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Curved hands vs. flat fingers

Discussion in 'Technique' started by Jessica, Feb 6, 2009.

  1. Jessica

    Jessica New Member

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    Forgive me if this is an old argument, as moot as "which came first, the chicken or the egg." I've scanned the first two pages or so, and I don't see anything like it. So, here we go.

    I've been playing for about four years now, and my teacher has always encouraged me to curve my hands when I play. This feels very comfortable and natural to me, and I feel I have the most control when I approach the keys like this. However, I'd been having a lot of difficulty with certain quick passages. I recently attended a masterclass and the artist showed me how I could play a lot more efficiently through alberti bass passages with flat fingers. When I try this, it seems to accomplish the goal more effectively, especially with softer playing because I don't lift my fingers off of the keys when they are coming back up. What do you all think? Should you curve in certain instances and flatten out your hand in others? Thanks again.
     
  2. juufa72

    juufa72 New Member Piano Society Artist

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    I think hand size takes precedence in this argument. My hands are smaller in size and my 5th finger is proportionally smaller to the rest of my hand, (its not gimpy-looking, so no worries there). I have a hard time using any curved hand technique because then my 4th and 5th fingers don't touch the keys. I have to use the flat-hand method because I am limited.

    Those with large hands can use any method because they are blessed enough to reach the keys with curved hands, arched wrists; whereas those with small hands struggle with that form.

    Some might bring up the Godowsky example to counterargue my point. But I'll retort that whatever works best according to the player's physical limitations, is the method to abide by.
     
  3. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    Neither curved nor flat fingers is correct, all of the time. It depends not only on hand size, but also on the particular technique being used. Obviously, you're not going to want to play chromatic thirds with flat fingers. In the same way, sometimes a level hand will make things easier.
     
  4. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Definitely, there is no absolute right or wrong here. I don't believe in dogma's as like you should only do this and never do that. Piano playing is a practical art. Whatever works best for you is the way to go.
     
  5. Jessica

    Jessica New Member

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    Thank you all very much for further illuminating this point for me. I feel much more secure when thinking of this point, realizing that I won't have to fundimntally change my technique as a whole, but alter it in some passages where it could be improved.
     
  6. diminished2nd

    diminished2nd New Member Piano Society Artist

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    As far as hand size is concerned... One really great teacher I take a few lessons from every summer has hands so small that she has to laterally move her arms/hands to play rotating octaves. She would be really stretching to reach a ninth. BUT she almost always plays with her fingers very curved.

    I think it has more to do with how you've learned to play. Also, a good thing to note is what millecolorum said. Sound and projection is always most important. Playing with curved fingers will give a harsher or brighter sound, where flat fingers will give a warmer sound. In the coda of Chopin's 3rd Scherzo, I definitely play with curved fingers to get that very exciting almost crazed sound that's required, but in Ravel's Jeux d'eau I'll use flat fingers most of the time to make it sound more ethereal. It all comes down to taste... find a balance between what makes a certain passage sound best and what makes it easiest to play for you, but definitely don't play the same way all the time... the same sound gets boring after a while :p
     
  7. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    There is an ergonomic element present too. If you stand and let your your arms dangle loosely by your sides, look carefully at the relaxed natural curve of your hands at that moment. It is not the tighter curve of "cupping a tennis ball", nor are the fingers straight or "flat". Instead, that curve is completely natural and neutral. Ergonomically, that is considered the best and safest hand position to use on the keyboard and is highly effective in artistic playing too. It's what I always use.

    David
     
  8. s_winitsky

    s_winitsky Member

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    You know you guys might think I am completely crazy, but I think when people talk about playing with curved fingers; they sometimes also mean to play with the tips of your fingers.

    I think playing with the tips can offer more speed depending on the passage. The tips of your fingers are harder then the pads. As a result they can move faster. To give an example, try doing a fast trill on a soft pillow, then try doing it on a hard metal or wooden surface (like your piano itself.) I think you will find it easier to do the trill on the hard surface!

    That being said, I am by no means a piano technique guy. My own technique is abysmal, and I care more about the score/music then I do about my fingers. Also I usually play with flatter fingers and use the pads of my fingers, though I find I generally try to find the movement/position that offers the most comfort and control depending on the passage.


     
  9. musicrecovery

    musicrecovery Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Jessica,

    I think Rachfan expresses it very well in his discussion about the 'ergonomic element.'

    When we walk we do not think of our toes in terms of curved or flat when we need to step over an object. The big muscles guide us. If we want to move something away with our foot we do not flatten our toes. Why should we flatten our fingers to play the piano? By keeping the big muscles in mind, our fingers fall into place more easily as long as the elbows are loose. The fingers then are able to reach where they need to be, with the arm acting as a lever.

    For playing fast passages I have been taught by German Diez and Jose Aldaz (former students of Claudio Arrau) to think of the larger muscles as well as the position of the fingers. Thinking of the hand as an extension of the arm, and the fingers as an extension of the wrist and hand, is an approach that taps into the natural way our muscles work. Try dropping the arm wight from the shoulder, keeping the elbows loose and unlocked, and the thumbs relaxed to the point of feeling weightless. One can both rotate the wrist and place the hand over the notes. The wrist should easily rotate like a wheel that has no friction. The fingers are then in place from the wrist which should be as flexible as rubber. Proper wrist rotation enables the fingers to be at the right place at the right time. This usually results in fingers with a degree of curve in them. For me, a consequence of flat fingers is tension and stiffness in the hand muscles. This does not let me 'play into the keys' to produce good a tone. The fingers, wrist, elbows and shoulders all need flexibility to facilitate this action. Relaxed technique enables speed and accuracy. The upper arms control the fingers, and from a neurological standpoint, the weight of the upper arms is what enables the fingers to produce the subtle pianistic nuances needed for an interpretation.

    I have taught some people with cerebral palsy or paralysis whose hands and fingers are totally stiff. They cannot be flexible and need a different approach. It is always the big muscles that get their fingers where they need to be. Of course, even that is a challenge for them.


    - Kaila
     

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