Monday Mailbag – Teaching Hand Position

I have a technical question – my boy wants to rest his wrist a lot while plays. I sit by him and sort of poke underneath to remind him.  Now he’s getting into harder stuff and has runs with 8th notes.  He tends to play with his fingers straight. What can I do to get his “finger posture” correct?

Well, I’ve heard of teachers putting nail strips at the edge of the piano, or smacking kids’ hands with rulers…but aside from the fact that these approaches are highly abusive, they do absolutely nothing to help a student understand why it’s important for them to maintain a good hand position. I am a firm believer in teaching students to understand the reasoning behind what they are being instructed to do so that they will develop a personal sense of responsibility and motivation for applying the instruction to their practicing and playing. Here are some resources toward that end:

  • Three essential areas of technical understanding: Gravity, Strength, and Conduction
  • Teach “slide position” for the thumb – (amazingly, one of the longest-lasting and most effective principles I’ve ever taught my students!)
  • The finger O game. Probably the simplest activity you can do with students, but I use it from the very first lesson and for years afterward and the students love it. They take turns pressing each finger against the thumb to form an “O” shape, then I see if I can use my index finger to quickly break apart their “O.” If I am successful, I make a big deal of how weak their finger is and how much it needs strength conditioning. Conversely, if their “O” shape holds, I make a big deal of how strong and pianistic their fingers are becoming. I encourage them to do Finger O’s all the time – when they’re riding in the car, sitting at the table, watching a movie, etc. The stronger the fingers are, the better they will be able to support the weight of the arm as it is channeled through the fingers to the keys.
  • Take videos regularly so that the student can observe their hand position and see tangible progress as they work to improve it. I use my handy little iPod Touch for this and have found it to be a very effective way of helping students understand how their hand position needs to develop. We record and watch the videos week after week with me pointing out specific areas of improvement: “Look how your thumb is staying in a much better slide position this week!” “See how your wrist is staying up and not dropping lazily onto the edge of the piano anymore!” etc.

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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