How to Build Strong Fingers for Playing the Piano in Three Easy Steps

Updated on September 1, 2018
vocalcoach profile image

Audrey's love for piano began at age six. She's is a professional pianist for cruises, hotels and community events. Teaching is her passion.

My Piano - My Heart
My Piano - My Heart | Source

Developing Strong, Flexible Fingers for Fast Piano Passages

To play piano with skill, the fingers require flexibility exercises. Proper hand technique is not only important for a smooth and even sound—it is mandatory. The fingers must be flexible and strong enough to handle fast and difficult passages and scales. The weight and balance of the finger as it strikes the key affects the volume, evenness, and ease of playing.

We can all Improve our piano playing. A combination of how often we practice and how we practice is the secret to developing strong, flexible fingers for better playing.

As a piano instructor for 40 years, as well as a professional pianist, I'm sharing my expertise with you so listen up!

Proper Hand Technique for Pianists

Notice how the pianist is playing with curved fingers using the tips of the fingers.  The knuckles do not collapse and neither should yours.
Notice how the pianist is playing with curved fingers using the tips of the fingers. The knuckles do not collapse and neither should yours. | Source

Curve Your Fingers and Trim Your Nails

Playing with the fingers curved keeps them all the same length when playing the piano. Beginners tend to collapse the knuckles when first learning how to play. This is not to be encouraged as the speed needed for flexible fingers will not be attained. You need strong fingers for good dexterity and speed.

You'll need to keep your nails short enough so that the pad of the fingers rest on the piano keys. Long nails are a hindrance and the clicking sound of nails on the piano keys can be annoying. Short nails allow you to play expressively and play with speed. So keep those nails trimmed!

Strong Fingers Give You Flexibility and Strength

Artist George Hamilton Barrable - A Song Without Words 1888
Artist George Hamilton Barrable - A Song Without Words 1888 | Source

Step 1. Building Strong Fingers for Piano With This Table Exercise

For beginners, the following exercise will help you to remember to strike each key with the fingers in a curved position.

  • Sit down in a straight-backed chair, facing a kitchen or dining room table. Your forearms will be resting on the table with your wrists and hands positioned as though you are playing the piano.
  • Make sure your fingertips touch the table so that your hands are rounded as though you have a golf ball under the palm of each hand. Don't tense the hands too much as you continue through the rest of the exercises.
  • With the fingertips and wrist resting on the table, lift both thumbs up while keeping all of the remaining fingers in a curved position. The wrist must always be touching the table top. The idea is to avoid collapsing the knuckles of the other fingers as you concentrate on lifting one finger at a time. After lifting the finger bring it back down while holding it in a curved position until it rests on the table top.
  • Next, you will lift the "pointer" finger (finger 2), while keeping the other fingers in a curved position resting on the table. Continue this exercise with the middle finger(finger 3), the ring finger (finger 4) and the pinky finger (finger 5). Repeat the whole exercise several times.

Continue to do this several times every day making sure the knuckles are not collapsing. This is a great way to build strong fingers for piano performance.

  • When you feel that you have mastered this exercise, go to the piano and play a scale or five finger pattern making sure you use strong knuckles. This is an exercise for anyone to practice, especially beginning piano students and children.
  • You will soon be able to play piano music with a lovely legato (smooth and connected) touch. This is how you make beautiful music.

Fun Exercise for Keeping the Hands Balanced When Playing Piano

Place a quarter on the hand and slowly strike a key on the piano.  Try to keep the quarter from falling off the hand.  Begin with right hand followed by left hand.
Place a quarter on the hand and slowly strike a key on the piano. Try to keep the quarter from falling off the hand. Begin with right hand followed by left hand. | Source

Step 2. Try the Quarter Test as You Play the Piano

A good test to see if the hand is in proper alignment is to place a quarter on the back of each hand and play a few keys, balancing the quarter. The quarter should remain balanced on the hand and not fall off as you play (slowly).

  • Keep the wrist level with the hand and do not bob it up and down.
  • It is the function of the forearm to move the hand when striking the piano keys.

Once you master this exercise, you will be surprised at the difference in both sound, improved flexibility and speed.

  • When seated at the piano, do not pull the piano bench too close to the keyboard. Allow enough room between you and the instrument to give you the freedom to move from the lowest to highest area of the keyboard. Sitting too close inhibits your space. Maintain proper posture and keep the spine straight by sitting tall.

