The Hand Position Myth

 
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Many pianists struggle to play expressively. And injuries from playing are at an all-time high. Why is this?

One reason...the myth of a "correct hand position" that most of us have been taught and continue to teach.

Over many decades we have become tethered to the myth that we need strong fingers, a strong arch, arm weight, exercises, independent fingers, and stability. It is still a widespread belief. What has this achieved? Actually, not much.

If we emphasize a fixed hand position versus how the entire body must act to initiate sound, we are hampering our students’ technique, musicality, and expressivity.

In other arts: dance; theater; and even fine arts; the entire body plays a vital role in our ability to express ourselves. The whole body must play this same vital role at the piano as well...from the beginning.  But too often, the role of the body in piano playing is not even mentioned.  The focus is primarily on fingers and reading the correct notes.

Let’s relate playing to speech. We speak expressively to deliver a message. Speech is sound, tone, inflection, volume, and timing. It requires actions but it does not require strength or stability, nor does it feel like work — it feels effortless.

Expressive sound at the piano feels effortless if our body knows the actions needed to produce the desired sound, tone, inflection, volume, and timing. Beginning with a neutral and natural hand position like Chopin's allows these actions to occur. Starting with a fixed hand position does not.

Does this mean that hand position is not important? No. It means that there are many hand positions required to play expressively. The hand shape and "look” must change from moment to moment. A rounded or arched hand position creates unwanted tension which then suffocates speed, tone color and expression.

We can learn to use the structure of our hand to its highest advantage, which is in its flexibility, not stability. This requires the use of body and shoulder girdle actions. These actions enable the floating arm, flexible palm, and freely moving fingers to be placed in various postures to achieve any sound desired by a beginner or a concert artist.

And arm weight? Another myth.

Touch your finger to your nose. That is the feeling your finger should have at the bottom of the key. No finger should ever support the weight of the arm. In expressive and effortless playing, the arm is never resting down, but is continually being moved by back and shoulder girdle muscles.

The hand must be as flexible as an octopus.  
— Daniil Trifonov