Piano Fingers Tip #3

Piano Fingers Tip #3

Finger PostureI’ve written about what affects finger position for piano, as well as the tendency to let your fingers fly away as a beginner. This is a third tip about finger posture.

What is good posture? Typically one thinks about sitting up straight, and it’s a little like that with your fingers as well.

Beginner players, especially if they are short, can develop the habit of “sweeping” their fingers across the keys. Their arms are too low to allow the tips of their fingers alone to touch the keys. What happens is that the hand lays down because the elbow pulls it down. The fingers are then resting flat on the piano key instead of the tip.

The trouble with this is that it reduces efficiency. When the “sweeping” begins to happen, the fingers are doing a lot more work than they need to. The extra motion causes fatigue even faster and prevents the necessary fluidity needed for more advanced songs. Scales are difficult, finger positioning becomes difficult, chording, arpeggios and accidentals can become a challenge as well. These kinds of things are all dependent on strong, correctly postured fingers.

So, to state it directly, here’s the tip: Keep your fingers curved, and fingertips on the keys.

As I type, I realize that the posture should look like good computer posture. You don’t type with your fingers straight down, nor do you type with them flat (where your knuckles are almost touching the keys). No, your arms are fairly parallel with the ground and your fingers have a slight bend. Your fingertips are the only things hitting the letters. That’s the point.

 

 

Of the benefits, another music teacher and performer named T.H. Gillespie who has seen this problem often agrees:

Curved fingers not only facilitate rapid action for fast passages, but ensure greater touch control.

As much as possible, your fingertips should be the only thing that hit the piano keys.

Piano: Dealing with Information Overload

Piano: Dealing with Information Overload

Ever feel like your head might explode with an information overload? This is how someone (particularly a child just starting out) feels when they sit down to play a piece they haven’t learned.

There’s just a lot to look at.

So much to see. So much to do.

So much to translate.

Seriously. There’s so many symbols on the page that even a simple song can make your eyes cross.

Information overload. How do you deal with it? Glancing up at the page, the student struggles to know what to look at. Are they supposed to look at everything at the same time? How do they translate all these symbols into something that sounds beautiful?

It’s kind of overwhelming, and many have been known to shed a few tears over it.

(This may be why there has been so much psychological research done on it. Many have noticed this general issue. Did you know there is an Information Overload Research Group? Crazy.)

Anyway, not only does the music page look like Greek, but their hands aren’t cooperating and just won’t play it right.

This combination = “I stink at piano.”

Sidebar – Know Yourself

If you’ve felt this pressure before, you know what I’m talking about. It can make you want to quit.

Incidentally, this is where some wonderful character training can come into play. If you are a parent, how do you handle this? If you are the parent trying to learn in front of your kids, how do you handle it? God is interested in every nook and cranny of your heart.

It is very important to know yourself. In this case, know how you tend to respond to pressure, anxiety, frustration, and the like when you practice your musical instrument.

If you can take a breath and slow yourself down, you have won most of the battle.

It’s like looking at a map

My wife thinks quite a lot about education and homeschooling. She was working with a child yesterday who was supposed to trace a map of the world, but didn’t know what he was even supposed to trace.

There was so much there! He didn’t know what to look at. He didn’t know what the important lines were.

She led his eyes to the primary outline of the continents and had him trace those. She told me later that it would have been better to have a world map with only the outlines of the continents. That way there would be no question what to trace.

With piano music, it’s hard to simplify. You can’t just erase everything but the outline, so to speak.

That’s why looking at sheet music can be like looking at a map with lots of detail. Where do you start?

Dealing with Information Overload

Because of this issue, there’s a couple things I’d like to say.

First, remember that the more you look at something, the more familiar it gets. Be patient. Give it time.

Second, it is possible to help focus the eyes on some primary elements without feeling completely overwhelmed.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. There are typically numbers used in the Suzuki method. These numbers are a guide to help remind you of which fingers you should play. Try highlighting the numbers.
  2. The songs in the book usually have musical phrases written in (the arches above the staff lines). Try seeing the phrase arches like hats over different heads, or covers over different boxes. Play one box at a time.
  3. Shorten the song even more by playing one or two measures at a time. Only work on a small number of measures at a time, and master it before trying to do the whole thing.
  4. Take sticky notes and actually cover everything else on the page you don’t want to work on, to give your eyes a focused section to look at. Keep moving and removing the sticky notes until the whole song is played with ease. (Credit to my wife for this one!)

