A few years ago I was approached by an adult who wanted to take up the piano. He had exceptionally large hands and thought this would help him master the instrument. However, he was surprised to see that although my hands were remarkably smaller than his own, I could comfortably play more than an octave whereas he could barely stretch to a seventh. So how important is the size of the hand for playing the piano?
Chopin had small hands
The postmortem cast of Chopin’s left hand shows a small and delicate hand that was tremendously flexible. Chopin’s music contains many big stretches especially in the left hand, but seeing how small his own hands were, we understand this is not what makes the difference and that size can be substituted by flexibility and swiftness.
Suggestions for players with smaller hands
Avoid tension: whatever you do, make sure you don’t damage or injure your arms and hands. If you feel any pain or are aware of a strain, stop playing and search for a different way of approaching the passage you are working on. By ignoring the pain and forcing yourself to continue you may be heading down the road to developing tendinitis.
Go for the fluency: If the music can’t flow because you are struggling to play something that your hands just can’t do, drop the extra baggage and keep your musical boat sailing fluently. A steady beat is first priority in all genres! After carefully analyzing the chord in question, you can decide what notes can be omitted to enable fluent playing while keeping the harmony intact.
You can also try either rolling the chords or breaking them, so the bottom note is played before the rest of the chord
Build up flexibility and dexterity: The more time you spend at the piano, the more flexible and agile your hands will become. I experience this in yoga too: If you consistently train without using force you will definitely increase your body’s general flexibility. Scales, arpeggios and etudes are targeted to build up this flexibility at the piano but you can also become more agile by just playing piano music regularly. As time goes by you will be able to stretch your hands to wider intervals and manoeuvre around the keyboard with growing ease.
Choose the pieces you play to fit your possibilities: The piano has an enormous repertoire written for it by the top composers. There is no need for players with small hands to insist on playing pieces that have many large stretches. At the beginner and intermediate levels, you have an endless pool of magnificent pieces written for children that you can choose from. Advanced pieces that are more comfortable for smaller hands are numerous too.
So to sum it up, people with small hands are in good company. Chopin and many other fantastic pianists managed to sound great on the piano without being able to play big stretches. I think the main challenge for smaller hand players is in keeping the awareness of tension free playing.
Pianoways on Facebook
- Piano Technique
- Why Scales and Chords can Boost your Piano Playing
- Yoga and Piano?