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The Misconception about Finger Strength

I cannot believe it has been 4 months since my last post! My six years of studies (an awfully long but wonderful time!) at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama is coming to an end, and I have gathered many thoughts about music and piano playing over the years. I shall hopefully write all these thoughts down more reguarly on my blog. So here it is: the misconception about finger strength.

I always hear pianists talking about developing their finger strength, and many people believe that having strong fingers is the basis of a good technique. I used to believe the same. I thought that in order to play with clarity, especially in classical works, one must possess enormous finger power.

In fact, I remember a friend of mine many years ago telling me how in Russia, pianists trained so hard that their fingers could break a piece of glass when they strike! (which is absolutely absurd!)

However, I came across something Tobias Matthay had written (exactly where I have forgotten): he said that in order for a hammer to strike a string to produce a sound on the piano, one doesn't need much force at all. The force required for the depression of a key is almost as light as a feather!

I felt immediately enlightened when I read this sentence. It is so simple and blatantly obvious! If the depression of a key doesn't need much force at all, why are we so obsessed about finger strength?!

Instead of thinking about finger strength, we should be concerned about training our finger independence! I realised that in order to play with absolute clarity, our fingers need to be so independent as if they were ten individual arms. Also, our wrists and arms also need to move accordingly to our hands' ergonomics, but that is another subject for another time.

Once we realise we don't need to press so hard for each key, we can play with more ease and more efficiently as long as we have good finger independence. Also we are less likely to be injured from over-pressing, which can cause muscles strain in the forearm.

Here is an excerpt of some exercises for finger independence written by Dohnanyi:

The important thing is that you must take care not to over-press the held notes, as it could be counter-productive by causing tension in the arm. You must always realise it doesn't take more than a feather's weight to keep a key down. Alternatively, you could rest your fingers above the held notes while playing the exercises, to ensure that you are not exerting any unnecessary force.

Hope this is helpful and see you next time!

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