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Have you ever wondered how to strengthen the fingers for piano playing? Odds are you’ve been amazed by a professional pianist play blistering fast notes without breaking a sweat. Maybe you’ve wondered how you can play louder and be less fatigued at the instrument while still sounding musical. All of this has to do with developing the right kind of finger strength and technique to play the piano.
There are many ways to strengthen the fingers and combat finger weakness when you play the piano. Playing exercises from technique books, stretching the fingers, using a quality piano and consistent practice are all major factors of building finger strength. Rest also plays a major part in not overworking the muscles in the fingers so that you can play efficiently.
To help break down all of the ways you can strengthen the fingers for piano, I’ve compiled a helpful list. This list includes 10 essential tips for building strength in the fingers so that you can play a wide range of repertoire at the piano. These tips will not only make you stronger but should help make you a more complete musician!
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1. Use A Piano With Hammer Or Weighted Action
A big part of developing finger strength at the piano is making sure you’re using the right equipment. A bad digital piano with flat keys or an acoustic piano that is not maintenance will severely limit your chances of making progress in this area.
When someone first learns the piano, the chance is they are not going to invest in an acoustic piano. Because most beginners start with a digital keyboard, they could end up with an instrument that is not properly equipped to develop their hand strength over time. It’s important to purchase a digital piano that has the following qualities:
- Hammer action
- Weighted action
- Touch sensitivity
Hammer action is a reproduction of what someone would find on an acoustic piano. It simulates the same sort of reaction to the fingers when a key is pressed. The more weight you give to the key, the deeper it will drop, and it will rebound just as it would on an acoustic instrument.
Yamaha makes some of the best hammer action keyboards on the market. For example, the Yamaha DGX-660 which has sampling from their CFX grand models.
Weighted action is one and the same with hammer action, but the difference is in the resistance. Weighted keys are perfectly balanced from top to bottom. So while it does not exactly resemble an acoustic pianos hammer mechanism, it’s still a better option than a keyboard with no touch sensitivity.
Touch sensitivity has to do with note velocity. If a pianist were to play something with a strong forte force, then the sound should correspond to that. Likewise, if the pianist is playing softly then the sound needs to accurately reflect this too.
Digital pianos with flat keys won’t allow you to develop finger strength or proper finger technique. Flat keys usually lead to collapsed fingers or playing with a false sense of strength. When you move to play a real piano, it will end up being difficult for you because of this. That’s why hammer or weighted action is an essential feature for any piano.
I’ve written a complete guide on the best digital pianos. It breaks down the piano models that work best for developing proper playing technique and allowing you to grow your finger strength along the way.
Ultimately, an acoustic piano will always be the better option in the long run. Uprights are a step above digital pianos and then grand pianos are the next step up. An acoustic piano provides many of the essentials when it comes to sound production and mechanisms. All of this factors into how well and how quickly one can develop strong fingers to play a wide range of repertoire.
2. Stretch The Fingers Before You Play Piano
An essential part of any practice session is the stretching. Pianists should always stretch the fingers to get the flow going in the muscles. There’s some confusion that piano playing is solely based on strong fingers. In actuality, it’s just as much of a finesse technique involved to play well.
While strength in the fingers is important for piano playing, flexibility is even more essential. Those with stiff fingers and lack of flexibility in the joints tend to have a much tougher time playing the instrument.
Finger stretches don’t have to be complicated at all. Below are some of the stretches I use:
The Tabletop – This stretch involves making a tabletop shape with your fingers. They lay flat as if you could support something on it. For more of a stretch, press down with the other hand gently at the knuckle bend.
Making A Fist – Making a fist should be done while keeping your thumb out of the balled up shape. Bend as much as possible so that you can feel the full extent of the stretch.
Finger Spread – This can be done at a table or on a flat surface. Start by placing your hand flat, and then slowly expanding out and in with the fingers. Think of it like making snow angels!
Pull back – Hold the fingers up and slowly pull back each finger one at a time. Hold the fingers in the pulled position for about 10 seconds each and then slowly release.
To see some of these finger stretches in action, watch the video below.
3. Practice Finger Technique Exercises
A sure way to improve your finger strength is to use technique books. Technique books are full of exercises specifically geared to solving technical problems. They are usually solved through slow practice and repetition of a specific problem. For example, one exercise might only focus on playing blocked chords in thirds while other exercises want every note to be staccato.
Below are some of the more common technical exercises to improve finger dexterity:
- Note Articulation exercises
You’ll find all of those items in any basic technical book. Then, there are technical books that focus on etudes with musical value. I find those work best because it develops the hand strength needed while developing the musical aspect at the same time.
There are many helpful piano technique books designed to strengthen the fingers. A few of my favorites are:
Hanon’s book focuses on repetitive motions that train each of the fingers equally for that given technique. For example, the first few exercises focus on the five-finger position, and each finger has its own individual role within the composition.
The book then moves on to specific technical difficulties such as thirds, octave passages, arpeggios, and scales. It’s a great book for developing in every aspect of playing and its a nice way to warm the hands up before starting with your repertoire. While the Hanon book is not the most musical, it’s very effective at what it does.
The Art of Finger Dexterity by Czerny is a more advanced book. It focuses on building true independence in the fingers. The pieces are written in a way where absolute coordination is built along the way. These exercises are credited with building more flexibility in the hands.
