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Thread: Small Hands

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    Default Small Hands

    So I'm a girl with fairly small hands. I can barely stretch my fingers out a whole octave on the piano. I'm not sure if maybe it has to do with my technique in playing as well, but there's many pieces I wish to learn, where my small hands are the only things getting in the way. I of course am not going to stretch my hands out, but I was wondering if there's any hand exercises one might be able to do? Or maybe or there specific pieces that are okay for small hands? Mozart is quite easy to play for me (the only good thing I can get out of small hands).

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    There have been notable pianists with small hands, such as Alicia de Larrocha. All one needs is a comfortable octave. The rest you can dance around. Not that a larger hand can definitely make things easier. But I have seen five-footers play Rachmaninov like nobody's business.

    Pianist isn't limited by the size of his hands:
    https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/...406-story.html

    Last edited by Larkenfield; Nov-14-2018 at 20:00.
    ”Art is how we decorate space; Music is how we decorate time.”

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    mimino,

    I lived in New York City years ago, & my neighbor across the hall was the Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha (who Lark mentions). When we took the elevator together, I tried not to stare at her hands, but couldn't believe how tiny they were. Yet she managed to play such a wide range of repertory so beautifully & extremely well--Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Handel, Ravel, Franck, Schumann, Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven Piano Concertos, Mendelssohn, Mompou--who dedicated piano works to her, Granados, Albéniz, Falla (his "Nights in the Gardens of Spain"), Soler, Turina, Montsalvatge, Grieg, and even the Russian Romantics--Rachmaninov PCs, & the Khachaturian PC, and Liszt's B minor Sonata! (which admittedly she found difficult).

    (Btw, the Eloquence label has been releasing many of De Larrocha's earlier recordings in recent years, & I'm finding it a very worthwhile series:

    https://www.amazon.com/Bach-Mozart-H...ocha+eloquence
    https://www.amazon.com/Mozart-Piano-...ocha+eloquence
    https://www.prestomusic.com/classica...-piano-sonatas
    https://www.prestomusic.com/classica...rst-recordings
    https://www.amazon.com/Alicia-Larroc...ocha+eloquence)

    She had an impeccable technique, and played with real temperament and verve. I find her phrasing in Mozart, for example, so much more interesting than most other pianists. She was such a great musician. (Someday you should sit down and closely compare her phrasing & ornament in Mozart to Murray Perahia's (& others), for instance, and I think you'll hear why I feel this way.)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WE2AXmfNUKs

    Plus, it's good to remember that there are certain advantages to having small hands--as your fingers can potentially be quicker and more nimble & agile around the keyboard, and cleaner and more delicate than pianists with large, cumbersome hands. Which can be a real advantage in the music of composers like Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Scarlatti, Handel, Mendelssohn, Schubert, etc.. Besides, pianists with big hands so often unnecessarily pound the piano keys too forcefully and insensitively, which is a real turn off, as an audience member. In fact, I've actually left concerts at intermission with some of the more guilty pianists, as their relentless pounding on the keys was almost painful to listen to.

    These kinds of pianists can also lack the requisite agility required for many composers. (It's also a mistake to assume that all composers had large hands too, as I imagine many didn't, & yet could play their own music very well.) Take Valery Afanassiev, for example. He's a very fine pianist, whose recordings I mostly enjoy, but he has such unusually large, disproportionate hands that at times I think they get in his way. On the concert stage, he's noticeably less nimble and agile around the keyboard as would be ideal with some of the composers that he plays. Big virtuosos can also lack a certain subtlety and nuance, and the range of imagination that comes with those vitally important qualities (although of course there are many exceptions). That was definitely not the case with Alicia de Larrocha.

