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Lately I have been practicing on octaves. I am 17, so my arm is almost fully matured. I have no problem reaching a seventh, but when it comes to full octaves I have a slight pain from the stretch in my thumb.

I read a lot of articles on how to play octaves the right way, with relaxed arm. However, I think my problem is unusual. When I stretch my hand, the middle joint of my thumb is locked, and therefore, my hand can not stretch fully, because the thumb can't stretch wide only on its own. As shown in the video - (https://streamable.com/ihbrk), with the help of the other hand, the thumb can stretch farther. That means I physically can stretch the thumb the way it should.

Maybe it's because I have an untrained muscle or unorganised tendons. Is this problem common? Are there any exercises or techniques that could help?

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I see this sort of thing a lot with beginning pianists - especially younger kids. What makes your challenge unique is the fact that it's your thumb instead of one of the other fingers which is more common.

With kids I call it "flat fingertips". Kids typically need to be taught to keep their "fingertips" firm. In other words, many novices relax the first joint of their fingers when they play and need to be taught to keep their joint firm. This is usually done by modeling and repetition.

Yours however is a little different. Instead of relaxing your thumb you look like you're actually hyper-extending it, which apart from making it difficult to use introduces a lot of tension into your thumb and hand.

You're also trying to play with the pad / tip of your thumb like the rest of your fingers. This is contributing to your problem. You should be playing with the side of your thumb, essentially so that it is flat against the key. In other words, one side of your thumb should be on the key, the other side should be facing the ceiling. This position makes it difficult to hyper-extend as you're doing, and should take the tension out of your hand. Also the octave thing should be better, too.

Last point: some people have hands that are just too small to play octaves comfortably. The typical solution is that you have to lift your hand a bit to reach the octave. That's okay and that's normal. I've seen pianists with smaller hands than you, so you should be fine.

Hope this helps.

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It seems more like a medical problem (so not sure if the question can be answered here on a 'music' site).

I suggest you go to a doctor, see if there is a medical cause, and if it can be trained or fixed (medically).

Probably it's mostly up to you, to decide which way to go and to how much importance playing is to you (or willingly to train or the risk for a medical operation if needed).

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    Maybe ask a teacher before asking a doctor. It could simply be they think they're positioning their hand correctly but they're not. Dec 20 '19 at 16:12
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Piano playing should be effortless. If there is any strain, you are doing something wrong. You do need to get that hyperextension out of your thumb, keep working at that. Maybe by lifting your forearm from the wrist fulcrum. You appear to also have a forward shift which is good but play from the weight of the arm. NEVER press into the keys, let gravity depress the keys and try to play to the point of sound rather than into the keybed. Again, never press into the keybed. Nothing can come of it once the sound is generated. Newton's third law will hurt you.

Abducting the fingers creates an immediate and fatigable strain to the tendons. Try to allow your fingers to relax and return to their natural state between octaves as you slowly practice. You don't want to hold tension in your fingers or static load them.

One of my teachers had me put hand lotion on my hands and then facing the front of the keys, or a table edge, she would have me push my hand against the edge of the table and stretch my fingers so there was no longer a gap between my thumb and index finger. Then she would have me do it with all the other fingers and thumb.

I don't suggest that method but it did work for me. First, my teacher developed major thumb issues so and was laid up with an injury for about two years . . . what did she know. Second, I now know that stretching tendons can create micro tears to the tendon and the tendon sheath resulting in ganglion cysts, inflammation of the tendon or scaring of the tendon. None of those are good.

Frankly, I would not be a slave to notation and if you can't effortlessly play octaves, don't play them.

Keep in mind that your fingers don't play the piano, your arm does and your arm places the fingers. Take a gander at this video. In it, Edna suggests using your pronator muscle to "open up the hand." It is also commonly referred to as "rotation." This is an excellent lesson but the kid is clueless at first. If you stretch, you lose. Throw your hand open rather than stretch it open. Relax between notes. Up is more important than down.

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