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My daughter tends to automatically raise her index and sometimes middle finger whenever she plays the ring or pinky on the piano. It's almost like she is trying to use it to balance her hand/fingers. How can I help her keep these fingers down? Are there any exercises I could do with her? Thank you!

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This gets easier as one's hands grow larger. One way to work on correct, relaxed finger position is to play scales while keeping the fingers curled and relaxed. She should play any kind of exercise she is already playing, or just scales if she has no exercises, while observing the following:

  • The wrists should be above the level of the keyboard, but not so high they have to be bent for the fingers to reach the keys. Most of the time, the wrists should stay at the same height and just move left and right to allow access to the different areas of the piano.
  • The shoulders should be low and relaxed. They can tend to slowly creep upward as the tension of concentrating on the playing builds.
  • The elbows should usually hang straight down from the shoulders, again in a relaxed position. They will often be a bit below the level of the keyboard which means the forearm should have a slight upward angle from the elbow to the wrist.
  • The fingers should be curled above the keys almost as if one is holding a small egg in ones hand while playing. Another way to describe it to younger children is to imagine they are trying to keep a small bird from flying away. If they lift their fingers too high it will escape. If they collapse their hand it will get hurt.
  • Of course a straight back and an upright posture are essential in making sure the wrists, elbows, and hands can be in the correct position.

As I mentioned above, it's much easier to acheive and maintain the correct position as one grows into an adult. For instance, if the elbows are too far below the level of the keyboard, the wrists tend to get bent which is not good, so the seat should be raised to bring the elbows up, since the elbows shouldn't be lifted from the shoulder. Of course, when you raise the seat you can bring the feet too far away from the pedals.

It also becomes easier to reach five keys with the hand curled correctly when the fingers are long enough and the palm is wide enough.

Hopefully she has a teacher who can help with this as well as have the experience to know just when it is possible and necessary for her to learn correct finger positioning. With absolute beginners who are young and small, it might be too soon.

Also see this question: Pinky is raised uncontrollably when doing finger exercise

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It's impossible to diagnose exactly what she is doing over the internet, but so long as the unused fingers are in a relaxed natural-looking position, there is probably nothing to worry about. Developing independent finger-movement takes time. As she progresses to playing music with more chords than single notes, the other fingers will naturally have to "stay down" simply because they are being used. A good teacher should be able to choose pieces and exercises that develop finger independence "naturally" as she progresses.

I would not recommend any special "finger-gymnastics" type of exercise for this. If doing an exercise causes opposing pairs of muscles to both contract and "lock up" the position of some of the finger joints, that is creating a problem which is will be much harder to solve than unused fingers moving around. In the worst case, special exercises done incorrectly may cause permanent damage to the hands.

Short rant: re the thread that Todd Wilcox referenced, Hanon's "virtuoso pianist" exercises are evil. Hanon was no piano virtuoso, but he was certainly a marketing genius to come up with that title. If you already have a good technique, Hanon won't do you much harm, but if you start with a poor technique, they won't do you much good!

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One technique of piano playing, designed to facilitate brilliant passage playing, is to lift ALL fingers except the ones currently striking down on a note. An associated exercise is press down (silently) five keys with all five fingers then play repeated notes with each finger in turn. You soon find out if you have real independent control of the fingers! Then start on scales in thirds, etc. But leave this to her teacher. Just check if any exercises have been allocated but conveniently "forgotton" at practice time!

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I'm a beginner myself, and I found that proper finger position depends on how you call what you are doing. If you try to "push the key with finger 3" you will naturally try to remove other fingers away to avoid miscontact. Instead, you should focus on first putting your hand to touch the keys with 3 or 4 relaxed fingers, then make one finger stiff and press further into the keyboard.

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