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Is finger strength real? (Read 397 times)

Offline ranjit

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Is finger strength real?
« on: June 17, 2021, 01:36:08 AM »
I used to think that none of it mattered, but gradually I'm coming to realize that most pianists seem to agree that there is a certain aspect of literal finger strength (involving the small muscles near the fingers) which plays a role in control and articulation, and that those muscles are strengthened over time. What's your opinion on this?

Online j_tour

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #1 on: June 17, 2021, 02:15:49 AM »
Yeah, I know the outlines of anatomy from reference sources used as texts in relevant disciplines.

But, as I'm picking up the guitar again, I come to question the standard keyboard dogma.

However, knowing a bit more about how the tendons work, both in foot and in hand, I'm not ready to say there are "micro-muscles" in the hands.  That may very well be, and almost surely is, but their contribution is not one I'm aware of. 

Then again, I've been doing a lot of car repair on suspension in the front end, as a sort of hobby, so, I might be confused about degrees of freedom upon each axis.

Even as I'm typing this, I feel contraction and relaxation of the flexor tendons in my hands....it doesn't seem very complicated to me.

Why do you think there are "other forces" at work in the hands (or feet, for that matter) beyond very responsive tendons?  I'm more than open to learn more.
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Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #2 on: June 17, 2021, 02:43:14 AM »
One must be able to use less and less exerted energy to produce desired results as your technical efficiency expands. The problem for most people is not that they cannot press hard enough but that they press too hard with many levels of wasted energy depending on the individual and the piece they’ve chosen to work with. Light weight lifting helps with piano playing so there is something there to benefit you when you directly train to make your body stronger.

Piano is a tricky instrument because you can waste so much energy and still produce a good sound, perfect piano technique is difficult to achieve for many students of piano because of this. If you are rewarded with a pleasing sound it can be tempting not to care how that came about so long there is consistent accuracy.

So considering the piano in terms of no finger strength is a good idea even though you will need to use it you aim to minimise its requirement to produce a desired result.

 Also I can tell a pianist hand just by looking at it, usually the larger muscle at side of the hand connecting to the pinky and the muscle between the thumb and 2nd finger are the give aways. So there is certainly physical changes that occur to well trained piano hands.
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Online j_tour

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #3 on: June 17, 2021, 03:57:29 AM »
Also I can tell a pianist hand just by looking at it, usually the larger muscle at side of the hand connecting to the pinky and the muscle between the thumb and 2nd finger are the give aways. So there is certainly physical changes that occur to well trained piano hands.

All right, savant.  Do me!

https://i.ibb.co/M2dtsB7/rh.jpg
https://i.ibb.co/5585KJx/lh.jpg

I cannot see what you can, except that fingers 5 on both hands are either "enhanced" or "bloated" in each hand.
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Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #4 on: June 17, 2021, 04:03:08 AM »
If you press your 1st and 2nd together the muscle between the two will be noticeably more bulgy in pianists. I just googled that muscles name: abductor pollicis brevis lol, too complicated.
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Online j_tour

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #5 on: June 17, 2021, 04:05:48 AM »
If you press your 1st and 2nd together the muscle between the two will be noticeably more bulgy in pianists. I just googled that muscles name: abductor pollicis brevis lol, too complicated.

So, sort of cameltoe for piano players.

Great.  One more thing I can possibly get fired IRL for saying to my chosen prey.   
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #6 on: June 17, 2021, 04:07:40 AM »
Lol pianist cameltoe I’ll use that one!
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Offline ranjit

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #7 on: June 17, 2021, 08:57:46 AM »
 I'll need to read up on hand anatomy and think about it for a while! That said, suppose you want to produce an instantaneous burst of energy from an isolated finger and nothing more. There is a certain muscle group that is used for it, even if it's not technically located in the fingers. Plus, there are also the muscle groups which help hold your fingers in a curved position. I've heard that these may need to get stronger, which takes time.

Here are some things I've heard:
Suppose you want to play a really fast scale with clear articulation, or even worse staccato. You somehow need the articulation but don't have enough time to put in your entire arm weight or body weight. If you just use forearm rotation, your scale will sound clumped and you don't want that either.

Suppose you want to play at a really loud dynamic range with fingers 4 or 5, or want to emphasize those notes in a chord. They will need to bear a lot of weight without collapsing. So the muscles which prevent collapse need to get stronger.