    Among other pianists, Josef Hofmann had very small hands, and used pianos that were specifically manufactured with narrower or less wide piano keys. Today, Murray Perahia and Vladimir Ashkenazy both have small hands (have you heard Ashkenazy's recording of Chopin Etudes? or Perahia's Schumann Symphonic Etudes? You should). Perahia's teacher at Curtis, the Polish pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski had very small hands as well--I once spotted him walking in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia years back, and his hands were tiny (as was he). Like you, he could barely reach over an octave. Yet Horszowski played Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert (he's my favorite pianist in the Trout Quintet, despite that the Budapest Qt. can't play in tune), and Bach's "Well-tempered Clavier"--all so masterfully; along with Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Honegger, d'Indy, Stravinsky, Szymanowski, Kokkonen, Faure, etc. It certainly didn't stop him. The legendary pianist Leopold Godowsky also had small hands, but claimed that they gave him a distinct advantage--which is something for you to think about.

    In addition, one of my favorite pianists today, Maria Joao Pires has small hands. But, oh my goodness, can she play Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Beethoven, and Bach. What a great musician she is. & her nimble, quick hands are perfect for how she plays (& for what she plays).

    Another one of my favorite pianists is Emil Gilels, who had very short-fingered, yet muscular hands. You should hear him play Beethoven, especially his live concert recordings:https://www.prestomusic.com/classica...lays-beethoven, or the 'Waldstein' or 'Les Adieux' Piano Sonatas in the studio for DG; as well as Prokofiev's 2nd & 8th Piano Sonatas, Debussy' Images, Schubert's Moments Musicaux, Bach-Busoni & Bach-Siloti transcriptions, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Medtner, Mozart, Chopin, etc.:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6Qk..._bhTm7614OPerY
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bql1jrNm_g
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mb8HFK9Qv7M

    This is a favorite concert of mine:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZAkCohFDSE

    So don't despair, young lady, you are in exalted company! You'll find your way. Plus, if you're still growing, your fingers & reach will naturally lengthen out more, in time. But please be careful not to force things with some ill-advised finger stretching exercises, as it has destroyed pianists in the past--such as, for example, the composer Robert Schumann, who was forced to abandon his career as a concert pianist, due to having caused permanent damage to his fingers by an unsuccessful attempt to stretch his octave reach (yes, Schumann apparently had small hands too).

    As for finding a wider range of repertory to play, you might look into the specific works & composers that pianists like De Larrocha, Horszowski, Perahia, Ashkenazy, Godowsky, Pires, and Gilels have played, as you might find there is more music that you can manage than you previously knew about. For example, have you ever considered playing Mompou's Musica Callada or Impresiones intimas, or Iberia by Isaac Albéniz, or the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, or Handel's Suites, or any Haydn Piano Sonatas, or Schumann, Schubert, or Mendelssohn? in addition to Mozart?

    Finally, have you ever thought about additionally playing (modern replicas of) fortepianos, or harpsichords, as they're less unwieldy and resonant & smaller & more manageable than modern grands, and they might be easier for you, if you take to them & develop an affinity for their repertory. (It's also good to play period instruments for the musical education they provide, if you get the chance to do so.)

    Well, I hope that I've said something that helps, and best of luck to you!
    Last edited by Josquin13; Nov-15-2018 at 03:58.

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    Senior Member JeffD's Avatar
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    Here is something to consider. I know it helped with mandolin, but maybe it applies to piano.

    The distance from your thumb to your pinky is not the same as the distance from your pinky to your thumb. ??!! Yep. Try it. Get a ruler. Plant your thumb, reach as far as you can with your pinky. Now plant your pinky and reach as far as you can with your thumb, and I will bet you got maybe as much as another inch.

    It has something to do with how the interdactyle spaces of your hand are shared when you start with one side or the other.

    So, for long reaches I position the hand for the pinky and reach down with the thumb, rather than the other way.

    I hope that is helpful.
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    I would echo @Josquin13's point about the difficulties of big hands, I can manage 10th's quite easily and even some 1tths - sounds good? Trouble is my octaves can come out as 9ths unless I take care.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    I have solution: https://youtu.be/ifKKlhYF53w

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