The way of playing the piano in the different schools of playing differ in some aspects such as the position of hands, fingers, the use of arms and many others. But one of the few aspects in which all teachers and pianists seem to agree is using fingertips in a firm way, so that the tip of every finger will not bend outwards. A strong and solid tip will give the player a better control to press down the key, thus achieving a good control of the resulting sound. This will also help him to play in a more relaxed way, promoting a more natural position of the hand and fingers. The difficult part is maintaining firm fingertips and relaxed hands and arms at the same time.
To achieve this finger firmness I am going to propose a series of very easy and useful exercises that my young students love to practise. I am going to explain the exercises first and to make it more clear I have filmed myself doing them. (I promise to make a video practising them with my students).
7 Some ideas for finger strengthening
I am going first to show two pictures of a fingertip in the right position and another with the finger placed in a wrong way, so that the parents of young learners can help their children at home if they notice that they use their fingers in a weak way, so that the fingers bend when they press the keys.
Making an O with your fingers
We begin by creating an O with your fingers (thumb and forefinger) so as to achieve a form as rounded as possible, pressing the fingers to practise this position. We will do it first with both hands separately and when the child feels comfortable using both hands at the same time, so as to form a pair of googles. Then we will proceed in the same way with fingers 1 and 3, 1 and 4 and, finally, with fingers 1 and 5, but these are much more difficult, so we will only do them if the child feels comfortable.
Making an O with your fingers and moving your wrist
After having made successfully the former exercises we will repeat them including a vertical movement of the wrist so that the student can feel the strength of fingers and the relaxation of hand at the same time. (These exercises will be made later with horizontal and rotating wrist movements)
Hanging off the edge
There is another activity which is very helpful to strengthen fingers and which is rather fun: pretending that you are hanging off an edge of a cliff with only your fingers to prevent you from falling. The students will realize that unless their fingers are placed correctly they will lose hold and will fall off to the bottom of the precipice. This can be practised on the edge of a piano or a table, with one or both hands.
With fingers 2 and 3 (afterwards with 3 and 4, and also including 4 and 5) the student will pretend to be walking on the piano lid. This can be done later on the piano keys, something which they really enjoy. You can also try different ways of walking : slow, fast, heavy footsteps, light footsteps, bouncing…
Striking with steady fingers
Placing your palm on the piano lid you put your hand in the right piano position sweeping your fingers on the surface, when the right position is attained you start striking the lid using only vertical wrist movements. You can hit the lid strongly or softly, the hand touching the lid or farther away from it.
Pressing down fingers on a soft surface
In order to realize the stability of finger joints some teachers whose blogs or youtube entries I follow, suggest pressing down your finger on some soft surface so that the young pupil can perceive the resistance of the material and the strength of his own joints. Irina Mints, for instance, uses plush toys, Irina Gorin and Julie Knerr use Glacier Putty or a similar kind of plasticine. My own teacher used to make me practice on my own forearm so as to become aware of the strength of my finger and the resistance I encountered at the same time.
Leaning on the wall
This exercise is made with the student standing in front of a wall and leaning on it with both arms stretched at shoulder length with the body slightly bent forwards. In this position the body weight is supported by fingers and hand and having strong joints will help to achieve this and to make the child aware of the correct position.
To finish let me show you a video including all the exercises I have described in this post: