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The small-handed pianist support thread


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#1 corenfa

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Posted 23 February 2011 - 21:01

I am a pianist. I can comfortably make an octave and just about manage a ninth. Despite this I persist in thinking that I can learn things with lots and lots of big chords and octaves in them blink.gif How successfully, it still remains to be seen.

So I am starting this to write down what kludges tricks techniques I have learnt to get by. They might be wrong! In which case I look forward to hearing about how I can correct them.

Consecutive octaves in one hand - I can only manage these comfortably by playing on the edge of the keys. Thus, any passages alternating black and white keys result in having to move my hand a different distance for the same musical interval (eg. A-G-F#-E, I have to move what seems like twice the distance for F#-E as I do from A-G).

Big arpeggios - I have to move my whole arm from the shoulder and do what seems to me to be really extreme elbow movements. sometimes I wonder if I am going to take my own eye out..

p.s. even if you just want to whinge here about having small hands, feel free biggrin.gif
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#2 Alicia Ocean

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Posted 23 February 2011 - 22:14

I can reach an octave in both hands. More easily in my left hand than right - and consecutive octaves in the right hand is a non-starter. Also there's various arrangements of notes I can't reach - for example a right hand 2nd which involves a black and a white note with a 7th at the same time.
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#3 JoannaB

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Posted 24 February 2011 - 10:48

I can just barely reach an 8ve with my right hand - slightly easier with my left. If I have to do a 3rd with my 2nd finger in the right hand as well it doesn't happen. Trying to learn a piece by Chopin at the moment and spending most of my time working out which notes to leave out - currently about half of them.
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#4 Guest: mel2_*

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Posted 24 February 2011 - 12:33

Another here who can just about stretch an octave. Am perfecting a brute of a thing (been learning it for over a year and its in the final polishing up phase just now) with enormous great spreading chords in about 3 or 4 places.

Hand rolling is the thing!

It resembles spreading a chord only you have to do it more quickly to minimise the gaps or, to put it another way, take 0.2s to do what used to take 0.5s.

You need to have warmed up first; I can never do it at the first attempt which is why it is frustrating.
I think this must be what diminutive concert pianists must always have done; I can't believe they take size 4 shoes yet have hands like tennis raquets.
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#5 JamesK

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Posted 24 February 2011 - 16:03

QUOTE(mel2 @ Feb 24 2011, 12:33 PM) View Post


It resembles spreading a chord only you have to do it more quickly to minimise the gaps or, to put it another way, take 0.2s to do what used to take 0.5s.



agree.gif
I have to play a gap bigger than my just mangeable ninth, do I spread the chord. However this only works for me if there is not consectuive 10ths or bigger. If there are octaves, then arm weight and wrist action! over exaggerate at the beginning and reduce the movement so you can play if faster and reduce the harshness of sound. A great example of consecutive octaves is Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no.1 Last movement (solo) for speed and even the first bars or the 1st movement for interval jumping. Both require accuracy which is hard enough laugh.gif
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#6 corenfa

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Posted 24 February 2011 - 21:34

I can't do consecutive octaves without warming up - tried today and felt a twinge, and knew that if I went on i'd damage something. after half an hour of playing other things, much better.

It isn't actually impossible for me to do them, I've noticed - just that because I have no leeway, I have to be very very very accurate. Probably no bad thing....
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#7 Guest: lilly763_*

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Posted 24 February 2011 - 22:54

QUOTE(corenfa @ Feb 24 2011, 04:34 PM) View Post

I can't do consecutive octaves without warming up - tried today and felt a twinge, and knew that if I went on i'd damage something. after half an hour of playing other things, much better.

It isn't actually impossible for me to do them, I've noticed - just that because I have no leeway, I have to be very very very accurate. Probably no bad thing....



Hmm, I find that actually "thinking" too much about accuracy leads to tightness, which makes octaves less comfortable. I can also join the small hands club - can sometimes grab ninths if they are voiced in certain ways and slow, but mostly stay within an octave. I thought this was bad, but some people here have it much worse than I do! Maybe since I've been playing from childhood, my hands have stretched? biggrin.gif

Out of curiosity, are you small-handed folk small in stature as well? I am just shy of 5 feet myself... tongue.gif
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#8 corenfa

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Posted 24 February 2011 - 23:23

QUOTE(lilly763 @ Feb 24 2011, 10:54 PM) View Post

QUOTE(corenfa @ Feb 24 2011, 04:34 PM) View Post

I can't do consecutive octaves without warming up - tried today and felt a twinge, and knew that if I went on i'd damage something. after half an hour of playing other things, much better.

