By Dr. Julie Knerr

Some students come to us with naturally strong, relaxed hands with firm fingertips. They may take a bit of work to form a good piano hand shape, but the process is relatively easy. For other students (I estimate 70%), more intensive and long term work is required to help the child find the coordination between strong fingertips, relaxed non-playing fingers, thumb on corner, tall bridge, rounded hand shape, relaxed shoulders, and everything else that goes into a good piano hand. For B, our featured Level 1 student, this work is ongoing.

I generally use the Introduction and Unit 1 of Piano Safari Level 1 as a chance to let students find their arms, discover their fingers, and build basic coordination. If the student has a naturally good piano hand, I also insist on strong fingertips, relaxed non-playing fingers, and a rounded hand shape. For students that have a harder time finding their basic coordination, I delay insistence on a perfect hand shape in the Unit 1 pieces and work on hand shape away from the pieces in preparation for Unit 2 (White Keys). It is often easier for students to balance with a good hand shape on the white keys than on the black keys.

Here are two activities to work on hand shape:

1. Fuzzy House. Walk the fuzzy down the student’s arm and have the fuzzy enter his house through the hole between Fingers 1 and 2 created by a raised bridge. Would you want to squish this adorable little guy? I don’t think so. Neither do the kids.

2. Flarp. I don’t know why, but the act of sticking a finger into a viscous and slimy jar of Flarp and then balancing on a finger really helps the student feel the sensation of a strong fingertip. I say, “RH Finger 2.” They put Finger 2 into the bottle of Flarp. Then I say, “Up and drop.” They come up out of the Flarp and drop onto a key, concentrating on having a good hand shape (fuzzy house) and strong fingertip. I’ve seen this work well with many students, even those with impossibly difficult hands! You can get Flarp at Walmart in the toy section, Michaels, or other stores. Don’t stock up. It doesn’t last forever. It does dry out eventually. I have found that Flarp works better than silly putty, which is too stiff. Irina Gorin also uses a similar activity. I am not sure which kind of putty she uses. If you press the Flarp the right way, it makes farting noises, which is the definite highlight for some kids!!