Learn some tips on how to keep your fingers on the keyboard relaxed
Are your hands stiff and tired after playing piano? Does your child complain that practice makes their hands hurt? These might be signs that your hands and fingers are working too hard when you play, but there are strategies to strengthen your pianist fingers so you can stay relaxed while you play. 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. Over time, the strain of playing with stiff piano fingers can cause fatigue, or even overuse injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. Developing the coordination required to keep your pianist fingers strong and accurate takes time and patience. If this is a challenge for you or your child, here are four hints for developing relaxed hands and fingers at the piano. By focusing on keeping your pianist fingers relaxed and curved on the keys, using the weight of your arm and the action of your wrist, and taking it slow, you can play piano without getting tired!
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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. You can also imagine you are holding a baseball loosely to find this shape. Let your fingers rest on the piano keys, and take deep breaths to help relax any tension in your hand. 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. Your pianist fingers should stay on the keys, resting comfortably, so resist the urge to lift your fingers off of the keys. Leaving your piano fingers on the keys lazily will help you save energy and reduce the likelihood you feel pain after playing.
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 these arm and finger exercises for piano 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 your piano fingers in a gently curved position, allow your arm, hand, and fingers to “fall” on each key that you play. Remember, let gravity do most of the work! Although focusing on the motion of your arm may not feel like you are strengthening your pianist fingers, by letting the weight of your arm play the keys, you reduce the tension involved in moving each finger.
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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. Your 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 and lifting to the next key you play. By focusing on this gentle wrist action, you can reduce the work each finger does. This will help you play the piano without getting tired.
Take It Slow
I suggest you go very slowly as you work on training your piano fingers to hold the right shape as you play. Start with some gentle warm ups, like wrist stretches and wrist circles, before you sit down to play. Relax, be patient, and take deep breaths. 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 piano 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, because these are the building blocks of big improvements. By warming up gently, focusing on the weight of your arms and wrist motion, and keeping your fingers relaxed, you too can strengthen your pianist fingers and play piano without pain.