Lastly, there are the Mozkowski etudes which are a combination of both. The exercises come across as normal songs you would play at the piano. Hidden within them are certain techniques being worked from start to finish. Each piece focuses on a certain aspect of playing designed to improve the hand.
In order for any of these exercises to work, they must be learned slowly and with a focus on the technique being executed properly each time. Eventually, that translates into stronger fingers, better accuracy and ease of playing similar passages in the standard repertoire.
Eventually, as the technique is mastered, the speed will come as the hands will have developed the strength through repetition and sound fundamentals.
4. Practice Piano For Shorter Periods
Over practicing can make the muscles weak. It’s more beneficial to practice the piano for shorter periods of time. This allows the hands and the mind to recover.
I generally like to practice piano in 25 – 30 minutes sessions. In between each of those sessions, I give my hands a break for at least 5 minutes and then return to practicing. Giving your hands a chance to rest for just 5 minutes will allow them to build up new energy.
The longer you practice the piano, the more fatigued you will naturally get. That’s why breaks in between playing the piano are important. Upon returning to the piano for the next practice session, you’ll find that you have a new sense of energy in your hands. Passages that were becoming difficult to play later in your practice sessions are now easier to play because of the short rest period.
By practicing in smaller chunks you can have a more successful attempt and have more strength to play the pieces you want to. Practice sessions can be longer, but those should be worked up to.
Start with something short like 15 minutes, and then each day increase the practice time by 2 -3 minutes. Eventually, you’ll be able to practice for an hour or longer because your fingers are now accustomed to it.
5. Be Consistent With Piano Practice
Those who do not practice the piano consistently start to develop weakness over time. This is because the finger muscles are not being worked regularly. To help avoid this, the practice should be done consistently.
It’s very ineffective to practice on a random schedule. If you were to practice once a week, then you can expect to have very little strength in the fingers. There’s a lack of muscle memory and overall musical growth because of it. Ideally, you should practice the piano every day if possible. The practice sessions do not need to necessarily be lengthy, but they need to be consistent. If 2 hours per day is your benchmark, then make sure to achieve at least that much practice each day.
In addition to having a consistent practice schedule, there should also be a consistent routine too. A warmup period is essential before jumping into the repertoire for the day. Warmups can be scales, etudes, or even short pieces that are not too demanding on the hands. Warmups can also include some of the finger stretching routines we discussed earlier.
To be consistent means to not skip those steps. I like to write out my practice goals for the day so that I don’t skip anything important. If strengthening my fingers through technique and stretching is a priority, I make sure to write that in and never to skip it. The more you do it, the more efficient your playing will be.
6. Choose Easier Repertoire
The kind of music you play should be at the proper level. Trying to play something beyond your level is not only going to frustrate you, but it may actually weaken your hands over time or lead to injuries. It’s important to never force a song to happen at the piano.
The hands need to develop the proper technique and strength through easier repertoire. Over time as the hands develop, more difficult pieces can be learned and the strength to play them will be there.
Assess where you are in your piano playing. Are you a beginner? If so , start out with a piano method book that fits your level. If you’re advanced then what you might need are some technique books to work on your hand position, dropping the weight of the arm and more.
Maybe you’re a well-versed pianist who has not played for many months or years. If so, then start out with some easier repertoire for a few weeks and gradually work your way back into the complex music.
The important thing is to avoid forcing your hands to have the dexterity and strength when you want them to. Those things have to be worked up to and then maintained through well organized and consistent practice.
7. Practice Away From The Piano
A unique way to practice is away from the instrument itself. To do this, you can simply find a table or flat surface, set up your sheet music, and pretend you’re playing the piano. Go through all the motions of phrasing the notes, lifting and playing the articulations, and even mimicking the dynamic contrast.
This method is essential for developing finger independence. Not having the weight of the keys puts more emphasis on having stronger, more controlled fingers.
You could also try doing finger lifts that require laying the hand on a flat surface. One by one lift each finger as high as you can and slowly drop it. The goal is to not lift any other fingers outside of just one.
8. Play Technical Exercises In Varying Styles
Playing scales and arpeggios as they are written is helpful, but there is more could be done. In addition to playing them as written consider adding the following modifications:
- Playing staccato and legato
- Inverting the rhythm
- Using rhythmic displacement
Playing piano exercises with different styles can be a lot of fun and makes the exercises less boring for some. It’s also an essential ability to have as every piece of music you play won’t require only legato or only staccato passages. Inverting the rhythms can be challenging, but it also tests the quickness of the hands.
Displacing the rhythm can do that too. This requires holding the first note and then playing the remaining notes in time. It can also mean speeding up certain groupings of notes within a measure or holding certain notes of a grouping longer than the others. The held note can rotate to each note. When it reaches the end of the cycle, then the passage is played as written.
9. Changing Tempos and Keys
One often-overlooked way to improve finger dexterity and strength is changing the tempos in which you play with. It’s much easier to play slower, so why not increase the tempo to test your strength? As the tempos change things that will be challenged are your ability to play with a steady rhythm and with note accuracy.
Also, consider playing the music in different keys. For example, something written in B major will be more difficult to play than something in C major. The stretches between the keys are different and require a different approach. This is a chance to work on your hand’s ability to quickly adjust to new positions.