Audrey Hunt at the Piano

Audrey Hunt posing for a picture for her fans between sets.
Audrey Hunt posing for a picture for her fans between sets. | Source

Step 3. Using the Metronome

A metronome may be used when practicing in order to maintain a constant tempo. Tempo is measured in beats per minute (BPM); metronomes can be set to variable tempi, usually ranging from 40 to 208 BPM; another marking denoting metronome tempi is M.M. or Mälzel's Metronome.

To increase speed for scales and other exercises set the metronome at a slow tempo. Continue practicing slowly until the scale is perfectly mastered, then gradually increase the tempo until a faster speed is reached and easy to play.

Tips For Practicing Scales

By far, the best way to build strong fingers for flexibility and speed is to practice scales. The following tips will bring great results when playing scales:

  • Keep the fingers in a curved position.
  • Use correct fingering for all scales.
  • Begin with one octave increasing to two octaves then three octaves.
  • As soon as you're advanced enough, play hands together.
  • Play in different rhythms for variety.
  • Using a metronome can be helpful. Begin slowly. Set the metronome to 72 and gradually increase your speed.
  • Practice all major and minor scales.

Practicing With a Metronome—a Good Habit

The most helpful tool for developing speed and perfect rhythm  is the use of the metronome.
The most helpful tool for developing speed and perfect rhythm is the use of the metronome. | Source

Do You Practice Piano?

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Using a Metronome

Why Study Classical Music First?

Studying classical music such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin requires constant dedication and superb technique. Much of the worlds most beautiful music was introduced by these great composers. Regardless of which musical genre you prefer, studying these masters (and a great many others) provides the pianist with a challenge that can take months to reach.

Once the pianist is secure in playing classical music, the bar is set for all other genres. Because great skill is required, it makes all other music easier to understand and play.

The piano is the most enticing of instruments. Even though the process involves persistence and hard work, the rewards bring a lifetime of joy and fulfillment. Only you, the pianist, can unlock the piano's potential.

A Stunning Pianist

Love is like playing the piano, first you must learn to play by the rules, then you forget the rules and play from your heart.

Questions & Answers

    © 2010 Audrey Hunt

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      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        5 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Nell - What a super talented and gifted son you have! Sounds like it runs in the family line.:)

        Thanks for sharing this as it is so fascinating to hear about. And thank you for the vote and sharing. Hugs.

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        What a great hub! I used to play the piano when I was a child, but gave up which I totally regret. My son on the other hand can just look at a piano and ten minutes later figure out a piece of music and play the lot! lol! runs in the family, my uncle was the same! great advice, and voted and shared! nell

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Jools 99 - I admire you for teaching yourself and sticking with it. Learning the piano is a wonderful thing. It's one of the best ways to relax and de-stress.

        Thanks for reading and I like your comments!

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Hezekia - I am impressed! Anyone that can learn piano by watching and using their ear has a definite "gift."

        I wish you great success and joy as you continue to "thrive" at the piano. Thank you.

      • Jools99 profile image

        Jools99 

        6 years ago from North-East UK

        Really enjoyed this hub. I am a self-taught (and therefore pretty bad) pianist and I need all the help I can get. I only started playing two years ago and I don't practice anywhere near enough. I will try these great tips, it might improve my playing, which can only be a good thing, believe me. Voted up.

      • Hezekiah profile image

        Hezekiah 

        7 years ago from Japan

        Good tips thanks. I learn to play just by watching people and ear. Would have been good to know tips before hand.

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        thesues = I think its great that you are teaching yourself how to play the piano. There are many useful tips available that help to speed the process along. So when you run into a problem, just let me know and I will help you. vocalcoach

      • theseus profile image

        theseus 

        7 years ago from philippines

        Helpful tips coach.

        Going to try these soon.I've been trying to teach myself how to play the piano. I'm making progress, so I hope. But I don't know if what I'm doing is the proper way to do it.

        Thank you for sharing. God bless.

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Hmrjmr1 - I'm glad to hear that these exercises are helpful and how great that you are learning the piano! Let's play a duet sometime. :)

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Tina V - Wonderful that you niece is learning how to play the piano. I hope her teacher is well qualified, loving and caring. This opportunity will open up her world and introduce her to music. Once she learns the piano, she can pick up just about any instrument and learn to play it easier. Piano is the platform for all music. Thank you for commenting and rating. :)

      • TINA V profile image

        TINA V 

        7 years ago

        This will be a great reference for my niece who is beginning to study piano. You shared a very useful finger exercise for strength and flexibility. Your hub is easy to understand for beginners. I’ll bookmark this and rated it up. Enjoy your week!

