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I'm a big guy and my fingers are proportionately big. I've been a student of piano for a few months now. I'm told regularly that I should play "into the keyboard" so that my fingers are closer to the back of the keyboard, but whenever I do, I seem to have problems playing white keys without the sides of my fingers bringing down the black keys by sheer friction.

My only real idea to compensate is to be able to quickly move my hands forward and back for when I need to play black keys but this won't work when playing chords that require both black and white keys.

How should I compensate for this?

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Good question. Beyond a piano with oversized keys (if you could find one), nothing else immediately comes to mind for me. Perhaps you should ask your teacher why you are supposed to play in, and discuss the size of your fingers? –  Matthew Read Jul 27 '11 at 15:40
    
All that comes to mind for me is: Transpose what you are playing to key of C, or Write your own. –  musicwithoutpaper Jul 27 '11 at 16:07
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If it's any consolation, Fats Waller also had big fat fingers. George Shearing said that shaking hands with Fats felt like grabbing a bunch of bananas. –  Mark Lutton Jul 27 '11 at 22:59
    
I've had a similar problem in the past. I never really found a great solution, although I did try putting a tiny bit of something "greasy" on the SIDES of the fingers. Not the bottoms, just the sides so they won't stick to the black keys when trying to depress a white key. That said… I wasn't training to be a pianist, I was learning functional skills for music education purposes, so I only used this on a few exams. It helped, but really isn't a solution if you want to be a good player. –  Josh Fields Oct 20 '11 at 3:53
    
I have average sized fingers, but I do have the same issue when playing Eb in root position using the 3 finger in 1-3-5 so I use the 2 finger 1-2-4. Unfortunately, this will only work if your 2 is not too big. –  user6957 Aug 29 '13 at 12:14

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

That's an interesting direction; I've always been told to play closer to the outside edge of the keys! But then again, I'm a skinny dude with skinny fingers, so I guess we have opposite problems.

I'd suggest taking the middle ground; make sure your fingers are curved, and keep the fingertips just outside the edge of the black keys. You should be able to hit both white and black keys without any significant wrist motion forwards or backwards, by stretching your finger out. I suspect that this was the instruction that your teacher was trying to get at, but I can't be sure.

It's really important to curve your fingers (it shouldn't be as curved as while holding a can of beer soda; rather, it should be a natural curve, like what happens when you relax your hand after making a fist). If you play flat-fingered, you'll need to move your wrists a little for each note you play, which will makes playing much harder. It's also important because letting your wrists flow smoothly helps with playing a consistent legato, even spanning white and black keys. The curve helps prevent strain in your wrist, too. Too much strain could lead to RSIs like carpal tunnel syndrome. But i'm starting to babble again. Your fingers should curve very naturally if you keep your wrists above the level of the keys and let your fingers relax.

To summarize: Fingers should hit the keys somewhere in the broad area of the white keys, and as near to the forward edge of the black keys as possible. If your fingers hit somewhere in the skinny part of the white keys, they're probably too far forward (I say probably because there are a handful of chords that can't be formed any other way). Fingers should be curved naturally. Wrists should move smoothly (although, now that I think about it, that's entirely irrelevant for this question).

Cheers!

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Playing in close to the piano's body is a common instruction for better playing technique, but I've never really been sure why. My answer here to a related question also suggests pulling back ... since the black keys are raised, it can help keep more of an even distance from your fingers to both types of keys. In sum, +1 :P –  Matthew Read Jul 27 '11 at 23:41
    
@MatthewRead I think the idea behind the playing close is given in your own answer to this. I'm guessing that if you are closer, you don't have too much space to turn in your wrists. –  user1306 Oct 6 '11 at 8:51
    
@percusse Actually the closer you are the harder it is to avoid bending your wrists since your torso starts to get in the way :P –  Matthew Read Oct 6 '11 at 17:16

This is a common issue. The answers "play to the back" and "play to the front" are both wrong. Your fingers on "average" should straddle the imaginary line where black and white keys meet. This ensures a general economy of motion since you'll have to move in and out very little to play black and white keys respectively.

Also, the advice "curve your fingers" is misleading and wrong. The structure of the body at the piano is hugely important to creating facile playing. There are two main arches that you should concern yourself with. First, your hand should form an arch. Secondly, a secondary arch should exist between your fingertips and forearm, meaning that the wrist must be higher than the elbow.

There's also no rule that states that every finger must be on a key at all times. If you need to lift a finger to keep from splatting a group of notes when playing a chord, so be it.

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