It isn't actually impossible for me to do them, I've noticed - just that because I have no leeway, I have to be very very very accurate. Probably no bad thing....



Hmm, I find that actually "thinking" too much about accuracy leads to tightness, which makes octaves less comfortable. I can also join the small hands club - can sometimes grab ninths if they are voiced in certain ways and slow, but mostly stay within an octave. I thought this was bad, but some people here have it much worse than I do! Maybe since I've been playing from childhood, my hands have stretched? biggrin.gif

Out of curiosity, are you small-handed folk small in stature as well? I am just shy of 5 feet myself... tongue.gif


I have to think about accuracy when I am learning something- but at that point, I am playing it very slowly to figure out how exactly to move my whole arm. As it becomes more fluent, I internalise it somewhat and am able to "do the right thing" without thinking about it.

My hands certainly have stretched - I know that I havent grown in height since I was 15, and I could just barely make an octave then. In fact they've stretched a lot in the last two years.

I'm not terribly tall myself smile.gif Just over 5 feet, just over 100 lb fully dressed. I used to look odd in the horn section because there'd be these 3 large guys, and... me.
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#9 JoannaB

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 11:28

QUOTE(lilly763 @ Feb 24 2011, 10:54 PM) View Post

Out of curiosity, are you small-handed folk small in stature as well? I am just shy of 5 feet myself... tongue.gif


I'm 5'7. My problem is partly due to a broken thumb as a child, which is why I have a different span in each hand. What makes the problem worse is if I have to press the key hard and fast (we have a very heavy piano at church) and hit it with the wrong part of my thumb it can be agonising.
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#10 Guest: NMilton_*

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 13:06

I'm 5' 7" too and always considered myself fairly small-handed but I was at the Chopin museum in Warsaw a couple of weeks ago and the cast of his hand is only millimetres longer than mine which I was surprised by.
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#11 primrose

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 21:40

I'm 6'0" tall and my hands are not small, but I can't reach more than an octave. I'm sure this is because I didn't start to play when I was a child. I would probably be playing jazz piano if I could reach a tenth, but it's much harder if you can't. Or rather, your options are much more limited.

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#12 corenfa

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 16:41

... suddenly thinking of this thread having spent half an hour trying to play the Firebird orchestral reduction biggrin.gif I think you need three hands of any size to pull it off
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#13 Matt-steck

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 11:38

No matter how small your hands are, it's amazing how much you can achieve with the right kind of practice. I was having trouble playing RH arpeggios in a Beethoven Sonata a while back.
My teacher showed me a practice techique to try everyday - playing continuous minor arpeggios starting on the white keys from C Minor up to B minor with a short gap between each one. I had to make sure I kept my shoulder down and passed the thumb right under the hand to reach the octave.

By doing this every day for several months they are now effortless to play. You can compensate for the lack of stretch by making the wrists as supple as possible through that kind of practice. It was tedious but worth it!
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#14 Panthera

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 18:39

QUOTE(NMilton @ Feb 25 2011, 01:06 PM) View Post

... I was at the Chopin museum in Warsaw a couple of weeks ago and the cast of his hand is only millimetres longer than mine which I was surprised by.

Sometimes that's all that's needed! I could do a ninth at a stretch (if properly warmed up) and a few extra millimetres would have given me a tenth which would make life much easier dry.gif And yes, I'm here just to whinge about having small hands tongue.gif

I remember when I first went to my current teacher, he looked an my hands and said "hmm, small hands..." then prescribed me Grieg's March of the Trolls which has about 40 bars of double octaves ohmy.gif laugh.gif (Yes I counted tongue.gif) The good thing was, after that, I did know how to relax properly when playing octaves.
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#15 corenfa

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 22:07

QUOTE(Panthera @ Feb 28 2011, 06:39 PM) View Post

... The good thing was, after that, I did know how to relax properly when playing octaves.


Indeed - there's no other way to get it than to just keep at it I reckon. Two of the pieces on my wishlist are Chopin Op. 53 A-flat polonaise and Rachmaninoff Op 25 No. 3. The former has octaves in the left hand and the latter, right hand. After 2 weeks of practicing these, there's a noticeable difference. It has hurt a bit at first, but a good sort of hurt - like at yoga class.

I know that if I can play it slowly, it's just (hahahahaha... "just" blink.gif ) a matter of enough practice to work the speed up. Of course, that might take a year, based on the last piece.

Side note - I think I became a lot happier after accepting that it was just going to take months to learn some pieces.
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