Finger weight

How strange that we pianists should be under the illusion that we play the piano with our fingers!

Just a thought – any idea how much a finger weighs? I’ve written about weight before, but then we were considering the arm ( ). Given half a chance most teachers will happily discourse at length on the arm, it’s weight and what to do with it, and thank you for asking them the question too. But when did your teacher last mention finger weight? So how much does a finger weigh?

Well we don’t need to know exactly, a relative value will do just as well. Chop a finger off and lay it on a piano key and in all probability it won’t be enough to depress the key and make any sound at all. Now our fingers do of course have muscles, so rather than dismember them we can invoke these muscles to bring our fingers onto the piano keys with a degree of force over and above their weight. Pretty obvious, right?

Wrong! Because although there are indeed small finger muscles manipulating basic movement up and down and sideways, the only way we can employ any strength or force in our fingers is to call upon those muscles that stretch deep into the hand and even all the way right into the forearm.

Or to look at it another way, the fingers just move right or left into the right position while it is the muscles in the arm (not the same thing as saying the arm itself) which actually play the keys. If you watch your own arm while you play you can certainly see those muscles working overtime.

Is this important? Not if you are a genius and play instinctively with all the technical facility that allows you to naturally express your deep musicianship with barely a thought for how you do it. But if you are merely mortal and occasionally find your technique lacking, well you need to know where the problem is. And 9 time out of 10, it won’t be in the fingers. (8 times out of the 9 that are left, the problem won’t be in the arm either, and to ferret it out you will have to follow your nervous system (pun intended) all the way back to it’s origin … the brain! But that’s another subject).

For now, I’ll just quote a splendid thought from Andras Schiff. “Fingers are just the soldiers, the General is the mind”. Though I might take issue with him even on that, and suggest fingers are not even soldiers – they are simply messengers.

And with that realisation, a lot of technical problems are much easier to solve.