How many of you have a piano student who has a pinky finger that is as stiff as a wet sock in the Arctic? It points up and out as though challenging the fallboard of your piano to some sort of duel, while the rest of your piano student’s fingers curve nicely. And while a stiff pinky finger doesn’t necessarily affect your young piano students’ playing abilities, it does cause tension and visually ruins an otherwise beautiful hand position… so you might as well fix it!
I had a student with a particularly rigid pinky. As we worked through the exercises we’ll be sharing below he couldn’t stop giggling. He’s a particularly sunny child, so I didn’t think anything of it until he announced that his hand looked just like a crab. And you know what, it did! So, along the same vein as our uber-popular post How to Fix Piano Student Hand Position With a Goose… here comes
How to Fix Piano Student Hand Position… with a Crab!
Usually, a stiff 5 finger is due to two things:
The first cause can be rectified through some relaxation exercizes as well as making sure your piano student is the correct height and distance from the keys. But to break the habit, try these 3 exercizes.
Crab on the Keys
1. Have your student curl their 4 and 5 fingers under so that the tips of their fingers touch the underside of their hand. This becomes the hermit crab’s “shell”. The “Hermit Crab” is the 1,2 and 3 fingers. If you live in a part of the world where Hermit Crabs are not commonplace, show your student this video for a good visual.
2. Use your “Hermit Crab” fingers to crawl up the keys in a pattern where your student’s fingers play 1,2,3 (tuck thumb under) 1,2,3 (tuck thumb under) etc. or 3,2,1 (cross 3 over) 3,2,1 (cross 3 over). Keep the “shell” fingers curled under throughout the exercise. Try to cover 2 octaves up and back. Then, do the same with the 4 and 5 fingers resting in a normal position.
This is a good warm up to start your lessons as it re-sets your student’s muscles to feel what it’s like to be curved instead of sticking out.
Pinch Pinch Pinch!
Kids love this one! The pattern for this exercize is the same (1,2,3 tuck thumb under and repeat). However, after you play the first 3 keys your student’s thumb and 5 finger “pinch” together 3 times under the palm of your students’ hand (the 3 finger keeps the key depressed forming a little bridge). I sing along and it goes like this “One, Two Three, pinch pinch pinch. One Two Three, pinch pinch pinch!” Your students’ 5 finger will begin to anticipate the “pinch” and will begin to curl under with that anticipation giving them the correct sensation of a naturally curled 5 finger. From now on all you’ll have to do when you see that stiff finger is whisper “Pinch, pinch pinch!” and it will fly back to a nicely curved state!
Dig The Sand
The final exercise mimics the end-product of what you hope to achieve – all 5 fingers curled nicely with correct wrist height, no arm tension and a relaxed pinky finger. The pattern is 1,2,3,4 and then the 5 finger doesn’t play, but rather makes a digging/stroking motion on the last key as though you were sifting through sand. Make sure the 1,2,3,4 remain held down while the 5 finger “digs”. Lift the hand and move up one step to repeat. This gives your student good control over the joint of their 5 finger.
Correcting A Stiff Pinky Finger in Piano Students… is Fun!
For students who have a persistently stiff pinky finger these exercises can become a regular part of your warm-ups each lesson. I’ve always found that making a big deal about a particular habit I’d like to fix can often worsen the problem as the child becomes uber-aware and thus over-thinks things too much. With a Hermit Crab theme the exercises are simply a lot of fun and they’re likely to practice them at home too!
If you’re enjoying our imaginative approach to piano technique you’ll love the way we inspire the boys on your bench! Check out our piano music for boys series, The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo.