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

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

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

Now if you go on 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, watch her rip through a fiery composition!

De Falla’s “Ritual Firedance”

Try this out for size. Alicia playing Liszt’s “La Campanella”–talk about finger stretches that KILL!

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

It’s mind-boggling!

I’ve also noted 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 play devil’s advocate, on the BIG hand fallacy, 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.

Why should I bring this up? Well, because my current obsession is Variation 3 of Mozart’s Sonata in A Major, K. 331 with the finger-jamming parallel octaves in legato.

To cut a long story short, after I carved out what seemed like a legato-feasible fingering, I found that my work-horse wrist had to elevate a bit much to conform with it.

One solution–lower the wrist and change the fingering. And that I did. (Advice split between Louise Hullinger and Irina Morozova)

So with my smaller hands, I think I’m on the way to smoothing out a gnawing passage and avoiding a nervous breakdown.

If you want 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!