I am currently practicing the first movement of the 2nd Rachmaninoff piano concerto. Luckily I have no troubles reaching the chords in the left hand (Maybe because I am left-handed? The only time it comes in handy..). However I do have troubles with the 2nd and 3rd chords of the right hand. The ones on the picture:

Chords in Rach 2

Often I miss the sound of the top note. I can reach the chords easily when I press the keys individually down, but striking down with the correct position does not always work. Is there a good way to practice these chords, so that my hand is already in the right position at the beginning? Like for example resting for longer periods in this hand position, stretching the hand or so?

Usually when I had a difficult chord, I just tried to press it down as often and as relaxed till it was easy to reach. But here I have already troubles to come in the correct position before pressing down. The other chords are not a problem, so it has to do with the index finger spaning so far from the pinky.

  • 1
    The second chord can (should) be played 1-1-2-3-5. Jun 9, 2020 at 16:13
  • @AndrewChin I thought about playing it this way too. But if you can play the first one of the picture, then you can also play the second one with 1-2-3-4-5...?
    – Matriz
    Jun 9, 2020 at 16:27
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    I was talking about that chord in a vacuum. All chords in this opening sequence should be played with all fingers. It's more about figuring out precisely where the difficult stretches (for you) are, then preparing yourself to play them. You have tons of time between chords anyway. Jun 9, 2020 at 16:40
  • I wonder how you will play all other chords and passages. (I could never play this piece as written). You can just let drop the C and play Db maj7 with the r.h. as C is contained as octave and fifth in the chord of the l.h. Probably no one will hear you’re cheating. Jun 9, 2020 at 17:05
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    @AlbrechtHügli I will try to start with this position and then adjust the index. Thanks for the input. The thing is, I can play the chord almost, I press the keys down but very often the sound of the pinky finger is not there (or too quiet). So I somehow shift the "weight" to much towards the index finger/thumb and I really think the top note is much more important.
    – Matriz
    Jun 9, 2020 at 19:34

2 Answers 2

Answer has three parts:
1) Fingering and hand position
2) Practice technique
3) For those who need to drop a note

Fingering and hand position

Disclaimer: These hand positions are just for this specific chord. Frequent or prolonged stretching and/or twisting risks injury.


You can tuck your thumb either around or over the Db such that you play both it and the middle C.

Top view of 1-1-2-3-5 fingering

Thumb detail of 1-1-2-3-5 fingering


Option 1

Arm and hand in relatively neutral, perpendicular position to keyboard.

Top view of 1-2-3-4-5 option 1

Thumb-side view of 1-2-3-4-5 option 1

Option 2

You can rotate your entire forearm toward the pinky side, bringing your pinky closer to its C and allowing the full use of finger 2's length.

Top view 1-2-3-4-5 with arm rotation

Practice technique

In the release of one chord and placement of the next, the palm of the hand should "draw" a smooth parabola, fingers and arm relaxed and along for the ride. Any distortions of that arc will create problems in the arrival chord. That includes deviations from the path as well as finger or arm adjustments that aren't made as part of the overall movement (e.g., last-moment shifting as you approach or play to target chord).

To practice:

  1. Play the first chord and pause to ensure as much relaxation as the chord allows.
  2. Release in a single fluid motion, beginning a smooth arc toward the next chord. Make sure that your fingers release not just the keys themselves, but the effort used to play them; otherwise, you're still "holding onto" that chord, which will interfere with the next.
  3. Continue the arc in a smooth descent to the target chord, landing on the keys, but without playing the chord. Make sure you land with fingers, hand, and arm placed just as you want them, with no last-minute adjustments.
  4. Once you can consistently do steps 1 - 3, then, after a brief pause resting on the target chord at the end of step 3, play the chord.

For those who need to drop a note

Drop the middle C. It's important to hear the upper C as a "bell" on top of each chord, and C is also present in the left hand. Further, the Db is a critical pitch in the right hand, because that's where we most prominently hear the chromatic progression from C-Db-D-Eb.


As commenters have pointed out, the typical fingering would be 12345 on the first chord and 11345 or 12345 on the second. 11345 is possible on the first chord too, with some practice. Try these out and see what you think.

However: Rachmaninoff had famously large hands, and his writing reflects that. If playing the first chord with all five fingers is hurting you or compromising your tone, then you have permission to consider alternatives. A common technique small-handed pianists will use, especially on left-hand chords in pieces with lots of rubato (e.g. Chopin nocturnes), is to roll the chord or play the bass note then quickly jump up to play the rest of the chord.

In this example, unless you are trying to win a Rachmaninoff competition (and perhaps even then), I don't think anyone would fault you for simply leaving out the D♭ in the first chord. A D♭ appears (as I recall) in the left hand anyway, so you won't be losing any chord tones, and you will be able to play the melody more sonorously. You might also reduce the volume of the D in the subsequent measure so as to make the transition from 4 to 5 voices less abrupt, but I doubt this will be a big issue.

Some practitioners recommend stretching until you can play every note, but I would like to point out that that is just one opinion about how pianists should deal with hard stretches. It comes with its own tradeoffs—namely, that you might hurt yourself and that the melody might not sound as clear—and it's up to you whether you think note accuracy is more important than those downsides.

  • 1
    Thanks but I don't have small hands nor do I want to leave a note out. I can play the left hand chords which are actually bigger than the right hand chords but they have fewer notes. I guess I'll try just stretching till the sound comes clean.
    – Matriz
    Jun 10, 2020 at 23:25
  • Take it slow, and don't hurt yourself.
    – Max
    Jun 10, 2020 at 23:36

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