How to Play Piano with Small Hands?

Posted by Yoke Wong on 9/12/2015 to Learn To Play Piano

One common concern among youth and adult piano players alike is the size of their hands. Throughout history, many of the top piano composers and performers have been known for their large hands. For example, both Liszt and Rachmaninoff can reach 12 note spans. There is no question that this capability is an asset for mastering certain technical piano skills. However, pianists with small hands are still just as capable of capturing the attention and hearts of their listeners.

Gui Gui Zheng is an exceptional example of the skills that a piano player can master with limited use of the fingers. Gui Gui is a 20 year old Chinese girl who was born without fingers on her right hand, which simply extends to a stump right past her knuckles. Gui Gui was raised in Yangji, a small town in China, and had never seen a piano until she was a teenager. Since then, she has stunned millions of people all around the world with her piano playing.

In 2012, Gui Gui participated in the second series of the popular TV show China's Got Talent. Once she had finished her performance, one of the judges asked her to share a little bit about her unusual circumstances with the audience. Gui Gui doesn't believe that she is unfortunate in any way. Instead she believes that God has special plans for her. She feels blessed to have her unique hands that allow her to play piano a little differently than most people. Below is a video of her China's Got Talent performance.


One of the biggest keys to playing the piano with small hands is learning how to break chords. There are many famous piano pieces that require chords stretching tenths and elevenths that simply aren't possible with small hands. Instead of leaving out notes, play all of the notes in the chord in quick succession while holding down the sustain pedal. When you play the notes very rapidly with the pedal pressed, no one will be able to hear the difference.  Most young players who are younger than 10 years old can hardly reach octave.  But many of them can play difficult songs during piano competitions to achieve big chords sound by using chords breaking techniques.

When you encounter a piece with these touch to reach chords, octaves, or arpeggios, face your fears. You may need to practice these sections four or five times as much as the rest of the piece, but it will be well worth the effort to master the piece. Set your metronome at a slower tempo and gradually speed it up as you perfect the passage.

As a piano player with small hands, it's important to devote time to dexterity and flexibility in every practice session. For most pianists, the 4th and 5th fingers are the weakest fingers. To work these fingers up to the strength of the other fingers, practice simple trills and Pischna and Hanon exercises. You can also try playing scales slowly, concentrating on each note and keeping the volume the same level across the scale.

Finally, if you practice on a keyboard, you'll have a tougher time switching between the keyboard and a regular piano. Whenever possible, take advantage of opportunities to practice on a real piano or failing that, a keyboard with weighted keys. Regular piano keys and weighted keyboard keys strengthen your fingers naturally, allowing you to increase the capability of your small hands. 

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5 Comments

Carrol Lucas
Date: 9/14/2015
Dear Yoke. Thanks for the tip. I would love to buy more of your songs and want the ones that contain all your beautiful fills and ornamentations. Carrol Lucas
Judy
Date: 9/14/2015
Thanks for the tip. Hanon definitely helped me with 4th and 5th. Also my left hand was strengthened by playing guitar. Also finding some stretching exercises in Czerny helful.
Lydia Lin
Date: 9/14/2015
Dear Ms. Wong, Like Judy, I've found Hanon and some stretching exercises helpful. You yourself do not have large hands. Mine are even smaller, hardly able to reach an octave. Your skillful playing has served as an inspiration for me, a beautiful example for me to emulate. Best regards, Lydia Lin www.teachmechinese.wordpress.com
Anonymous
Date: 6/19/2016
As well, there are other options for small-handed pianists now, including narrower keys. In fact, the keys on the piano were not quite so wide until about the time of Rachmaninoff and Liszt. See http://smallpianokeyboards.org/index.html
Jenny
Date: 2/23/2017
Thanks for sharing the tips, i have learned plenty of useful teaching tips from piano mother and apply them on my piano teaching. These piano teaching tips have helped my students to develop good technical skills.

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