      • Hmrjmr1 profile image

        Hmrjmr1 

        7 years ago from Georgia, USA

        vocalcoach - I have been working on learning the piano and the finger exercises are great thanks. looking forward to more tips.

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        JamaGenee - I, too wish I could have been your teacher. Bless your sweet heart for going through those experiences lead by "unqualified" piano teachers. If you were close by, I would have you playing your favorite songs in no time at all and we would have fun doing it.

        Take care JamaGenee.

      • JamaGenee profile image

        Joanna McKenna 

        7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

        Oh, how I wish I'd had you for a piano teacher as a child! When I was 6 or so, someone gave my mother an old upright piano. She didn't play and had no desire to learn. To justify having it the house, she decided I should take lessons. For two years, for an hour after school twice a week, I went to the home of a pair of 80-something spinster sisters, our town's non-humorous version of the Delaney Sisters. That was followed by two more years with the very scary wife of a co-worker of my dad's. At end of those four years, I'd mastered "Chopsticks" but not much else. Ironically, I had no problem with clarinet and saxophone in the junior high band, but the "piano years" were torture!

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Cedar Cove Farm - So pleased to hear your kids are learning how to play the piano. It is the foundation of all music. Piano lessons teach children discipline and increase self-esteem and confidence. thanks for stopping by.

      • Cedar Cove Farm profile image

        Cedar Cove Farm 

        7 years ago from Southern Missouri

        I don't play piano, but our kids are learning. Good advice.

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Martie - You go girl! Those golden oldies are the best. My personal favorites. Wish I could hear you play. What a treat that would be. Blessings to you Martie.

      • MartieCoetser profile image

        Martie Coetser 

        8 years ago from South Africa

        My ringfingers became very lazy - for the past how-many-years I seldom get the time to play the piano. But now you’ve got me in the mood to open my piano and play some golden oldies!

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        I do the very same thing when I'm flying. I pull out the tray table and practice! I must admit, passengers have given me some puzzled looks. One even asked for another seat. :-) Thank you kaltopsyd for your very welcomed comment. Will be following you and leaving comments.

      • kaltopsyd profile image

        kaltopsyd 

        8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

        The table exercise is what I do when I'm preparing for an audition. I remember just this year I was sitting outside of the audition room, playing my entire piece on the table. Haha. It's a good thing the people around me were musicians, otherwise I would have looked pretty mad. :)

        Good tips!

      • kaltopsyd profile image

        kaltopsyd 

        8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

        The table exercise is what I do when I'm preparing for an audition. I remember just this year I was sitting outside of the audition room, playing my entire piece on the table. Haha. It's a good thing the people around me were musicians, otherwise I would have looked pretty mad. :)

        Good tips!

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        daddyjb - How glorious to find a comment from a fellow piano teacher. Your advice is wonderful and a very important factor. I love your "speed comes more from efficiency and freedom than strength". May I quote you in the future and provide your link to students, teachers and friends? I will soon be reading all of your articles. Can't wait! I appreciate your taking time to comment and rate me up. Thank you.

      • daddyjb profile image

        daddyjb 

        8 years ago from North Carolina

        Interesting hub here! I love discussions about piano technique. I'm glad you pointed out to not use too much tension as there are many playing-related injuries due to excess tension. My advice to my students is, if it hurts, stop! Take a break and the next time figure out a more efficient way to do the same motion. Speed comes more from efficiency and freedom than strength.

        Hub up, vocalcoach!

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Billy,

        The fact that you love music says much about you. Thank you for taking the time to read my hub and comment on it. I appreciate it.

      • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

        Audrey Hunt 

        8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Cheri,

        Thanks for sharing your goal about getting back to the piano. Here is a hint - place both hands on only the black keys,(begin in the middle section and play up) hold down the peddle,the one on the right,and simply play randomly. It is impossible to play any wrong key. The melodies you improvise will be soothing, eastern sounding and lovely. Enjoy!

      • billyaustindillon profile image

        billyaustindillon 

        8 years ago

        A great lesson for building finger flexibility and strength - unfortunately I never got to learn piano as much as I love music. We had a piano teacher live next to us and we had planned for my sons to learn from her. Unfortunately she moved but your hub is a great reminder is how great that skill would be.

      • Cheri Schultz profile image

        Cheri Schultz 

        8 years ago from Midwest

        I always wanted to play piano as a child but my parents could never afford it. I started taking lessons at 45 and I LOVE it!! I stopped for a few years because of my work schedule and I miss it terribly. My goal is start playing again this year. Thank you for this hub - it triggered the tug in my heart - Cheri

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