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30 January 2018

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Why Hand Positions Technique Can Raise Your Piano Playing to a New Level - Guest Writer Jaak Sikk M.A.

Guest Writer - Jaak Sikk M.A. 
Lecturer and Phd Student of the Estonian Acedemy of Music and Theatre
Jaak Sikk on YouTube 

One of the fundamental things that makes a difference in piano practice is having a goal in mind while practising. It is easy to slip into emotional playing and repeating material of the piece over and over just 'as it comes'. Going through the piece and analysing it in a way that hand positions and fingering is in the focus can be beneficial from many aspects.

For beginners it can be very helpful to have simple and easy to follow goals. But it is not always simple to find that type of clear ideas what to practice and be sure that they are really helping the pianist to improve. Finding out hand positions is a relatively easy task to do and useful to pianists regardless of the level of playing abilities.

Hand position can be seen as setting of fingers on certain keys. Usually these positions appear in right and left hand separately. Occasionally, depending on the style and musical texture, it is advisable to find positions which involve both hands. It is common that one hand position enables to play several bars without moving fingers away from the position.

So why should you pay attention to hand positions?

Hand positions are a great way to figure out fingering for playing the piece. If you put your fingers on the keys, forming a position that lasts for example for two bars, it naturally gives you a variant of fingering. Very often there are more than one option for hand position related decisions. In these cases it is possible to choose the best option according to the physiological specifics of the hand and preferences of each pianist.

Having clear hand positions helps to create a 'safety buffer zone' in time for, lets say a few bars. What does that mean? If your fingers are already in the right place for two following bars, you do not have to worry about missing notes. It gives you a lot of technical and text related confidence and freedom in piano playing.

As being in the position helps you to 'be in the right place in advance', you do not have to struggle with finding right notes in the last possible moment. As positioning also makes the hand movement more aware and structured, it is easier to play with exact rhythm. Hand position and fingering related erroneous choices are the ones that can distort rhythm and dynamic sensitivity a lot.

Thinking in positions can help to improve sight reading skills a lot. If the pianist is able to see which notes can be played in one position ahead, the mental tension will be remarkably lower and the material to concentrate on reduced. I would even say that without grouping notes and intertwining them with hand and finger placements on the keyboard, it would be very hard to sight read efficiently.

As in general you can be less worried about “hitting the right keys”, you will have less mental burden and there is more capacity of mind left for dealing with musical part of piano playing. Being better at piano technique means, that you can put more emphasize on musical part, isn't it so? A good example is Vladimir Horowitz. When to look at his playing, several signs show that he is having a long sight ahead of time and a lot concentration has been put on forming natural hand positions for playing.

Hand positions are and will be one of the fundamentally important subjects in piano technique. But no magic trick exists, so every pro has its cons too. Being aware of hand positions can help the pianist to improve a lot and achieve new qualities, but it also brings in new challenges. One challenge is 'staying flexible' and maintaining a relaxed and expressive wrist for example. But as always, every new skill brings another problems and opportunities to develop further. I call this next step from hand positions “clever finger technique”. This technique helps to maintain flexible wrist and also active and sensitive fingers while using hand positions. But about this already next time...

Best wishes and thank you for reading!


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