Maximum Stretch for the Piano

Brookdale colonial park performance

Maximum stretch for the piano is essential. There seems to be very few ideally sized hands. Short fingers make wide stretches on the piano difficult. Playing closely with stubby fingers is difficult. Wide palms slow down tucking the thumb under for scales or arpeggios.  My instructions through piano lessons has helped many of my students understand how to get the most out of their reach.

ROBERT SCHUMANN’S UNSUCCESSFUL  SURGERY

There are ways to overcome inherent difficulties without going to extremes. An example of going to extremes involves Robert Schumann, the composer. He thought that surgery would correct an inherent difficulty: Fingers four and five work best together. It’s difficult to move 4th without the fifth finger. These two weaker fingers share a common tendon. Unfortunately, his surgery did not work.

ONE MAN TOOK A SMALLER PIANO WITH HIM

Another method to acquire maximum stretch for the piano is the piano itself. Josef Hoffman took his piano with him on concert tours. His piano was specially designed for small hands: The distance from key to key is shorter.

I, having a small to medium sized hand, invented a five finger stretch. In all my years of playing etudes, I’ve never encountered this idea.  I feel this is an essential exercise for anyone who shares my hand limitation: Some composers, for example, Sergei Rachmaninoff; had hand huge hands. With small hands, that creates difficulties. I call my exercise, simply: The Five Finger Stretch. It stretches the webbing of the fingers by fifths and octaves.

HOW TO PLAY THE QUICK AND EFFECTIVE 5 FINGER STRETCH

Here is the finger sequence for the right hand by fifths and then by octaves. It ascends and then descends based on the solfeggio notes of the one octave C major scale. By fifths we have: 1-2-3-2; 1-2-3-2; etc. then 3-4-5-3, 3-4-5-3 etc; then 2-3-4-3; 2-3-4-3. The fingering up and down the scale are reversed for the left hand.  Then I use the octave stretch with the following fingerings: 1-2-5-2, 1-2-5-2; and secondly, 1-3-5-3; 1-3-5-3. By note we have: c-c’-c”-c’; d-d’-d”-d’. This stretch encompasses two octaves.

The exercise is no guarantee that the small handed person will be able to play Rachmaninoff. However, it will stretch your hand to its maximum. Important: Should you experience fatigue or pain in your fingers, stop. Shake your hands and fingers out. Only play this exercise if you feel stretching without pain. How about the size of Rachmaninoff’s hand?

Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff cph.3a40575.jpg

Rachmaninoff in 1921

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