Long, graceful fingers seem to be what most people imagine when you talk about being a pianist. Unfortunately, that leaves those with smaller hands or shorter fingers wondering if they’ll ever match up. It’s true that playing the piano can be easier if you were blessed with long fingers and larger hands, but what does that mean for the rest of us?
Can you play the piano with small hands and short fingers? Yes! People with small hands and short fingers can play piano. As with most instruments, pianos are made with all kinds of players in mind, especially modern versions. With exercises and with practice, you can overcome small hands and short fingers to play piano just as well as anyone!
To get the most out of your piano experience, it’s important to understand how hand and finger size can affect your playing. Below, I’ll cover some of the ways you can overcome a variety of hand or finger size issues and truly bring out your inner Beethoven or Argerich.
Why Hand Size isn’t What Matters for Pianists
Two of the traditional hallmarks of being a pianist are the size of their hands and length of their fingers. They are known for slender but steady hands and fast, strong fingers that can glide across the keyboard seemingly without effort. Most people see this and assume you must have long fingers and large hands to properly play these beautiful instruments.
This assumption stems from the history of the piano itself. When pianos were first introduced in 1700, they were created almost entirely by Bartolomeo Cristofori as a kind of hybrid harpsichord. This inventor happened to be a man, presumably with standard man-sized hands. Of course, his invention would be made to fit his own hands and stature, and since his was the first, most piano designs to follow closely resembled his. Naturally, this made the first wave of pianos better suited to larger hands and longer fingers.
Over time, however, piano designs diversified, creating a more varied structure in build, sound, and function. This opened the door for more people to learn the instrument and eventually make their own marks on it as it continued to evolve.
Today, we have vertical pianos, grand pianos, and electric pianos. Each type is broken down into a dizzying list of sub-types and sizes, but those details go beyond the scope of this article. What’s most important to know here is that there really is a piano made for every type of player and every size of hand. From the tiny spinet to the massive concert grand piano, there is a piano made for you, so if you think your hands just don’t stack up to the pros, be at ease! You really can play piano with short hands and small fingers.
Need more proof?
If you believe people with small hands or tiny fingers can’t play the piano, just take a moment to ponder how child prodigies can blow our minds if small hands are truly a detriment. Being a child prodigy on the piano doesn’t mean they have some magical ability to shrink their instrument or increase their hand size while playing. They have simply learned to overcome their size, and you can, too.
Here’s a child with very small hands and very short fingers playing a standard piano. She’s just as flexible as anyone!
How to Overcome Small Hands and Short Fingers for Piano
You likely did an extensive internet search on this topic already and read the same advice over and over: play different pieces made for small hands. This is terrible advice. In essence, these well-meaning internet helpers are telling you to give up and skip the hard stuff, don’t even bother to try.
That’s bad advice. Some of the most enjoyable pieces to play are also hard. Some wonderful pieces are challenging, but also very rewarding. Why cheat yourself out of that joy and deprive yourself of that sense of accomplishment just because someone else tells you that you can’t do it? Prove those people wrong—here’s how!
One of the biggest issues faced by new piano students and even experienced players with small hands is the big stretch between octaves or by adding the fourth note to a chord. Many players begin to panic at this stage and twist their hands or wrench them around trying to do a few crazy moves to hit the notes. This is painful and frustrating, and it’ll drastically slow you down. Not to mention that this bad habit can cause serious injury down the road.
Aside from growing a third hand, how can someone with small hands and fingers possibly play smoothly in these situations?
Interestingly enough in this case, it is less about the size of your hands or the length of your fingers and more about how far you can stretch those fingers. A longer and smoother stretch will go a long way in improving your playing and reducing your panic when it’s time to hit the next octave. This, of course, comes with practice and a concentrated effort to gently train your small hands or short fingers to stretch a little more each session.
Piano Exercises and Stretches for Small Hands and Short Fingers
The natural flexibility of children’s hands is one way very young players can still do well on the piano—young hands are naturally more pliable and flexible than older hands. However, this doesn’t mean that older players can’t train their fingers to stretch more. It’s just like stretching any other body part and increasing flexibility there.
The key is to take it slow. You must be gentle while stretching your hands and fingers. Trying to stretch too far too fast can injure your hands, throwing your progress back to stage one. Simply playing your piano a lot can help you stretch naturally, but there are also some stretches you can do to speed this up. Some you can do even when you’re not at the keyboard.
A flexible, loose, and relaxed wrist will help your fingers and hands stretch and reach without strain. Start here to begin training your small hands to play the piano well.
- First, play a few scales to warm up your fingers.
- Next, extend one hand and arm in front of you with your palm down.
- Use your other hand to gently push your fingers up and slightly back so your fingers on the stretching hand are pointing toward the ceiling.
