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I included some drawings to illustrate what I mean. If it's still unclear, I will try and take a picture to show the situation.


I just started learning piano this year by following some lessons online. One of them emphasised on how important it was to have the curved fingers shape as if you are holding a round object or have your hands on your knees.

Although getting my hand into the correct shape is simple enough, in practice I can't do it because of the fingernail hitting the key before my finger does. Since I wanted to feel the touch of the key, I unconsciously started shifting my fingers into pressing the keys with my fingerprint instead (I don't know whether or not that still counts as pressing with the tip of the finger).

The shape my fingers are supposed to take:

Drawing of a line curved down

The shape my fingers started taking after practicing for a while:

Drawing of a strangely shaped line to represent how my finger is positioned when I press a piano key

Up until now, I only practiced simplified short musics so I didn't have much trouble and kept pressing the keys like that. From what little I could read, having fingernails is at most cumbersome but does not prevent practicing piano.

However, after practicing Hanon exercise No. 1 for a few dozen minutes, I realised that I was feeling fatigue on various area depending on the situation (sometimes the middle of the hand, sometimes the wrist, sometimes somewhere along the forearm). Upon practicing it a lot, I sometimes realise that my arms are dropping below the height of the piano keys (which means my hands are on the same level as the keys instead of above). That, and the fatigue also makes me press the keys out of rhythm too when I try to play faster.

Since I read somewhere that the body usually feels when something is wrong, and I have no private teacher, I could only make hypothesis of what I think it means:

  • Feeling fatigue after practicing only means I should take a break.
  • Since it's a digital piano with simulated action, I just have to practice until my fingers are strong enough.
  • I am doing something wrong and the fatigue happens much faster than it should.
  • It could become a Repetitive Strain Injury if I force myself too much, considering I already spend the whole day on a computer as a techie.

Is it a bad practice if I still try to learn piano by pressing the keys like that?

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    If your fingernails are longer that 2 or 3 mm, then to play like figure 1, they'll need cutting. That's a problem for classical guitarists, plucking hand, as they prefer them to be longer. You also need to consider your sitting height. Lowest part of elbow 2-3" above top of piano keys works for me. – Tim Aug 19 '20 at 12:54
  • Find a teacher or at least a pianist and have them help you with the basics of posture. – jjmusicnotes Aug 20 '20 at 2:49
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Short answer: that hand position could definitely be bad, and you should work towards a hand position that's both healthier and allows you to play more easily (less fatigue and more agility).

Definitely cut your nails if you don't need them to be that long. That way you'll be able to feel the keys when your hand is in a more curved position! And none of that slippery clacking, haha. Personally I keep my nails cut really short so there's barely any white, but it depends on what you're comfortable with.

Early on my teacher told me to imagine I was holding a ball in my palm, and to use that shape, but that's little exaggerated. It should be a more natural curve like Laurence said. You could also imagine pressing down the keys as sinking your fingers into a pillow. Speaking from experience of having to improve bad technique, you really have to have a lot of discipline because it won't be easy at first (path of least resistance and all that). That's another thing that a teacher can help with.

Finger strength will probably come naturally as you play.

Final tip: shake out your hands and arms if they feel too tense or even clenched, you want to reduce tension to expand mobility.

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Curved is good. Flat is OK. Do you need the nails, perhaps for guitar playing? Then you'll need to compromise, but otherwise trim them. The fingers shouldn't collapse like in your drawing.

Arms shouldn't drop below keyboard level. Is your stool at the right height?

Fatigue is fine. Strain isn't fine.

It might help to think of drawing the sound out of the key rather than hitting it into it.

Consult a teacher.

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  • Maybe I unconsciously lean forward (because of back fatigue), or the bench is indeed too low (or my arm is too long in which case I should also increase the height of the bench). Come to think of it, I never paid attention to whether my forearm is naturally at the same height or if I lift it into "floating" at the same height. – Clockwork Aug 19 '20 at 13:42
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    Really. Consult a teacher. Even if it's only for one consultation lesson. – Laurence Payne Aug 19 '20 at 15:27
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    “Flat” is not fine as it introduces tension in the back of the hand. Hand position should most closely resemble the natural curves shape of a relaxed hand. – jjmusicnotes Aug 20 '20 at 2:48
  • This might sound stupid but... I guess remote consulting wouldn't cut it (considering the current sanitary situation)? – Clockwork Aug 20 '20 at 19:30
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    It would be a lot better than nothing! – Laurence Payne Aug 20 '20 at 20:01

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