I'm a self-taught hobby pianist with small hands, which means that often I need to substitute notes to be able to play something comfortably (or at all).

E.g. in Traumerei, there is a 10-note reach for both hands in the 3rd-to-last bar. At this point in the score it seems (to me at least) that the composer aims for a certain fullness in the chords that seems impossible to get by dropping any of the existing notes. By re-assigning which hand plays which notes (and keeping the top and bottom the same), I came up with the following (which sounds ok to me): chord substitution in Traumerei

For the second to last bar in Chopin's Prelude in E-minor, the first chord is only an octave, but I haven't found any fingering that isn't painful. The substitution I've made sounds good to me, but is the result of trial-and-error (and I'm not even sure which chord it is..) chord substitution Opus 28 no 4

Are these substitutions reasonable? Is there any procedure to follow to find substitutions that doesn't involve as much trial-and-error? (after a while everything starts to sound "wrong"..)

  • 1
    Try instead holding down the pedal for the duration and rolling the chords. The composers here are implying voices by their choice of notes in the harmony. Rearranging the chords does a bit of violence to this voice leading. With practice, the rolling can be made very nearly imperceptible. In most classical music, chords aren't really autonomous entities: how a composer gets from one harmony to the next is at least as important as the harmonies themselves.
    – user16935
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 19:46
  • Slightly off-topic but my piano teacher taught me this daily finger stretching exercise, where you go between each fingers and gently rub the skin in between at the base of your fingers (the very bottom of the V shape that your two fingers make). At first you won't notice much difference but in the long run it allows your hands to stretch slightly further and reduces tension of wider note intervals.
    – gitsitgo
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 18:48
  • I don't find the original Prelude in E Minor chord to be painful to play, despite my right hand also spanning only an octave at most (without hitting adjacent notes).
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 11:52

2 Answers 2


The first one's OK, you've redistributed the original notes. But in the second one you've invented a new harmony, and that ISN'T OK! I suggest you simply leave out the low E in the RH. Or even play the B octave a bit early, catch it with the pedal and take the E with your LH.

  • I'm guessing I chose the the A because it sounds like it's a 2-5-1 progression (Gb-B-E), and the A is also in Gbm11 -- thus staying within the existing harmony (there are other chords containing E-Gb-B, and I don't remember why I ended up with Gbm11..). With small hands I find it is often a balancing act between removing existing harmonies and adding new harmonies in such a way that as much as possible of the original intention is preserved.
    – thebjorn
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 20:18
  • Well, as long as you realise you're re-composing the piece...
    – Laurence
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 9:08
  • My apologies for being dense (as I said, I'm self taught), but if I understand you correctly then adding a new note = re-composing, which is bad; while leaving out a note/arpeggiating the chord is good..? I'm sure you are correct, although I'm not sure what the reason would be? Care to elaborate -- or point me at some literature?
    – thebjorn
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 20:54

As a supplement to @LaurencePayne's answer:

For the first chord, have you tried playing both lower notes, the F and G, with your thumb? If not, give it a try; perhaps it will allow you to play as written.

Regarding the second chord, dropping the low E is the best option, because that pitch is doubled by the more important E an octave higher.

  • Playing both lower notes with the thumb works much better. Having learned a bit more harmony, the last chords in the prelude are essentially B7sus4 to B7 to Em, which is why the A I added sounds good...
    – thebjorn
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 13:53

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