- Push those fingers back until you feel a gentle stretch along the inside of your palm and your wrist. Don’t do this too hard or you will hurt yourself.
- Hold the stretched position for 5 – 10 seconds, willing yourself to relax into this new position.
- Repeat the process on the other side.
- Shake your hands for a few seconds afterward to keep the blood flowing.
Playing the piano can put an immense strain on your wrists and forearms. Many pianists end up with tired and tight muscles and tendons. Tight wrists and forearms will eventually spread to tightness in your hands and fingers, reducing your reach and making your playing sloppy. This next stretch should help alleviate that strain and prevent future issues.
- Hold your arms out in front of you, your fingers pointing to the end of the room, palms facing down.
- Slowly rotate your wrists and forearms so your palms are facing up.
- Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Make a fist with both hands and slowly rotate your wrists around. Go clockwise and counter clockwise a few times.
- Rotate your forearms to the starting position, palms down.
- Make your fists again and rotate just your wrists and hands clockwise and counterclockwise.
- Repeat this for a few rotations.
- Relax your hands and wrists.
After you’ve stretched and relaxed both wrists, your hands should be feeling a bit warm. This is due to extra blood flow and improved circulation. Good! You’ll need that to help your fingers in this next stretch.
- Lay a palm flat on a table or the piano cover. You may stand up or sit down for this stretch.
- Press your palm gently downward and keep your fingers flat against the surface.
- Slowly lift each finger, one at a time, being gentle.
- Hold each finger up as far as you can while keeping your palm and other fingers flat against the surface. Five seconds is generally long enough, but you can hold this as long as it feels good. This should not hurt.
- After each finger has been lifted and stretched this way, relax all of your fingers for a few seconds. Then lift them all at once, keeping your palm flat.
- Repeat this process on your other hand, then shake them out again.
The final stretch in specifically for your fingers, but doing the other stretches first will drastically improve your efficiency in this step. This stretch addresses the most obvious issue for short fingers or small hands, though it is no more important than the other stretches on the list for your overall flexibility.
- Extend your hands in front of you, palms down.
- Make a tight fist and hold it for five seconds.
- Release the fist and slowly spread your fingers are wide and far apart as you can.
- Hold this spread position for at least five seconds.
- Repeat this process up to ten times.
Practical Piano Advice for Small Hands and Short Fingers
Now that you know how to stretch your hands, wrists, and fingers properly, it’s time to look at a few practical tips for actually playing the piano with smaller hands or shorter fingers. Not every tip will work for every player, so don’t be afraid if they’re just not working for you. Move to the next tip and so on until you find a solution that works well for you.
Move Up the Keyboard
Many students play the piano right at the edge of the keys. For easy songs, this is no problem. However, when it comes time to step up the tempo, increase the difficulty, and play more advanced stuff, this habit will slow you way down and really emphasize your small hands. To avoid this, simply move your hands up the keys, closer to the piano itself. Instead of playing on the edge of your keys, play closer to the middle or even higher, right between the black keys.
This may feel very strange at first, but it’s perfectly acceptable to play this way. This position keeps all the keys within easy reach, including those tough spreads. Some players just stay up closer to the piano body, others like to move freely around the keyboard, moving closer or farther from the piano as the piece requires. Find what works for you.
Arpeggiate (Roll the Chords)
Instead of stretching your fingers to the point of pain to split a chord over two measures, learn to arpeggiate. Simply put, this is rolling or rocking up the keyboard and playing the notes in quick succession instead of all at once. You don’t need to keep your fingers on the keys as you play each note, simply roll your hand toward the next note in the progression and take advantage of that extra reach.
To better explain this, think of the wrist rolling stretch from above. It’s a similar movement as rolling, turning, stretching your wrist itself. Let that roll and newfound flexibility in your wrist and forearm help you out here.
Invert the chord, if you can
You can try inverting a chord, if you’re still struggling with the tips above. This is a quick and simple way to make the chord easier to play without changing the overall sound of the piece. It’s not a way to improve your reach or flexibility, but it can help you get through a really tough piece without straining your body. In short, inverting a chord simply means taking the lowest note in the chord and moving it up an octave, putting it at the top.
It’s human nature to look for the fastest, easiest, and most pleasurable way toward our goals. For piano players, this is just not going to work. You may get tired of your teacher telling you to practice, but it’s truly the only way to achieve your goals in mastering the piano.
Practice is even more important for those with short hands and small fingers because you’ll need to learn to adapt, sometimes on the fly. When you’ve spent time at home practicing new methods, stretching your hands, wrists, and fingers, and focusing on repetition, you’ll quickly realize how easy it will be for you to make those adjustments in real-time when it really counts.