Basic Hand Position

Basic Hand Position and Movement

Correct posture, including neutral hand position, is the foundation for all sound quality and control when at the piano. Many intermediate to more advanced pieces are impossible to play if we donít move in the correct way. Much of learning to play the piano, therefore, involves learning how to move effectively from the basic starting positions and back again, using different movements for different affects and without too much extra effort. It means knowing where to start from, then being aware of how the movements feel and listening for changes in sound when we move in different ways.

It simply is not possible to be good at playing the piano without thinking a lot about these things when we practice. Also, if we donít sit and move properly we risk fatigue and injury. So, check the following every time you sit at the piano Ė make it a habit. (Parents, please help young children at practice time.)

Sit comfortably, not too straight but not slouched, centred at the notes you are playing.
Shrug, relax your neck and shoulders. Let your arms hang for a moment.
Feet should be flat (on a stool or on the floor), and in front so you can balance well.
Sit on the front half of the piano bench, leaning forward a little, balancing your weight on your feet.
Knees should be slightly under the keyboard, not tucked in like sitting at a table.
Elbows should be slightly out and forward from your body and no lower than the level of the keys.
Your arms should reach forward towards the keys and parallel to the floor if your palm is flat down on the keys.
In a neutral posiition, there should be no tension in the hands, wrists or shoulders.

Curved hand shape

Next, check your arm and hand position. With your hands positioned over the keys, your arms should gently slope up towards your shoulders. To find the correct hand shape, rest your hand over your knees where they feel comfortable. They will form a rounded, cup shape without the fingers bending too much or stretching out flat. Every finger joint curves around slightly. The thumb will be on its side, bending in a little towards the fingers.

Alternatively, turn you hand palm upwards in a relaxed position and it will fall into place automatically. The trick is to keep that relaxed position as you move to the keys.

Curved fingers when touching the piano keys: Once your hands are gently curved, lift them onto the keys and place the ends of your fingers towards the black keys, not too close to the edge of the white keys. The end, but not the point, of the finger touches the keys. Try touching the blunt end of a pencil to see if you can feel that part of your finger (see left). To keep this part of your finger on the keys, you need to keep each finger joint curved around when you play. This means you have to grasp with your fingers and let your hand feel heavy from gravity. Donít play on the flat length inside your finger (especially watch littel finger!) or on the tip (especially for pointer finger).

The thumb moves away from the fingers, sideways: Movement of the thumb is critical. Look at the size of your thumb and how it moves differently from your fingers. Your thumb is the closest finger to the wrist and makes about 1/3 the entire size of your hand. If you turn your hand over, looking at your palm, you will see this even more clearly. Each finger curls in towards the palm. The thumb moves sideways instead. The strength of the hand depends very much on how you use the thumb. If you drop down on the thumb, playing on the joint, the wrist falls down and the hand loses its power and ability to move. This makes it hard to play with good sound, smoothness or speed. Push your thumb sideways and away from the fingers. This means that your wrist doesnít drop down when you play with the thumb. Touch the keys with the edge of your nail instead of the major joint. The fingers move inwards, the thumb moves sideways.

Once you have the neutral hand position, return to this position every possible time when you play stretches, chords or scales. Coming back to neutral as often as possible means you can play for longer and you can play faster with less effort.

Moving your Fingers

To depress a key, push forward and make a grasping movement with your fingers, without curling the finger tips, as if holding a small ball in the palm of your hands, or stroking the key with your fingertip. Donít pull down or backwards with your wrists.

When you pick something up in your hands, you usually know just how much effort to use Ė not so much that you squeeze it and not too little so it falls out of your hands. We learn this sense as infants, and it takes experience at the piano - but it is a natural reaction. You need to be aware of your hands and trust yourself to be able to give the right pressure with the piano keys. Use your ears to tell you if you are doing it correctly - but use you sense of touch as well.

Relax your wrists, not too high or too low, but in a fairly straight line from your arm and rising a little to your knuckles.

When you move your fingers, move mostly from the knuckles and the palms of the hands. The knuckles give structure and strength to the hand - they should almost always be the highest point on your hands, where you can see them.

Strong Hand Structure

When we play the piano, we rest some of the muscles we normally exercise when we use our hands. The muscles we usually use automatically make our palms flat. These muscles are on top of the hand, joining to the wrist and between the knuckle and first finger joint.

When we play piano, we use the muscles inside our palms. Imagine that you are moving from the middle of your hand rather than using fingers by themselves. When you have been practicing with using these muscles properly, you can feel warmth in the middle of your palm. The picture to the right shows the place you can feel this most.


Correct postural movement is not automatic. It takes awareness and work but the rewards are countless. Young students need parent support during practice to learn these skills.