Perfect Hand Positions

If you read my post on Perfect Piano Posture, you will now know how to find the best playing position at the piano, or at least you’ll know what to be aware of when you’re sitting at the instrument. Today, I will take a look at what constitutes the perfect hand position. This is just as important as posture and without it, progress will be difficult.

Firstly, put your hands on the keyboard and check that your forearms are roughly parallel to the floor (this is the best way to tell if you are sitting at the right height). You will be aware that you need to cup your hands in some way in order to play with any finger strength. You don’t want to encourage flat fingers or a flat hand either, so one of the best ways to allow freedom in the arms and hands is to assume your hand is grasping an orange, and then let go of the imaginary orange so that your hands are almost ‘cupped’; when you go to play it will look like an upside down cup (see photo below).

So You Want To Play The Piano?

You’ll notice that in this ‘cupped’ position each finger is able to work ‘on it’s own’ independently of the hand. It is important that the fingers move on their own, i.e. they don’t rely on hand muscles when they move. It’s more effective if the fingers work on their ‘tips’ too so that each one is encouraged to play cleanly and accurately.

Fingers should be able to work freely from the knuckles, you can see them in position in the photo above too. Finger strength is paramount when developing piano technique, so hand positions should merely encourage this. A flat or slightly inverted hand seems to stop each knuckle and the surrounding muscles from building up any strength so be mindful of this when developing your ideal hand position. This last point is especially important when focusing on the fourth and fifth fingers – it’s all too easy to leave them out and a good hand position really helps them find their strength. High wrists tend to encourage tension and rigidity so with this is mind, it’s better to allow the wrists to sit in a low relaxed position as above.

Whilst the photo may give the idea of one rigid hand position, this is not true at all because it is merely a starting point; the hand and wrist should be flexible and free at all times so the fingers can move easily and quickly, guided by an agile, light arm and hand. Tension in the hand should be stopped as soon as possible as this will only impede movement. The more motion and movement made by the hands and wrists, the freer and more comfortable your hand positions will feel. Lateral wrist motion is particularly important in ensuring flexibility. Therefore, don’t allow your hands to be stiff or ‘stuck’ in one position. Try to develop a completely relaxed feeling when focusing on your hand positions. As always, a good teacher will help in this direction enormously as it’s a tall order improving aspects of piano technique alone.

Image: So You Want To Play The Piano? published by Alfred Music.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. ethel leathers says:

    I’ve wasted a lot of my time w/teachers that didn’t help explain how to cup my hands or feel the piano keys. now I’m taking lessons about 4 wks. with a new teacher, I think she is fabulous. she is trying to have me place my fingers between the black keys and feel my way over the key board, I feel like I’m starting all over again, but if it will help me I’ll give it all I got. I’m in my sixties so I hope I can learn this new technique quickly. I love your emails. sometimes I feel she could have written your book that’s how confident I am, and by the way I read every word and loved it. Thank-You So Much

    1. I’m so pleased that you have finally found a good piano teacher. Sometimes it takes a while to locate someone suitable. I’m thrilled you love my book….thank you and very best wishes for your future piano studies.

  2. Will Boggs says:

    Hand position is a key problem that I find with many of my student’s, especially the new piano players. I myself play alot of golf and teach piano. The fingers being very important to both. Is there any forearm/finger warm ups or exercises that you recommend for the new piano players? I try to incorporate relaxed breathing and stretching to anyone becoming to “rigid” with their fingers.

  3. Breathing techniques are always useful. I try to encourage students to play a few warm up excercises at the start of their practice sessions. Depending on a student’s level….Czerny studies and Hanon’s can make good warm up exercises too. Or just slowly practising scales and argeggios can be helpful as well. It all depends on how these exercises are taught rather than just playing them through though.

  4. Daryl James says:

    Which one do you recommend for the true newbie student, the Czerny or Hanons or both? I am trying to get a set routine with my son who is just starting his piano lessons and I am up in the air about which way to go . I appreciate it .

    1. Probably neither for a totally new student or beginner. It takes a good few lessons to be competent enough to play exercises. Usually play simple scales or exercises suggested in his piano tutor book to start with………

  5. As a guitar teacher for the past 20 years, I always make my newest students do a number of finger exercises when they are at home by themself. I feel that working with clay, doing fingers exercises or other things that make them use the finger tendons/muscles they normally don’t use. Not sure how well these translate to piano players, but I’m sure they don’t hurt.

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