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In this question, the OP asks about the problem of his wife's fingers being too short to cover the guitar's fretboard entirely. Similarly, my wife wants to start learning piano and her fingers are also short. I am just wondering if there is anything negative related to short fingers and playing the piano.

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4 Answers 4

Naturally, someone with small fingers won't be able to make the larger reaches in some pieces. Some stretches aren't reachable even by people with average size hands. Not every piece is for everyone. In particular there are some Bach, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff pieces requiring stretches of an octave or more (though I couldn't tell you which ones offhand). Rachmaninoff could reach a 13th!

That said, your wife should have no problem starting out. As she advances there may be some pieces she has difficulty with; these can either be skipped or modified. This question may be helpful here: Well-known composers or piano pieces generally suitable for someone with small hands?

I personally know a wonderful pianist and composer with small hands, so it's certainly possible to do well in spite of it. As noted in the answers to the question above there are famous composers and players with small hands.

As for other potential problems, I guess that it may be easier to strain small hands. Stretching is important as well as taking appropriate breaks, and not trying to force more than one can handle.

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+1 @Matthew. I liked the idea of 'not every piece is for everyone'. –  Saeed Neamati Sep 1 '11 at 3:56
For those who haven't seen it before: comedic illustration of Rachmaninoff's hands youtu.be/ifKKlhYF53w –  Willie Wong Sep 2 '11 at 12:13
@SaeedNeamati, speaking from experience (the question Matthew links is mine), his point about straining and stretching is very valid. When I was doing more performing and competing, it was unfortunately common to see my wrist/hand wrapped up when I was done with an event. "Oh I'm fine, just too much piano" is a weird reply when someone asks what happened. (; However, don't let that scare you/her away from leisurely play - it was only when training for high stress events and only for the few days around it. –  Rebecca Chernoff Sep 2 '11 at 18:19
@WillieWong, that is awesome! –  Rebecca Chernoff Sep 2 '11 at 18:19
@Willie That's amazing, thanks!! –  Matthew Read Sep 2 '11 at 18:19

Music is not like sports, where a 5-foot-tall basketball player or 7-foot-tall jockey will have difficulty making money at it.

With small hands and short fingers probably won't be asked to play the Rachmaninoff concerti with the Berlin Philharmonic, but let's face it, how many of us ARE asked to play the Rachminoff concerti with the Berlin Philharmonic?

For most kinds of music -- jazz, rock, pop, blues, country -- small hands don't matter. You can play the chords any way you want -- all spread out, or all bunched up within an octave. For these kinds of music, playing all the notes as written is not important; conveying the feeling is what's important.

Most classical pieces from Mozart onwards have octaves and will be difficult to play as written for someone who can't span a full octave. You can still play them recognizeably, leaving notes out. Most listeners who aren't themselves pianists will not even notice the difference. You won't win any competitions, but then if you're in music for the competitions, you probably should be in sports instead.

Trivia: Josef Lhevinne had very small hands, but that didn't stop him from being one of the greatest pianists of all time.

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It is generally not much of a problem if you can reach an octave with the pinkie and thumb.

You can compensate somewhat for small hands and lack of reach with fingering changes, such has using the other hand for one of the notes, and occasionally leaving out a note.

I have discovered that Franz Liszt had significantly larger hands than I do!

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I would not say there's anything negative associated with having short fingers or small hands. Alicia DeLarrocha, easily one of the greatest pianists of all time, was famous for having small hands.

She increased the flexibility of her hands through specially developed stretching exercises which I may have a copy of (email me, and I may be able to get a hold of them.) I don't know if they're available in print or not.

In any case, your wife can always just arpeggiate chords that are too big to play. Lots of pianists have to do it, you just have to learn to be clever about hiding the fact that this is happening. Break chords up into groups instead of just "rolling" them. Also, experiment with arpeggiating before and on the beat. Keep in mind that arpeggiating on the beat will cause a tempo distortion.

If she can get up to an octave, she should have no problems playing at all. (I can reach a 12th, and I still have to arpeggiate chords from time to time :).)

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Hi. I'm 26 yo. I'm an advanced violinist. Now getting into piano. My fingers reach a 9th. Are you aware of any particular way (a healthy one!) to stretch the fingers so it has greater capacity? –  Shimmy Jan 27 '13 at 14:44
Hm. If you can reach a 9th, you should be able to play most literature fairly comfortably. I would try tracking down the DeLarrocha exercises. I don't have them, as reach has never been an issue for me. –  Josh Infiesto Jan 28 '13 at 1:17

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