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What Are Piano Fingers?

When a piano player takes their first steps to learn this great instrument, they might assume certain things. Some of those assumptions might be right, but others might not help them at all. 

As an example, they will assume that they create notes and chords by pressing down on the keys. Of course, they would be right. They might also assume that it doesn’t matter which fingers they use; the closest to the key, the better. In that assumption, they would not be right.


A Phrase From Their Tutor

In the early days of learning the piano, a budding student may hear the phrase “piano fingers.” Then they will almost certainly ask, “What are piano fingers?”

The phrase piano fingers to the beginner might be confusing at first. It could be a description given to an injury caused by too much practice. Of course, it is not that and has a much simpler explanation.

Piano Fingers

Piano Fingers

Each finger on both hands is given a number. This might sound a bit like something you would do in your early days at school but bear with me. 

The numbers that are associated with your fingers serve an important learning purpose. They teach you where to put your fingers in a particular piece of music.

This is important to know to ensure your performance will be as smooth and efficient as possible. In later years, it becomes even more important for the more advanced pieces. So, let’s take a look at how your fingers are numbered.

The Piano Fingerings

This is how you may see them referred to in some music books, but it means the same. You will sometimes see them noted on sheet music. They are shown by a small number that may be placed either below or above some of the notes. 

These are a guide to which fingers you should be using when playing those particular notes. The numbers correspond to the same fingers for both left and right hands. They are designated as follows:

  • 1 for the thumb.
  • 2 for the index finger.
  • 3 for the middle finger.
  • 4 for the ring finger.
  • 5 for the little finger.

Look at what that means… 

Place your right hand, palm down on a table, and spread your fingers. From the thumb to the little finger, count off 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Now do the same with your left-hand palm down. Starting to the left, the numbers go from your little finger towards the thumb – 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.

There is a basic rule to follow to know which piano notes you play with each hand.

  • The notes on the top staff are played with the right hand.
  • The notes on the bottom staff are played by the left hand.

Another Expression That Can be Confusing

Another Expression

We have seen that the question, “What are piano fingers?” can need a bit of explaining. But here is another. What if someone said that you had piano hands? What do they mean?

Well, it has nothing to do with the size of your hands, so let’s be clear on that one. What it refers to is all about posture. 

When you play the piano… 

You will hold your hands differently. They move in ways that they would not in the normal course of existence. The position of your hands when playing the piano is known as “piano hands.” There are attributes common to piano hands. These can be classified as:

  • Fingers that can move very quickly if required.
  • Your fingers are strong.
  • Your hands are relaxed.
  • Respond accurately to placement on the keyboard.
  • They can play delicately or with more purpose.

While we are discussing piano hands, let’s try and clear up a couple of myths. These have grown up around piano playing and are believed by some people. Firstly, whether the piano affects your fingers.

Does Piano Practice Affect The Size Of Your Fingers?

It is an interesting thought, but the answer is no, it doesn’t. There is a reason people think this. It is linked to how people view others who train a lot. Muscular builds, etc. 

The obvious thing to think is that practice will make your fingers bigger in the same way hours in the gym might affect a weightlifter. But, they are exposing muscles to extreme tensions and pressures. That is not what you do in playing the piano.

Body Position

Having said that, there are instances where the illusion of increased finger size might exist. If you are one of these people who do not sit or walk up straight, then you will appear to slouch. This gives you a false indication of how tall you are because you are bending over slightly, thus reducing your potential full height.

Now, if you were to stand up straight and tall, would this affect your visible height through a change of stance? Yes, it would; it would make you appear taller.

Finger Posture

Your finger posture at the piano is a similar situation. The correct posture for your fingers will develop by playing correctly with good technique. 

The result is that your fingers will stretch more, be flexible, and be more powerful through the familiarity of playing. Because your fingers are used to stretching, it is a similar physical concept that takes place to stand up straight. This creates the same impression, and your fingers will look longer.

Does It Damage Your Hands To Play Piano?

In any activity, whether it be athletics, tennis, rowing, or playing the piano, poor technique is not good. It applies to all sports, and it also applies to the piano.

Using poor technique can manifest in different ways. Slouching over the piano is not good and would constitute poor technique and is likely to give you a backache. Having your arms and hands in the wrong position causes muscle strain and makes you very tired quickly.

If you tend to strike the keys too hard so that your fingers bend back, there are potential problems for both hands and fingers.

Practice Times

Like any discipline, you need to build up gradually to where you want to be. You can not suddenly go out and run sub-four-minute miles. You have to train hard to achieve that.

The same applies to practice on the piano. You can’t just suddenly go and practice for four hours. That could do damage, even if you last that long. You need to work up to longer practice sessions.

If You Have Small Hands, Is The Piano Still Right For You?

Small Hands

I cannot see why not. Of course, some pieces do demand a wider finger span than others, but you can get very close to those demands. Even those considered child prodigies make them, and your hands are probably larger than a six-year-old.

Your Physicality Can Have An Effect

Your physical shape and design can have an effect. But, that doesn’t mean to say that all the greats had the same attributes. Do you need to hear what you are composing? If you think so, don’t tell Beethoven that.

Do all good sprinters make good football players where speed is a big asset in some positions? Of course not; in fact, they rarely do. Do all the great piano players of all generations have large hands? Of course not. Elton John’s fingers are short and stumpy. He hasn’t done too bad.

Good Piano Fingers

It simply means that you get the best you can out of them. They need to be trained to do what you want them to do. They need to understand their numbers and where they go on the keyboard. And, once you master that, then you are on your way.

Here are some items that may help in your practice and theory:

Interested in the Piano?

We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Digital Pianos For Beginners, the Best Digital Pianos, the Best Digital Grand Piano, the Best Digital Pianos for Under $500, the Best Digital Pianos For Under $1000, and the Best Cheap Keyboard Piano you can buy in 2023.

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And, don’t miss our handy articles on How to Become a Better Piano PlayerHow to Teach Yourself Piano at HomeHow Long Does It Take To Get Good At PianoIs Piano Hard to Learn, and the 10 First & Easiest Songs You Should Learn on Piano for more information about the piano.

What Are Piano Fingers – Conclusion

Practice and understanding. It will take both of them to develop good piano fingers. But, as you improve, and you will, you will begin to see the benefits.

Until next time, let your music play, and don’t forget to get in some good practice.

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear heat and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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