alica delarrocha, Artur Rubinstein, Daniel Barenboim, pianists with big hands, pianists with little hands, Shirley Smith Kirsten, teaching piano, The art of phrasing at the piano, the art of piano pedaling, the art of piano playing, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube

Piano Technique: The big hand/little hand controversy (Videos)

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked the same question by either parents, or people I meet on Amtrak. It’s about “piano fingers,” “hand size,” and the best physiological fit for the keyboard. Next in line are queries about tone deafness and “perfect pitch.”

The stereotypes are: A great pianist has God-given perfect pitch and long-tapered fingers. End of story.

Now if you log onto You Tube and sample lots of remarkable piano playing, you’ll quickly discover that short and stubby fingers can work musical magic.

Example, the late Alicia de Larrocha defied all physical stereotypes: She was pint-sized and with little fingers. (the pairing was perfect)

Given her bio-genetics and 4’9″ inch height, you can watch her rip through a fiery composition!

De Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance”

Try this out for size. Alicia playing Liszt’s “La Campanella”–

Talk about finger stretches that KILL!

I wish we could SEE her in this one. But listening without the distraction of vision is even better. Imagine this woman dancing around the keys.

It’s mind-boggling!

I’ve also discovered that Artur Rubinstein had rather small hands, and Daniel Barenboim, even smaller.

A famous pianist of yesteryear, Arthur Loesser, was said to have diminutive hands and fingers but played with finesse and fluidity.

(To be a devil’s advocate, I’ll admit that I’ve had students with such thick, long fingers, that if sandwiched between two black notes, their one finger couldn’t avoid depressing more than one key. And there was no easy way around it.)

After all is said and done, however, one must admit that some passages in the piano literature are more easily navigated with big hands and long fingers.

So why should I bring this up? Well, because my current obsession is Variation 3 of Mozart’s Sonata in A Major, K. 331 with finger-jamming parallel octaves in legato. (smooth and connected)

To cut a long story short, after I carved out what seemed to be a legato-feasible fingering, I found that my work-horse wrist had to elevate beyond comfort.

One solution was to lower the wrist and change my fingering. And that I did.

So even with my smaller hands, I smoothed out a gnawing passage, avoiding further anguish.

To satisfy your curiosity, watch this video, and think of what Professor Henry Higgins said to “My Fair Lady” as he rehearsed the Cockney out of her:

“I think you’ve got it!”

Play through Variation 3:


A pitch for a reduced-size piano!

When Big hands/fingers play unwanted notes

1966 film documentary on Artur Rubinstein, Arthur Rubinstein, Artur Rubinstein, Artur Rubinstein pianist, DR Documentary on Arthur Rubinstein, film documentary, film documentary on Artur Rubinstein, Germany, Hamburg Germany, Hamburg Steinway, NDR Documentary on Arthur Rubinstein, NDR Documentary on Artur Rubinstein, pianist, piano, you tube, you tube video

Rare footage of Artur Rubinstein in Hamburg, Germany made into a documentary (Video)

Seymour Bernstein bestowed this gift link to his list of loyal followers, students, friends, et al, and I was fortunate to be one of the recipients.

The 27-minute film featured on You Tube, captures Rubinstein’s embracing personality and joie de vivre. A celebrated raconteur, he intersperses colorful comments and stories at the drop of a note.

Above all, viewers will experience the pianist’s artistry in full bloom, as he tries out a familiar Hamburg Steinway that had repair work done by factory technicians. They wrap themselves around him like fawning parents as he “improvises” and then plays snippets from the following works:

“Chopin: Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 25 No. 1;
” Etude in C Major, Op. 10 No. 1;
” Etude in A minor, Op. 10 No. 2;
” Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23;
“Szymanowsky: Symphonie Concertante, Op. 60;
“Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales;
“Schubert: Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960.”

No further introduction is needed, except to say that the film will draw you back for repeated viewings.

Oh, and don’t forget to click CC on the screen bottom to activate English sub-titles.