Are My Hands too Small to Play the Piano?

Piano Lessons / how to play piano / Are My Hands too Small to Play the Piano?

Believe it or not, this is a question that is dear to my heart. I don’t know if any of you have noticed but I actually have very small hands.

This was a problem for me as I was growing up and working on more advanced repertoire; I was learning music that required reaching an octave, yet my hands could barely reach – I was only able to achieve this by playing around the keys as opposed to directly above them.

If you are learning to play the piano and your hands are too small to reach an octave, you will be at a severe disadvantage. However, it’s not impossible. I work with Jake Clayton, a 10-year-old pianist who has trouble reaching an octave but you would never tell by the way he plays Mozart Concertos or Chopin; he manages just fine.

At this point, Jake’s hands will eventually get bigger; mine, on the other hand, are pretty much stuck where they are. Now I have no trouble reaching an octave but when I get into playing music with 10ths and 11ths it requires a bigger reach then I can manage. You probably wonder, do I have to leave out notes? Actually no.

It’s not overly difficult and anyone can learn how to achieve this. The secret is learning how to break chords very quickly using the pedal; The difference is almost imperceptible.

While there may be disadvantages to small hands, there is also a tremendous benefit to having small hands for playing the piano. Believe it or not, some people have such large fingers that they can’t get their fingers easily between the black keys; so they will have to play on the outside of the keyboard as opposed to the inside near the fallboard – presenting a big challenge.

The most important part of playing the piano is achieving the sound you imagine. With practice, you can play the piano with small hands.

15 thoughts on “Are My Hands too Small to Play the Piano?”


  1. Great advice! I always tell my small-handed students to consider themselves blessed. I actually had a student once whose hands got too BIG! We had to pick repertoire carefully, but, oh, he wanted to major in piano performance. He was very musical, played Gershwin’s Preludes like a pro at his senior recital. When he got to the university, his piano professor (a good friend of mine) worked with him about a year. By then his bear paws had gotten bigger. This was a giant of a young man. His professor suggested he go into another field of study as a major, his hands were frequently getting stuck between the keys, it was a real problem with no solution except for bigger keys! So he took his great voice, became a worship leader at his church, and took his great mind and became a math professor at the University of Washington. He still loves playing his grand piano, but a career in performance was not possible. So, the end of the story is, I always tell my smaller-handed kids how great it is to have small hands, because you can play ANYTHING!

    PS – if you have some advice for large hands… I’d love to hear it!

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for your blog. I’m a simply music teacher and accomplished pianist. At 5 feet tall and very petite, I can barely reach an octave. Growing up and in my college studies I so wanted to learn the pieces like Chopin black key etude with the very fast octaves at the end and pieces by Liszt but never did master the passages that have quick octaves. I have doomed myself thinking I’ll never achieve it.

    If you know a secret please shed some light! 🙂

  3. Thank you. I have small hands and on top of that, have duypuytrens contracture. That hasn’t stopped me. I have studied for about 17 years and have been teaching for 40 years.
    I play Chopin, List ,Debussy, Beethoven, and many other composers. Your video was inspiring.

    Patricia Cachopo

  4. I’ve been doing this for years. I can’t reach a 10th either (I’m a woman). Somehow it sounds better when you do it. It also depends on what the two notes are. I find going from black to white more difficult than white to black or 2 whites/2 blacks.

  5. I have very small hands and I wish someone would have worked with me in my youth to learn how to play more correctly and effectively because now I am suffering from pretty painful arthritis in my thumbs and wrists. I attribute it to putting my hands in awkward position trying to get the sound I wanted when my fingers wouldn’t reach. I’m very careful working with my small-handed students, and sometimes we do leave notes out. Just depends on the sound we want to achieve.

  6. I, too, have small hands. Octaves are dicey, but the hardest are the middles of chords–like and octave–say C to C–with an e-flat between. I have to cheat sometimes and invert or replace a note in a different position/hand.

    Yet, I have great hands for Bach!

  7. A friend of mine noticed piano keys don’t measure the same between – you student’s problem getting stuck between the black keys illustrates this. I’ll bet he only got stuck between certain keys – F# and G#. Why? Because they are closer together on nearly all pianos!
    Classical music requires you hit all the notes in the score, playing pop we just pick another lick, so I never noticed this before.

    1. Indeed, the distance between black keys varies. Naturally there is greater distance between E-flat and G-flat, as well as B-flat and D-flat since there are 2 white keys separating them. But the distance between D-flat and E-flat is slightly greater than the distance between G-flat and A-flat as well as between A-flat and B-flat. If you study the keyboard closely you will understand why. It’s the position of the A-flat between the G-flat and B-flat that prevents as great a distance than is possible between D-flat and E-flat since there are only 2 consecutive black keys instead of 3.

    1. The good news is that there are also advantages to smaller hands. It’s far easier to play fast and light because fingers can easily fit to play white keys between black keys instead of on the edge of the keys.

  8. Here’s another solution that might interest pianists with smaller hands. The DS Foundation has developed keyboards in alternate sizes that can be fitted to any piano. They even do a concert series with pianists who have been liberated by keyboards that fit them. Some piano companies, like Walters, are now offering DS keyboards as factory options.

    1. This is such an important piano technology. It is a game-changer for people with really small hands. Not only are there pianos being manufactured with smaller keyboards, but there are also piano actions for Steinway models that can slide in offering pianists a choice of keyboard size.

  9. I could easily tell where you broke the chords, and the strangest thing about it is it sounded like it is SUPPOSED to be that way. It adds expression!

    My left hand can play SOME of the tenths at the beginning of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, and it’s the note in the middle that determines whether I can or not.

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