Small Hands

I’m no expert on this topic. My hands, while not large, are not so small that I can’t get around a lot of stuff (I can reach a 9th comfortably enough). I do somehow end up with a lot of students with small hands – and I’ve had a number of other adult students and teachers ask about it. Two of my most challenging small-hand students were brothers who were big guys – close to 6 feet tall – but who couldn’t reach an octave. Their fingers were long but the stretch between the thumb and 1st finger (1 & 2) was abnormally small. They wanted to play the big stuff but couldn’t.

A few suggestions to get around problem spots:

  • Jump, break chords, roll chords – those big chords don’t all need to be played as a solid block. In fact, until a few decades ago, a lot of performers didn’t, even if they could. So break them up with judicious use of pedal. (This is also how to get around the solid 4-note chord requirements for exams).
  • Re-distribute the notes between the hands as needed. Of course it’s allowed. What matters is that the notes get played in the right time and that you’re true to the musical style.
  • Fingering, fingering, fingering. Take the time and make the effort to work it out carefully. Shift (changing from one finger to another while holding a note) a lot. Don’t force anything.
  • Relax after every big chord or stretch. Build in an automatic response.
  • As long as you’re not playing for an exam or competition, leave notes out. Leave out some inner notes – look for the ones that are doubled in another voice.
  • At some point physical limitations need to be accepted. 

Repertoire that should work for students with a reach of an octave of less:

  • Bach: 2-Part Inventions, Little Preludes and Fugues, Anna Magdalena Notebook, French Suites
  • Debussy: The Children’s Corner Suite (1,2,3), Le Petite Negre
  • Haydn: surprisingly much of his music is quite workable
  • Mendelssohn: Children’s Pieces (2,3)
  • Mozart: Variations: “Ah, vous dirais je, Maman” (the Twinkle variations)
  • Poulenc: Villageoisis (small careful manipulation needed at the end)
  • Schumann: Album for the Young (selected), Scenes from Childhood (1,3,4,8,10,11,13)
  • Tchaikowsky: Album for the Young (selected)

This is part of a longer list compiled by Mary Tickner of Vancouver, BC. Click here for the complete list.


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About LaDona's Music Studio

Musician, pianist, teacher, blogger.
This entry was posted in Performance, Piano pedagogy, Practice Tips, Technic and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Small Hands

  1. fame1444 says:

    Thanks for writing about this, LaDona! Various issues with exceptionally unique hands and fingers are always popping up and it can be difficult to find solutions. I’d like to share this with the Art of Piano Pedagogy group on Facebook with your permission.

  2. Rami Bar-Niv says:

    Lots of good avice here, though somewhat incomplete. Young people with small hands can still develop larger stretches and spans, even adults can though to a lesser extent.
    My piano fingering book deals a lot with small spans. Actually I recommend ‘small hand’ fingering to the owners of large hands too.
    One of the key tools of ‘small hand’ fingering is a lot of thumb crossing.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Rami.
    Complete coverage of this topic would, of course, result in a book – which you’ve written and I haven’t! I’ve read good things about your book – congratulations.

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