One of the most challenging things for a beginning pianist is keeping the fingers relaxed and curved on the keys. Fingers often want to straighten out or even fly up while playing. If this is a challenge for you or your child, here are some hints for developing relaxed hands and fingers at the piano.
Much of the problem with straight or raised fingers comes from tension in the hand. To get the correct relaxed hand shape for playing the piano, let your arm hang loose at your side. Your fingers will naturally curve into a rounded shape. Now, without changing the relaxed shape of your hand, set your fingertips on the piano keyboard. As you play, pretend your hand is very lazy and you want to barely do any work, just the absolute minimum to get the job done.
Tension can creep in when a pianist relies too much on individual finger strength to press the keys. Instead, learn to use gravity and the natural weight of your arm to do most of the work for you. Try this exercise to help. First, face away from the piano and hold your arms out as if you had the keyboard in front of you. Now, let your arm go completely limp and drop into your lap. It may help to imagine you are a puppet with strings holding your arm up. Someone cuts the strings, and your arm falls with no resistance.
Next, on a closed piano lid or on your knees, use whole arm movement and a relaxed, curved hand shape to tap the rhythm of your song or piece. Allow the arm to feel floppy and heavy. Finally, try it on the piano keys. With fingers in curved position, allow your arm, hand, and fingers to “fall” on each key that you play. Remember, let gravity do most of the work!
A flexible, supple wrist will help transfer the weight of your arm into your fingers when you play. With curved fingers already in contact with the keys, allow the wrist to comfortably drop, slightly, as you play a key. After you play the key, allow the wrist to gently rebound back up, in preparation for the next down-stroke. Fingers should stay in contact with (or very close to) the keys as you do this. Sometimes I tell my students to think of the wrist as a trampoline. It starts off level, then you bounce down, and whenever a trampoline goes down, it always rebounds back up! Above all, remember that the wrist should always feel comfortable and relaxed. Don’t force these motions—as I mentioned in the last tip, the trick is to let gravity do the work for you. Think of simply “falling” into each key.
Take It Slow
I suggest you go VERY slowly–I mean excruciatingly slowly—as you work on training your fingers to hold the right shape as you play. Relax, be patient. Work on it one step at a time. Find a relaxed hand shape, practice tapping using the whole arm and a naturally flexible wrist, and then take the way that feels to the keyboard.
As I said, learning to keep your fingers relaxed as you play may take some time, but it will be worth it! Hang in there, and keep at it. Be happy with small successes and small improvements. They will eventually add up to big improvements.