Wondering how to strengthen your hands at the piano, so you can tackle that difficult repertoire you’ve always wanted to learn?
Here, tonebase Head of Piano Ben Laude will dive into how to best strengthen your hands to advance your repertoire.
So it turns out there are no muscles in your fingers (actually there are very, very tiny ones in your hair follicles, but those aren't relevant).
The muscles you use to move your fingers are all found in the hand and arm and connect to tendons that extend from muscles in your arm all the way into the fingers and help control their movement. There are a bunch of them, and pianists are for the most part not aware that they’re using them when they play. They might even be confused as to which part of their mechanism is “strong” – it is certainly not the fingers.
You have extensor muscles on the top of your hand that help straighten the fingers and flexor muscles in your palm that help bend them.
These are connected through tendons and blood vessels running through the "carpal tunnel" in your wrist from your forearm, where you have very important larger muscles responsible for much of the activity of playing the piano.
These are the muscles participating both in larger movements in and out, laterally, and rotationally, while also controlling finger activity.
Should you work out your hand muscles?
I do not recommend actively "working out" these muscles in some non-musical way (of course you're welcome to "work out" for the purposes of fitness, although do it carefully and be careful with gripping heavy weight – but it won't make much of a difference at all in playing the piano).
What I've found is that the best way to develop the kind of strength in your hand and forearm needed for piano playing is to practice the piano regularly, and healthily!
We pianists tend to develop pronounced muscles at the base of our thumb and pinky (thenar and hypothenar muscles) which comes from balancing our weight into our fingers when we play properly.
This is especially true of the 5th finger, which is considered a "weak" finger, but that's just because it's small.
Once you develop the hand muscles that move the pinky, you can play just and firmly and loudly as any other finger, with ease (and this is very important since our pinkies are usually responsible for melodies and bass lines).
How to strengthen your hand
To strengthen your hand, I would start with the little exercises for stretching and firming up the fingers, which are the first two lessons in Seymour Bernstein's Keyboard Choreography course here on tonebase. I can only recommend you incorporate as much of the wisdom and good advice in Penelope Roskell's and Robert Durso's tonebase technique series.
It might seem unrelated, but their discussions of body alignment with respect to the piano are very important to what's going on down in the forearm and hands.
When you begin to play with the finger, hand, and arm operating as a unit that swings from your shoulders/torso, then you can channel all that good body weight efficiently into your fingers, which are merely conduits and balance points for distributing energy into the keyboard.
Then, questions of "finger strength" don't arise much, because it's not the fingers that are doing any of the "heavy lifting."
It's your bigger muscles in your forearm, upper arm, and shoulders that align and coordinate to play everything from simple to complex passagework.
Depending on your level, you might try approaching the Chopin Etude Training with Marina Lomazov with these foundational physical principles in mind. All of this will help you develop your technique and allow you to play with freedom and agility and power.
Understanding hand strength at the piano is a tricky subject that can get confusing very quickly, especially when you factor in how the muscles in your arm actually contribute to your playing.
If this post helped you in any way, let us know!
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