I don't know man, every pianist I've talked to looks at my hand and seems to immediately notice that I have weak fingers, somehow! They're unanimous and I've got this feedback from 4-5 pianists already. And they specifically talk about those weaker hand muscles getting stronger over time. And I'm not talking about the two muscles on either side of the hand, I've heard various terms including interossei being thrown around. It's not about playing soft or loud or slow or fast, I can do all of that. It's with regard to achieving articulation and consistency, especially at speed.

It's hard for me to know based on my current experience. As these things seem to only become truly relevant at a high level (say, undergrad or higher), it's not something you encounter normally. You don't have to play even scales at 160 BPM in most situations, it's usually enough to get them approximate.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #8 on: June 17, 2021, 11:40:33 AM »
I can see physical weakness in hands when I teach my students but what are we supposed to do about it? It is not like we forcefully train the hand so it becomes stronger and more efficient, it improves over many years good practice, it is more a resultant rather than something you directly work on (too much directed forceful efforts can ruin your hands and set you up for a world of pain). I've seen all sorts of hand exercising torture tools but I think its a wrong way to go about it all, it may also encourage you to play with unecessary extra force. We should instead come from weakness and develop control rather than come from excessive strength which attempts to lighten itself up, I think it is generally more difficult to learn to become soft and gentle than to learn to become stronger.

 There are a number of stories of well known people hurting themselves because they wanted to try and force their hands to become stronger you just have to search them up and you will have lots of literature to encourage you to avoid such craziness. Also stories of people overpracticing and ruining their hands because of it, just as bad.

If this means anything at all in all my years teaching I never had to worry about my students muscular strength in their playing mechanisms, we merely deal with what they have and do work which can be done effectively. It is just as simple as that and I never have had to bother about many things like long discussions about technique or what your hand muscles should do. If you choose appropriate repertoire to build yourself up it just solves all these problems without having to look at them face on. I think I like this approach because I have seen people get so lost chasing the wind in this regard.

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Offline ranjit

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #9 on: June 17, 2021, 04:27:20 PM »
I can see physical weakness in hands when I teach my students but what are we supposed to do about it? It is not like we forcefully train the hand so it becomes stronger and more efficient, it improves over many years good practice, it is more a resultant rather than something you directly work on (too much directed forceful efforts can ruin your hands and set you up for a world of pain). I've seen all sorts of hand exercising torture tools but I think its a wrong way to go about it all, it may also encourage you to play with unecessary extra force.
I'm not talking about hand exercises, just regular playing of scales, other pieces, etc. which would eventually "strengthen" the hand. But I'm not so convinced that a strong hand means much. You may not encounter it normally, but I'm in a sort of situation where it comes up a lot. For example, I could play scales at 160 BPM and it would sound uneven. And then when I ask people, their answer is usually that it takes time for the muscles to develop, which is why you can't just play fast and even right away. If that is so, it is very frustrating.

And I can't find any consensus either. Taubman etc seem to deny finger strength altogether, for example.  But I've also heard them say ridiculous things suck as to play all octaves 15. So, is hand strength real or not? Is playing the piano purely a mental (neuromuscular) activity, or is there an actual athletic component?

I used to think there was nothing athletic about it and that it was all technique, because I could play fast and loud and without strain for 6 hours without pain without ever actually training my hands in any way. But I ended up with a lot of pianists telling me that the problems were elsewhere, and I didn't play things like they were meant to be played to compensate for a lack of finger strength. And one should be careful before dismissing the advice of people who can play far better than you. And as someone showed me, "finger strength" does not equate to tension at all.

Again, it may well be the case that what's being talked about here isn't literal finger strength, but it sure isn't bodyweight. Maybe it's arm weight -- I don't know.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is finger strength real?
«Reply #10 on: June 18, 2021, 12:56:57 AM »
I'm not talking about hand exercises, just regular playing of scales, other pieces, etc.
I was talking about them all at once :) “Exercise tools” I mean as in weight lifting type not piano exercises.

which would eventually "strengthen" the hand. But I'm not so convinced that a strong hand means much.
Well you don't need a super muscular hand but your hand does need the experience to have played certain movements for extended periods otherwise it simply will feel tired after a while. Pianists train their endurance to be able to play longer more complicated pieces without feeling exhausted, so there is not only strength of muscles but economy of their utilization which is much more important.

You may not encounter it normally, but I'm in a sort of situation where it comes up a lot. For example, I could play scales at 160 BPM and it would sound uneven. And then when I ask people, their answer is usually that it takes time for the muscles to develop, which is why you can't just play fast and even right away. If that is so, it is very frustrating.
I encounter uneven playing often but not people who try to tell me its all about the muscles. You can specifically train fast scale movements if you need to, it would utilize many different drills to accomplish it as well as adjustments to technique as required.

