Piano Hand Positions

Question: Where do your hands go when you are beginning to play a song?

– Bob (New York, New York, USA)

Albert’s reply: You’re referring primarily to hand position here, and secondarily to piano fingering.

Hand position refers a block of keys which fall underneath the fingers at any given time. It’s possible to play many notes in succession without changing hand position.

Still, there is an important rule in my piano practice technique that needs to be emphasized: Don’t touch the keys in advance of playing them. Virtually all pianists place their hands on the keys before pressing them. They do this because they think it will give them security, when in fact it does exactly the opposite in most cases. It is essential that you use your mind and ear to guide your fingers rather than using the tactile feeling of the keys and assuming or hoping your fingers will know where to go.

This is an exceedingly hard rule to implement. You really need a serious teacher trained in this technique to watch and correct your playing. The more experienced you are at the piano, the harder it will be to retrain yourself according to this rule. This rule has little to do with talent; it is a matter of habit.

Incidentally, one of the most difficult aspects of memorizing piano music is changing hand position. It’s very useful to practice each hand position separately, without actually playing all the notes in succession. Instead, you can play each block of notes within a hand position, then move on to the next position and play all the notes as another group.

Beginning piano pieces invariably use just one hand position, which will be implied by the fingering. Your very first pieces will almost always involve a group of five white keys in a row in each hand. The fingering will then be designated by the numbers 1 through 5, with 1 being the thumb and 5 the pinky.

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