I am trying to give my modest advice to a friend that is looking to start piano playing.

When I learnt to play, my instructor was very careful about teaching me the right hand position (and saved me a lot of pain), with the fingers curved and falling rather perpendicular on the keys, touching the keys at the tip of the finger.

Unfortunately, due to the shape of her nails, my friend cannot cut them short enough for this to happen. So, there are 2 possible positions: either she has a correct finger position, and hits the keys more or less with the nails (rather unpleasant, since it might slip), or she touches the keys with the fingers at an angle, not perpendicular. Also, her hands are quite small, barely reaching an octave.

What would be the best advice to give?

  • 2
    There is no single correct finger action, indeed some of the greats have played with very flat fingers. They have found what works best for them.
    – user48353
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 23:35

3 Answers 3


Having long nails cuts the options down to flat(tish) fingers. While a lot of players prefer using the tips of their fingers to press the keys, it's by no means the only option, and if you watch carefully, you'll see just about every finger position possible used by great players. And a lot will vary how they play depending on what it is being played.

In your friend's case, it looks like the pads of her fingers will be the choice. It may mean she'll have trouble playing really quick passages, but that's about all. We tend to do what suits us as individuals, and while she may not make it to concert pianist level that way, will it matter that much?

  • Tim, I‘ve short nail and I‘m not playing on a concert level neither. ;) Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 7:39
  • 1
    @AlbrechtHügli - yeah, and we're in the majority...
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 7:53

Alfred Brendel had all kinds of trouble with this, to the extent that he took to putting strips of adhesive tape on the ends of his fingers. He once said on the Dick Cavett show that "the joke was that I can only play when I'm plastered."

I don't necessarily recommend this, but it is certainly an option that may be worth considering.


I learned the same "fingertip position" that you did, but I prefer a more relaxed hand position. The part of my finger than typically contacts the key is the area between the finger-tip and the pad.

This has the added benefit of being friendlier to long fingernails.

My preference is based on two main features:

  1. With my hand in its natural, relaxed position, I'm able to move more easily and fluidly, especially where there are large spans involved. A couple of pictures are posted below.
  2. The bone at the tip of the finger is pointed; whereas, the "distal phalanx", shown in this illustration from a surgical reference site, has a flattened portion, which allows for more surface area and better feel/control/accuracy.

So, my advice to your friend is to use a hand-position like this:

"Natural" hand position

Hand with arm at side

"Natural" hand position at keyboard

Hand with arm at keyboard

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