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I have been learning, off and on, for one year or more, and not doing too badly. Moved to a new city and took on a new tutor. Yesterday, he said that "You are using "hands" to play chords; the right way to play is using only the knuckles."

I realised that I am using a mix of arms (elbow joint), hands (wrist) and fingers (knuckles) at different times. Mostly wrist. Arms, when changing chords.

What is the most fundamentally right way of playing piano chords?

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I'm guessing he means keeping forearms and wrists still, and articulating from the lowest joint in your fingers.

It's one way, certainly, but it does not mean it's the only way. Sometimes when playing piano, we want to put a lot more weight into a chord. That's not easy just using fingers. So we may use the weight of the whole arm, and actually play from the shoulder.

Playing faster chords with the same shape for the fingers - as in eighths on, say, C E G then D F A, there's no better way than keeping the hand locked, and articulating from the wrist.

When playing faster runs ( I know you mentioned chords), then playing only with fingers and thumb works well.

And just because one method works for someone does not mean it will always work for another. If he was my teacher, I'd be questioning him about it. Teachers are not always right (I know - I am one!) and sometimes go blindly on, not really considering other options for what they do, in somewhat blinkered manner.

  • +1 however the third paragraph is too categorical. Using the forearm is not the only option, and where power and endurance is required in music like Erlkönig, is more tiring than using a vibrato including the upper arm. This is the approach Arrau adopted after watching Carreño. – user48353 Apr 17 '18 at 6:23
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Well, playing chords by fingers is an important ability and is -- in a sense -- the most difficult one. So for this, is may make sense if a teacher wants you to do it so that you learn it well.

Why is it important? Basically for two things:

  • Fast "playable" tuplets under the melody. Like this:

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  • Not so fast progressions of triples, but ones you want to play as smoothly as possible, changing fingering during the chords so that you're ready for the next one; and when not possible, being as fast as possible on chord changes. Like this:

enter image description here

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Posture when playing chords is very important not only for how the sound comes out, but even to avoid problems like tendinitis when repeatedly practising particularly large or frequent sequences of chords.

It's important for the elbow and the wrist to be parallel to the keyboard, and make sure that your wrist is elevated enough above the keyboard - if its position is too low, this could strain your tendons, and it also makes it difficult to control the way you want the chord to sound. With an elevated wrist, you can more easily gauge the strength of your fingers when playing the chord, and can also produce powerful chords more easily. In fact, in the case of powerful chords, you should apply strength more from the wrist and the rest of the arm rather than your fingers.

As for fingers, my piano teacher taught me to think of the shape of my hand when playing as if I am "holding an orange", simply meaning that your hand should keep a relaxed "round" shape as opposed to straightening the fingers too much. This is achievable by keeping your wrist elevated, as I was saying before. I think this is what your teacher meant by "playing with the knuckles" - keeping a rounder shape gives more mobility to the knuckles as opposed to keeping the fingers more straight, and this can achieve a better and more controlled sound. In fact, for a sequence of chords where it's either the speed or smoothness that counts, you should keep your wrist relaxed so the fingers can be more mobile at changing chords.

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