And I can't find any consensus either. Taubman etc seem to deny finger strength altogether, for example.  But I've also heard them say ridiculous things suck as to play all octaves 15. So, is hand strength real or not? Is playing the piano purely a mental (neuromuscular) activity, or is there an actual athletic component?
I've taught people with joint conditions, pain conditions, genetically weak hands and arms,  a couple who have had strokes etc. Muscular strength does play a role but it is not like you need super strong muscles. The resultant of much piano playing will cause your hands to bulk up and it doesn't need to be very difficult loud music which needs a lot of energy. Mere expansions and contractions of the hand over time will bulk up the hand, not necessary only the force of the fingers impacting on the keys.

What kind of consensus are you searching for? Of course you need muscules to actually move and generate energy but it is not only from the fingers and hands and arms, it can come from the rest of your body too. It takes years for some people to get the technique right for certain fast movements, it is just not something you need to be concerned about. Why bother about ultra fast movements if you don't play many pieces which use it? Have you exhaused all other developmental improvements and just need to be able to play scales fast? I highly doubt it should be top of the priority since there are just so much other issues that can be dealt with which will help things like fast scales.

Much of the times it is realization of economy of movement, but that usually requires a time of playing with less efficiency. If someone plays scales perfectly from the very start (which I think is impossible) they really are not going to appreciate it because what have they got to compare it to? So a large part of our development is to play with less efficiency so that when we make breakthroughts in that department we notice it clearly since we can compare it to what we did previously.

I used to think there was nothing athletic about it and that it was all technique, because I could play fast and loud and without strain for 6 hours without pain without ever actually training my hands in any way.
What is technique though? It is a complicated word with specific meanings when you look at it closely under specific musical context. Economy of movement is a large part of what technique is, so even if you have the muscular strength to accomplish long playing it doesn't mean you can play certain technical movements with velocity. That requires that you make your movements much more economical and efficient, this is why I said a number of times in my previous post that the main problem is not being able to play with enough strength but that people play with too much strength. Also if the experience of playing certain movements is not great then you will face problems. Playing a piece that requires fast scalles I would think one would have a huge amount of work done with scales and scales in many easier peices too, it is not good avoiding that, you need to show you brain and hands what it is like playing scales perfectly at all lower levels then playing them at higher levels is no different, the process is the same, the requirements you search for are the same, but how do you know what this is all about without extensive experience doing it with total success?

But I ended up with a lot of pianists telling me that the problems were elsewhere, and I didn't play things like they were meant to be played to compensate for a lack of finger strength.
We need specific musical context so what we say will make more sense and we can talk about practice method more clearly, but I will try to speak in generalizations even though its pretty confusing if you cannot attach much experience to it.

When something is learned without complete mastery it will be done with some inefficient and poor movements. It is the process in which you are learning your music which needs to be inspected rather than the muscular issues. How are you building your pieces from start to finish needs to be closely monitored and the vast majority of difficulties dissapear if your method of mastering a piece is strong.

This will then should make most people realize which pieces which have technical movements which are simply too challenging or will waste your time to complete. Self learners often will not care and simply continue with these challenges adding more and more techincal patterns to the list but never really playing them with total mastery. It is no wonder then that problems will start arising and it really will not be solved without appropriate repertoire or exercise study which can be done with complete mastery. In this I mean that there are no short cuts with changing thoughts it must be a trained action which goes through a highly regulated process, so how you go about training this all is the crux of the matter. So it is not much to do with strength and more to do with other matters.

And one should be careful before dismissing the advice of people who can play far better than you. And as someone showed me, "finger strength" does not equate to tension at all
Well not all good pianists are good teachers so be wary. Also piano can be played with inefficient technique and still produce masterful sounds, so also be aware of those people too!

Again, it may well be the case that what's being talked about here isn't literal finger strength, but it sure isn't bodyweight. Maybe it's arm weight -- I don't know.
Personally I never thought about piano like this when I was learning and there was no problems with it yet I see so many people getting so tied up about it. You simply can avoid it all by building your skills in an appropriate manner. I don't know why people dont learn hundreds of pieces a year and relegate themselves to only small amounts. If people actually start doing that they will be so busy with their work and so busy with progress that they have no time to think other distracting issues.
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