Question: One of my biggest struggles in piano teaching is hand position. I have tried so many different strategies -discussing and demonstrating the natural round hand shape, playing on their arm, their head, demonstrating on the keys, having them ride on top of my hand, using phrases such as ‘pull the sound out of the piano, don’t push the keys’, keep a relaxed wrist, have them feel my relaxed wrist, etc etc etc! My attempts to develop proper technique always seem to still leave me with those few students that no matter what I do, can’t seem to stop playing with ‘flying fingers’ and tension in their arms. Would love to hear your strategies to remedy this!
Fixing hand position in young piano students is front and centre in a piano teacher’s mind when teaching a young beginner, as we know all too well that bad piano habits are hard to break. And so we piano teachers can be found saying… “Don’t forget the bubble! Hold that tennis ball! Don’t squish the kitten!” …or my personal favorite “Cupcake hands not pancake hands!” And while these images work for some piano students, others continue to repeatedly pop the bubble, lose the ball and squish the kitten into a pancake. The result ain’t pretty.
All Systems Go?
When embarking on a mission to fix your piano student’s hand position, first check the overall picture of your piano student sitting on the bench. Are they:
1. The correct distance from the keys? If they are too close this greatly increases the chances of “pancake hands”.
2. The right height on the bench? Students who are too low in relation to the keyboard are forced to angle their wrist incorrectly to reach the keys. An investment in an adjustable bench is in order for really tiny ones.
3. Showing tension in their shoulders, elbows and wrist? If so, lots of “floating” the hands up in the air and then down to the keys is in order. Kids benefit from an aural aid when doing this to get the correct amount of gracefulness (most kids don’t come by grace naturally). I play a recording of some peaceful piano music while we do this exercise and it really helps them to loosen up.
4. Playing too far up or too low on the keys? Some kids like the security of having their fingers jammed in amongst the black keys, others balance precariously close to the edge. Check that their fingers are resting in a natural place on the keys.
Fixing Hand Position with a Goose
That got your attention right?! For most beginning piano students, the source of their hand position issues comes from incorrect positioning of the thumb. The thumb is the only finger that doesn’t press the keys with the tip. And while he’s certainly a dominant digit, if he’s incorrectly angled, he causes problems for the rest of the finger gang. But do not fear. The goose is here.
Have some fun with your student and draw some silly eyes on the sides of their hands. Then, teach them to make their hands into a goose bill shape (see picture). You can’t make a proper goose without having your thumb in a great position for playing piano! Once they’ve found the “goose position” have some fun “honking” or making shadow puppets on the wall. (Yes, you are getting paid to do this) … and then have them place their hands on the piano keys. Students should gently spread their fingers, but keep the thumb and knuckles the same. Once their “bill” relaxes, their thumb (and therefore the rest of their hand) should be at the perfect angle for a great hand position. The funny eyes left on their hands serve as a constant reminder to keep those goose thumbs!
Avoiding hand position problems in piano students will have huge payoffs. So change up your lingo; get rid of the bubble-blowing, tennis-ball-holding kitten pancake and trade them all in… for a goose. Your students will thank you for it.
If you enjoyed reading today’s post then you will love our piano teaching guide, Piano Hands Shouldn’t Flip Burgers.