Rule of Thumb: 3 Important Tips for the Piano

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Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s topic is about the rule of thumb on the piano. Actually, you are going to get three important tips! What is it about the thumb? The thumb is obviously a completely different finger from all the others on your hand. Therefore, there is a different approach you must have for the thumb in piano playing. Let’s explore this together.

The first thing is the position of the thumb.

The position of your fingers on the piano is pretty obvious. You place your fingers right on the keys! You don’t want to play with flat fingers, because your fingers are all different lengths. You want to curl them a bit bringing them forward to make them all the same length. This is very helpful for piano playing. As for your thumb, you don’t want your whole thumb flat on the keys. Instead, you want to play with the tip of your thumb, like the other fingers. You can’t get much control when you’re playing with the whole thumb.

The thumb is the strongest finger on your hand by far. This presents enormous challenges on the instrument. The melody is usually on top, and the second most important voice, oftentimes, is the bass. So you want to hear the top and the bottom. So how is this achieved?

In order to equalize the force between your thumb, and your fourth and fifth fingers, you arch your hand.

The power of the arch is tremendous! When you play with your thumbs flat on the keys, it gets too heavy. By going into the right position, you have control. The arch position is especially beneficial when you’re playing octaves. Without the arch, you get an uneven sound, because the thumb is naturally so much stronger than the other fingers. By arching, you can equalize the force from each side of the hand. You want the other fingers to be curved and up and out of the way, particularly your second finger.

The last tip is to prepare thumb crossings in advance.

You have thumb crossings when you’re ascending in the right hand or descending in the left hand. So if you’re playing an ascending scale in your right hand, for example, you want to have the thumb tucked under right after the second finger plays. Otherwise, your hand will have to pivot at the last minute. You won’t be able to go fast doing that. There is just too much movement in the hand. You can achieve smooth thumb crossings by practicing slowly and having the thumb crossing in advance. By practicing preparing your thumb in advance, you are able to develop fluency.

So those are the three tips for today!

Play with the tip of the thumb, arch the hand to equalize the force of the thumb, and prepare the thumb early by tucking it under when ascending in the right hand and descending in the left hand. I hope this is helpful for you! Let me know how this works for you in the comments here at and YouTube. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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4 thoughts on “Rule of Thumb: 3 Important Tips for the Piano”


  1. So much tension is created by a few of your suggestions here!

    A loud thumb sound isn’t created by the heaviness or strength of the thumb, but rather your rotation into the thumb when you’re playing. (It’s clear to see you drop the thumb into the keyboard during your example.) The difference in finger strength has nothing to do with the volume, physics-wise. It’s all about the speed of the key’s descent.

    Pulling the fingers up that much when playing octaves just strains those tendons. The inside fingers can touch the other keys without the keys going down, so there’s no need to pull up that much.

    As for holding your thumb under the hand immediately after you play it during melodic passages, there’s just an awful amount of tension created doing this, which just slows down and inhibits the wrist fluidity, not to mention puts strain on the carpel tunnel. Healthier technique would use a forearm rotation to help a thumb that only comes to the base of the second finger and doesn’t curve under.

    There are many old-fashioned techniques that you are suggesting here that have been completely debunked already, and they’ve been shown to promote physiological injury. While I’m thankful you are seemingly unscathed by your technique, it’s very frustrating to see that you are passing on these ideas as if they are valid and healthy.

    So much has been learned in the last twenty years regarding healthy piano technique…this video isn’t it.

    1. It’s unfortunate that you find it causes you tension to utilize these techniques. Perhaps they weren’t explained clearly. I have taught thousands of students over the years with no reports of injury. But everyone’s physiology is different.

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