 5 are very much carrying the piece.

I would think an even better exercise, with an equally slow, attentive pace required, would be just doing repeated notes using 1 and 2.  Or trills using the thumb on one of the notes.  Either hand.

I doubt you'd be going at too fast a pace with those, but you can observe (or have someone else observe) what motions or tensions are contributing to your difficulties.

But, in generalities, I can't say more than what others have suggested:  don't try to move your thumb at all.  Attack trills (including single-note trills) using only the wrist, and see if your thumb doesn't adapt to this "forced relaxation." 

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Online lelle

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #12 on: June 25, 2021, 11:56:24 PM »

But, in generalities, I can't say more than what others have suggested:  don't try to move your thumb at all.  Attack trills (including single-note trills) using only the wrist, and see if your thumb doesn't adapt to this "forced relaxation."

For an alternate perspective, this has not worked for me. I have had some habits in the past of having stiff unmoving thumbs and this was reinforced by moving the arm/wrist instead. So for me, it was valuable to learn to relax the thumb and instill some independent movement in it.

Offline sy.copper

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #13 on: July 16, 2021, 10:56:26 AM »
If you have a decent amount of advanced experience in piano, you could try playing Chopin's Etude op. 25 no. 11 "Winter Wind". It focuses on the agility of the thumb, and also might enhance the speed of your fingers as well.

When learning the piece, remember to start slow. Don't overwork your thumb too much, let it recover and rest after a while to let it get used to it.

Also, when you have time, just try and move your thumb around more (try moving it by itself or use your other hand to manoeuvre it around if it is too stiff and will hurt/feel uncomfortable).

Hope this helps (you and your thumb both)!

Offline nightwindsonata

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #14 on: August 02, 2021, 10:26:50 PM »
Hi all. I have heard that I have the problem that my thumb is stiff. It is heavy. Do you all have some tips for fixing it? How can I make the thumb move better? How can I get more agility?

Thank you  ;)

While all the advice here is well and good for practice, none of it will help if you do not first gain an awareness of your thumb as a muscle and a part of your body.

Here is an exercise I did with some of my students today:

-Place your thumb on a key, preferably a white key (ie, middle C). Play the note with the thumb, and hold it there for about three seconds. Then, release the note by pulling the thumb back off the key (towards your body) for a sharp release.

-Play the note again, this time waiting until the sound dissipates. Then, let the key naturally push your thumb back up, gently balancing it on the key and letting it rise as slowly as possible. Do this a few more times, until you find that you are able to control the speed of the release as much as your like.

-Now, begin playing the thumb in a repeated figure of about one quarter note per second (60 bpm), slowly if need be, controlling the weight in your arm and focusing on the release of each note.

Your problem is not the thumb itself, but rather your awareness of your arm weight, and the control you have over the down-motion of playing a note, and the up-motion of releasing it. An exercise doesn't need to be complicated to be effective, but once you gain a specific awareness of your thumb, it will become flexible and light on its own, and the advice below will be much easier to utilize. That said, I don't really recommend playing the Winter Wind Etude unless you're a god at reading (even I don't have the confidence to take on that piece yet!).
Program:
Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata
Bach Prelude and Fugue in A flat
Beethoven The Hunt Sonata
Brahms Op. 119
Florence Price Clouds

Offline slurred_beat

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #15 on: August 03, 2021, 09:43:17 PM »
While all the advice here is well and good for practice, none of it will help if you do not first gain an awareness of your thumb as a muscle and a part of your body.

Here is an exercise I did with some of my students today:

-Place your thumb on a key, preferably a white key (ie, middle C). Play the note with the thumb, and hold it there for about three seconds. Then, release the note by pulling the thumb back off the key (towards your body) for a sharp release.

-Play the note again, this time waiting until the sound dissipates. Then, let the key naturally push your thumb back up, gently balancing it on the key and letting it rise as slowly as possible. Do this a few more times, until you find that you are able to control the speed of the release as much as your like.

-Now, begin playing the thumb in a repeated figure of about one quarter note per second (60 bpm), slowly if need be, controlling the weight in your arm and focusing on the release of each note.

Your problem is not the thumb itself, but rather your awareness of your arm weight, and the control you have over the down-motion of playing a note, and the up-motion of releasing it. An exercise doesn't need to be complicated to be effective, but once you gain a specific awareness of your thumb, it will become flexible and light on its own, and the advice below will be much easier to utilize. That said, I don't really recommend playing the Winter Wind Etude unless you're a god at reading (even I don't have the confidence to take on that piece yet!).

Thanks for all the information. Can you explain to me what is weight? Everyone talk about weight but I don't know what it is. I feel like everyone is in a club but I wasn't invited  ;D What it means to control the weight of your arm?

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #16 on: August 04, 2021, 02:59:38 AM »
No idea why people bother with exercises orphaned from actual musical context, you just going to hope that it helps and you will magically understand how to apply any scraps of knowledge that come from it?

The thumb is the most important finger in the entire hand. If you want to improve it you need to study actual pieces which utlilize the thumb in different ways. Thus if you want to discuss your own personal thumb and piano playing you need to actually present us with an actual phrase of music where your thumb is being problematic. Then you can even post a video of your playing of that passage so people can scrutinize whats going on. If you just ask, HELP ME WITH MY THUMB.... full stop...... what the heck can people really say? We just stab in the dark and hopefully something good comes out?
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Offline nightwindsonata

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #17 on: August 04, 2021, 03:02:51 AM »
Thanks for all the information. Can you explain to me what is weight? Everyone talk about weight but I don't know what it is. I feel like everyone is in a club but I wasn't invited  ;D What it means to control the weight of your arm?
Oh haha my bad. I would best describe arm weight like this: you must learn to relax your arms so much that the only thing supporting them is the strength of your fingers; otherwise, they would hang limply at your sides. It takes a great amount of bodily awareness and practice to achieve this feeling.
Program:
Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata
Bach Prelude and Fugue in A flat
Beethoven The Hunt Sonata
Brahms Op. 119
Florence Price Clouds

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #18 on: August 04, 2021, 03:05:44 AM »
But arm weight is not the only "weight" type playing when it comes to the piano. Rotation of wrist can cause weight playing, lifting a finger(s) high can cause weight playing, you can produce different weight effects in one hand etc etc. So what are we really talking about when it comes to weight playing? We need actual context of music to be specific otherwise we can just be talking about anything unspecific.
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Offline nightwindsonata

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #19 on: August 04, 2021, 03:13:02 AM »
This is true. I would love to see a video of the passage in question.
Program:
Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata
Bach Prelude and Fugue in A flat
Beethoven The Hunt Sonata
Brahms Op. 119
Florence Price Clouds

Offline slurred_beat

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Re: Tips for improving the Thumb?
«Reply #20 on: August 15, 2021, 11:54:29 PM »
I will think about a video. I'm scared to be visible on the internet ;D I hope your comments will help me still  :-*