In the world of pianists, teachers and students, one hears the phrase, "My, you have great piano hands." They are large and have naturally powerful fingers. What they mean, of course, is that your hands are shaped well for the piano. But what is the proper shape of a hand for the piano? Are there many shapes?
The answer is, of course, there are as many hands as there are ways to play the piano. In history, great pianists have had both large and small hands. In practical terms, a pianist should be able to stretch ten white keys to navigate the principal piano literature.
Some Composers Require Huge Hands
Rachmaninoff, a huge bear of a man, had giant hands that could stretch twelve white keys on the piano. Many pianists have trouble with his music for this very reason. But in contrast, there are pianists who specialize in Rachmaninoff, quite well, like Alicia de la Rocha, who has very small hands. It's all in the mind.
Josef Hoffman had such small hands that Steinway built him a special grand piano which he used for concerts. Each key was a tiny increment narrower than a regulation 3/4 inch wide key. Poor Hoffman was an amazing child prodigy who had a great career but soon descended into alcoholism. The pressure at the top of the concert game was tremendous.
Teaching Kids To Relax Their Hands
In terms of children, one runs across kids that have perfect hands for the piano. Long fingers, to stretch as far as possible horizontally, and general dexterity are natural elements of a "piano hand." The "piano hand" is naturally relaxed when put on the keyboard, and does not freeze into various postures, the most comical of which I call the "bug crusher."
In this ridiculous posture, the child puts two thumbs on the keys while all the other fingers drape down below the level of the keyboard. There are many fun games we play to correct hand positions such as the "bug crusher," but the game with a quarter on the back of the hand is a good place to start.
Hand Size And Shape Doesn't Matter
I've seen kids who did not have piano hands play very well, if not better than some who were more "properly" endowed. The reason for this is that playing the piano is almost all in your mind. If you don't know, or see, what to play, the greatest fingers in the world cannot bring the music to life. If you can imagine what your fingers will look like playing a certain song or passage, it's far easier to then get your fingers to bring that vision to life.
Once again, it's all in the mind. The truth is that anyone can learn the finger patterns of the piano, even if they are not anatomically suited to it. Use your brain first and then your hand. The brain and hand have a way of finding workable solutions, individual to that person's hand alone, to a myriad of small fingering and technical problems that face the pianist in a constant barrage. You will find yourself fascinated by the finger patterns of the piano if it is presented to you in the proper way.