Tiny Hands

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hi Greg :D
I'm a college sophomore music major with about ten years of formal study under my belt. I've wanted to be a doctor since I was little and had been playing piano off-and-on for about as long until I hit eight years old, I think. However, it took me until college to realize that I love music more than what I thought (had I realized that earlier I'd have applied for a conservatory, but alas, life is life and there's plenty of time for that down the road). I'm still doing the med school thing, but I'm hitting grad school in music first. Okay, my question. I'm a tiny person. Nine times out of ten the piano bench doesn't lower enough for my feet to hit the floor, and I can only hit a ninth comfortably -- even that can be a bit of a stretch for my right hand. It just so happens that I have a strong affinity for Russian music, especially anything composed by The Five. And what piece did I just happen to fall in love with after hearing it for the first time? Islamey by Balakirev. My piano prof thinks I have a "masterpiece syndrome" or something because I have this knack for falling in love with big-handed hard pieces. Understandably, a lot of Russian music requires a pretty big stretch, which I'm not that capable of. I'm trying to grab as many of the reaches (particularly the tenths) with my RH as possible, but I can't grab all of them that way. Stylistically, how would you recommend approaching those? In areas where the texture is thicker I'm having no problem -- it's the D-major passage in the middle I'm trying to address because the beginning of that section is rather tranquil and I feel that rolling the tenth kinda kills the mood a bit. Also, do you have any recommendations as to what I can do exercise- or stretching-wise to try to improve my reach? I'm getting rather sick of having to roll almost every chord every time I play Rachmaninoff. Thanks! - Angel

Dear Angel,

You can always find inspiration in the late Alicia de Larrocha. She had tiny hands (she could barely play an octave) and she could sail through Rachmaninoff's concertos like nobody's business. She spoke eloquently about her trials and tribulations pertaining to her hand size in David Dubal's "Reflections from the Keyboard:"

Reflections from the Keyboard: The World of the Concert Pianist

Also, Aiko Onishi speaks at length about stretching exercises -- a great way to improve flexibility and hand span -- in her book "Pianism:"

Aiko Onishi's "Pianism"

I heartily recommend both books!

- Greg (Oct. 25, 2009)