Remedy for a Double-Jointed Thumb

I recently inherited a transfer student with a particularly problematic double-jointed thumb. It may be the loosest, most unstable thumb I've ever encountered. When I chatted with her about it, she clearly knew it was a problem. But the real problem was that she didn't understand the problem. No student can change something they don't even understand. 

I patiently explained to her that in order to play the piano well, one's hand has to be stable. Sometimes joints are so wobbly that they can't be counted on. 

The most important thing about stabilizing a double-jointed thumb:

1. Help the student become aware of problem in a non-judgmental way. 

 It's not their fault that their thumbs are wobbly.

2. Show them a way they can work on it themselves.

Do this in small doses, with lots of rewards.

They are not trying to annoy you, even though it can be annoying when that thumb wobbles like a bobble head.

Here's a video to show you one way to a student can teach himself how to play with a stable thumb. 

(This is not a video of the new, super-wobbly student.)



I like using the Ladybug to help a student feel what a stable hand feels like.

Is there anything I should add to my holiday wish list

Take the Time to Listen

It's tempting not to listen.

Your student says, "I made up a piece." And you think, "Hmm....the recital is really soon," or, "I wonder if their Mom is going to think it's worth all this money they're paying me to listen to their daughter's ramblings..."

Take the time to Listen.jpg


Here is an example of Gabriella's first try at making up a piece. It's only 49 seconds long.

It's not beautiful. That's not the point. It's a typical student doing a typical thing. More important, she's anxious to play it for me. She "wrote" it without being prompted in any way.  If I'd only listened to the first few seconds, I wouldn't have seen the thought she'd put into it. She's playing with sounds. She has alternating sections, she moving up by octave. She is thinking about form. It's the simplest kind of form, but she's showing an ability to create patterns. There's a pattern inside her pattern - in contrary motion. 

It's not a brilliant piece. But it's an attempt at creation. It deserves respect.

It's lovely to be able to see patterns, but creating them yourself is even better.

This week I'll bet one of your students will say, "I made up a piece. Do you wanna hear it?"  

You'll take the time to listen. Won't you?

Laughing and Learning

I'm always amazed at how little it takes to engage a child. I feel like one of those people who laughs at the same joke over and over.

Yesterday we had what I call Master Class. My students come at either 3 or 4 pm on a Saturday afternoon once a month. They play whatever pieces they're working on, and we play a game or two. It's not a big deal.

But yesterday it got out of hand. In a good way. One of the older girls had a scheduling problem and had to come to the earlier class so I handed her my iPhone and she videotaped what has to be the most raucous moment ever instigated by the differentiation of intervals. I feel comfortable saying that.

There are three roles in the game:

  • Teacher
  • Student
  • Corrector

We made groups of three with each child taking a turn or two at each position. This particular video actually shows me as the student and various kids taking the parts of teacher and corrector. Actually, I should say CORRECTOR. It's the coveted role because the kids get to show me exactly what I'm doing wrong and how I should be doing it. They also like playing the teacher because they get to sit in the teacher chair

There are so many benefits to getting students together. Learning is one, but just having a great time with other kids who love music is probably the best part. It's also interesting to see how students interact with each other. Sometimes I see a side of a student that I wouldn't be aware of one-on-one.

Is it time for you to have a class? Or a party? Or just a get-together? The Interval Game requires no preparation and almost no actual preexisting knowledge. Kids who don't understand what a fourth is suddenly burst forth correcting each other. Hilarious!

If you're looking for a more structured game, I suggest Musical Spoons. It comes in several varieties, (Notes, Key Signatures and Triads) and can be easily tailored to suit any age group. It is so popular with my students that I had to talk them out of it to let me teach them the Interval Game.

Clean Up Your Hand

Every child has been told to clean up their toys. I use that analogy to get Gabriella to "clean up her hand" when she finishes playing a phrase. She is typical of a student who has multiple hand issues: collapsing joints, over-involving her entire hand in every task to name just two. (In this example she is supposed to be playing all quarter notes, though that rhythm is also not evident.)

I let everything else go and work on this one concept. By holding her 5th finger down while moving the rest of her hand into position, she also strengthens the outside of her hand. I find that this simple "game" becomes an automatic part of their playing within a few weeks. 

It's tempting to try to work on everything at once, or to keep piling on instructions too quickly. Instead, pick one specific part of a wobbly hand position and address just that. Notice that Gabriella says, "Clean up your toys," when asked what she's doing. It's a stickier way to describe this activity it than to say, "Please exhibit fine hand position!"

Do you have a student who might need to clean up their toys? 

Need some free downloadable Flashcards?

Repertoire suggestions

Clapping in the Rests

Maria's rhythm was quite good through most of this Halloween piece. She loved playing it. Everything was fine until the final measures when some quarter rests were going unnoticed.

Instead of telling her to count out loud, I had her "clap in the rests."

Giving a student an active experience of a rest is the best way to make rhythm real.

The piece is Masquerade Party - one of those magical pieces that always works.

Here are links to find the piece. (Click on the titles.)

You can find it in Piano Town Halloween, Level One or Piano Town Level One Performance. (For some reason it isn't listed in the table of contents for the Halloween book, but trust me - it's there!)

Here's the first page: