When pressing piano keys, how deep should the fingertips sit? Well between the black keys (if I'm playing the white ones), or closer to edge of the key?

I have seen both practices on videos, inclusive recording where teachers perform. To me, it seems that playing deeply between the black keys is the right thing to do, because it makes it easier to press the black key as needed, but I would like to be sure and seek for an expert advise.

4 Answers 4


Playing deeply between the black keys can be problematic. Suppose you want to play a C major scale; only white keys. Now you don't need to play any black keys, but you need to move your fingers over them. If you want to play this at larger speeds, this becomes a major obstacle.

Another example is playing a large chord, say, B flat - E - G - C (C dominant seventh, third inversion). You most probably cannot play this without using your thumb to play the B flat, requiring you to move all your fingers deeper into the keys.

The only possible answer is that it mostly depends on what you are playing.

As for a beginner (from the tags on your question) I would recommend keeping your fingers in front of the black keys (since not doing so greatly limits the mobility of your fingers to the sides, for obvious reasons). When you need to play a black key, you of course need to move your hand forward a little to facilitate it.

Closing advice: try to avoid playing black keys with your thumb. This is simply because the black keys are furthest away from you and your thumb is your shortest finger. Of course, this is not an absolute rule, playing black keys with thumbs sometimes is necessary, but if you have reasonable alternatives, prefer those. If you look at the standard fingerings for the chromatic scale and the major and minor scales, you'll note none uses a thumb on a black key.


it seems that playing deeply between the black keys is the right thing to do, because it makes it easier to press the black key as needed.

That is correct, for passages with a fair number of black keys in use.

But your hand needs to be free to move in and out of the black-key zone. In all-white or almost-all-white-key passages, the default position is more toward the edge, for the expressivity reason cited by someone else, and to avoid getting tangled or tripped up by the black keys.

By the way, I think you are probably using the word "pressing" because your primary language isn't English. Still, I'd encourage you to use a different word -- perhaps striking would work. We want the sound to occur because we are allowing the weight of the arm to cause a finger to strike a key. "Press" sounds uncomfortably like "push," and pushing tends to get a strained sound quality.

Happy music making!

  • People like me (non-English speakers) use Wikipedia and other sources to learn the glossary and vocabulary. Wikipedia on "Piano" talking about the keys "... the performer presses down or strikes with the fingers and thumbs of both hands to cause the hammers to strike the strings.". The performer "presses down or strikes" is used all over the place in that article, so it's difficult to conclude what's best to use for a non-English speaker. I found your point interesting anyway. Aug 17, 2020 at 17:10

To a great extent it is going to depend on the physiology of ones hands and fingers. Some players tend to use very curved fingers, others fairly straight. You may have noticed this on videos. There can be no right or wrong with this, or maybe even any common ground. In 50-odd years of playing (some very odd...) it's a question I've never asked myself. Whatever feels most comfortable is a subjective answer, but it's a subjective question. As long as there is room for thumb to pass under fingers if necessary whilst using both black and white keys, it's o.k. If you are catching a thumb, you are too deep into the keys, or your knuckles aren't high enough.

Also bear in mind that like any lever, more force is easier to produce at the end, farthest from the fulcrum, so for louder notes, the part closest to you is the place to press , but also there is more movement there to be capitalised on when playing more expressively.

  • 1
    It is completely wrong to play with your fingers flat. The fact that at lot of amateurs do it in videos didn't make it good technique -- it greatly limits your reach, control, speed and dexterity.
    – user28
    May 10, 2015 at 13:56
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    @MatthewRead - Did you mark the answer down? I meant there is nothing wrong with WHERE the fingers go on the keys, NOT the curvature of fingers. But, an easy mistake to make!
    – Tim
    May 10, 2015 at 15:58
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    @MatthewRead - watch a lot of great piano players, and you may notice that they in fact do use straight fingers quite a lot. That's not flat fingers, which is very different.
    – Tim
    May 10, 2015 at 16:11
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    @MatthewRead - how can it limit your reach? The little finger needs to be straightened out, as does the thumb, to stretch an octave or more with the same hand. Bending actually limits the reach.
    – Tim
    May 10, 2015 at 16:52
  • Of course, sometimes (quite often) you need to reach and then you need to deviate from the ideal hand position, which is the position described in every beginners handbook (pun intended): pretend you're holding a soap bubble/large egg/(in some cases I've even heard suggested a small bird) so that it doesn't fall yet doesn't break (or in case of the bird; doesn't fly away). You need considerable strength in your fingers to be able to do this comfortably, though. (I wonder why it's in beginner's books.)
    – 11684
    Dec 28, 2015 at 11:27

If you compare the standard modern piano keyboard with other older keyboard instruments like the pipe organ or harpsichord, you will notice there is a much deeper region of white keys on the piano in front of the black, and also that the black keys are longer. The basic reason for that is the difference in playing technique caused by the greater force needed to play the piano loudly, and the sustaining pedal as an alternative to holding every note down for the full time it is sounding. Since the piano keyboard was been changed in that way to make playing easier, it is a bad idea not to use all of it!

There are some images of early keyboard instruments here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_period_instruments

Playing the white keys between the black is a bad idea except when you can't avoid it (for example when you have to use both thumb and 5th finger on the black keys in a big chord). You are just making things harder for no benefit. In general you should play the white keys fairly close to the black ones, so your thumb can easily play the end of the white keys at the same time as the fingers, and your fingers can easily reach a mixture of black and white keys when playing a chord.

Playing with your fingers too curved is just as bad as playing with them too flat. Aim for the amount of curvature which keeps your hand as relaxed as possible. Away from the piano, curl up you fingers as tightly as you can, so you can "feel" the tension that creates in the muscles and tendons of your hand. If you stretch your fingers as flat as possible, again you will feel some tension. When you are playing, try to be aware of those feelings, and avoid them.

This video has some clear shots of the keyboard from different angles so you can see what's going on:

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