Keep listening to the songs on the CD! Your ear will do a lot of correction for you, and can help translate what your eyes see. Think of the difference between learning to play a song you’ve already heard, versus a song that you’ve never heard.

Information overload is a real thing. In our day of immediacy, sitting still while working hard is a lesson that is getting harder and harder to learn. It is much easier to give up and try something else.

Well, this is not a restaurant you can abandon if your food is taking too long, or a channel you can change if you don’t like what you see.

It is worthwhile to keep working at something you don’t get at first. Everyone can relate to this. We just happen to be talking about practicing piano presently.

It’s like life – you listen to someone else play their song, and then you play it as much like they do as possible. Only then can you begin to make it your own and create new melodies.

Observation of what’s important is key. But it can take time to train your eyes to see it.

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Piano Fingers Tip

Holding your fingers properly as you play piano is very important. It’s as important with any instrument, for that matter.

I’d just like to point out a few things that affect finger position for piano.

Posture

First, posture is a big deal. It’s very hard to play properly if there’s any slouching going on. It’s not a good habit. The reason is that it pulls the wrists down. The arms get “heavy” as you slouch and the wrists find themselves resting on the keybed (the little piece of wood that sticks out past the keys). In turn, this pulls the fingers down so that the fingers are nearly flat on the keys. Try and sit straight with shoulders down.

Height

Ultimately, this refers to how high the elbows are. If a child is too low, she has to reach up to the keys. This is basically the same resulting problem as slouching, but the child cannot do anything about it. Her posture may be perfect. The solution is to give her something to sit on.

A related issue for children is that they have nothing to rest their feet on usually. They typically just swing above the floor. When she has something to rest her feet on, her lower back is actually supported better, which results in more confident playing. She will play more confidently when she is not (subliminally) distracted by trying to hold herself up differently. Comfy is good.

Stress

This is actually probably the biggest one (as I’ve mentioned before). When you’re stressed, muscles are tense, and everything travels north. Shoulders go up, breath goes to the chest, and fingers go up. Take some breaths and relax. If you’re too stressed, get up and walk around a bit. It is hard work to train your fingers, and can be frustrating. Keep tabs on your turmoil.

Finger position is important. Give them every opportunity to succeed by watching your posture, height and stress level. Then give them time. Keep working at it!

Piano Finger Flyaways

“Flyways” are simply the name of the fingers that tend to raise up higher than the others. That’s what call them anyway:

child-finger-playing-piano

One reason this happens is because the fingers are not strong enough to push down by themselves, and they feel like they need some help. Most commonly, the ring finger is the weakest, and when pressed, it seems like it needs some help, and the other fingers raise up to give it a little extra help to push down.

Sometimes, like in the picture above, motor skills and dexterity are still developing. The other fingers go up because the child is learning how to use his individual fingers. Other times, for any age, the tendency is to want to see the note “happening.” In other words, like an artist wanting to see where he puts his paint brush, the early piano player feels as if he needs to physically see the note being played.

Another related issue is anxiety. Yes, our bodies tense up and tend to pull everything towards our head. It seems crazy, but think about what happens physiologically when you get tense. Have you noticed your shoulders go up to your ears? Even your breathing tends to be towards your head – in your chest – very short and shallow breaths.

The fingers can go up from nervousness as well.

Practice relaxing at home while you play. Tense up your fingers, arms, shoulders and head/face as tight as you can for three seconds and let it loose. Take a breath (or seven) and try almost visualizing the pressure draining out of your head.

That’s a physiological exercise (among many) you can try, but here’s another thing which is easier to say than do:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” –Proverbs 3:5-6

Very appropriate, I would say.

The fingers will come down in time. Just like learning anything, the repetition will strengthen the fingers, give students a chance to know the music enough to play with out trying to “see” it being played, and end up relaxing them because they are discovering they can do it!