i read on internet sites that you should play with your hand rounded like your holding a baseball with your fingers curved so you play from your finger tips and your knuckles have to stick out and be higher than your wrist when you play.  another website says you should play with straighter/flat fingers with collapsed knuckles so that your knuckles and wrist are even. do you guys no which one is correct way to play? do you guys even think about this stuff?
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what ever works best for you, i don't believe there is a 'right' way to do it, like all artistic things there is no winning formula, you have to find these things out yourself, the only thing i was told that stuck with me is that you have to do is imagine that a little mouse is under your hands when your playing, similar thing to your baseball thing only more british.
i disagree with this - i think the modern "strengthening" school still supports the importance of relaxation. i personally feel that hanon, czerny, chopin, and moszkowski etudes will really improve one's playing, but only if they are practiced relaxed.  

i played through the hanon book every day for about two years and it did a lot for my playing, but not until i made sure that i was completely relaxed, taking short breaks as necessary to make sure i didn't hurt myself.

it's not strength vs. relaxation. the best school of piano playing, in my opinion, remains relaxed, even while possessing finger strength and endurance.

think about it - you're a jazz pianist, you have to be able to compete with drums. i feel that your fingers should be trained so that you can posses great tone and volume, while playing effortlessly and completely relaxed. the strength you develop through practicing exercises is to help your fingers be strong while relaxed. playing effortlessly with necessary strength is important.

don't think of it as dogmatic schools - i feel that all the great pianists have similar technical goals (strength and relaxation).

when i play with rounded fingers like from my fingertips where the nail is, i seem to play better like that. i don't miss notes as much and feels like a stronger position, but my hands start to hurt and my wrist starts hurting as well.
this seems to me to be related to the flat fingers/curved fingers debate. i was trained to raise my fingers as high as possible, whilst keeping them curved, in order to get maximum velocity for loud notes, so this feels natural to me. i believe this is sometimes called the leszetisky method (probably not the correct spelling, sorry). the russian school also advocates arm weight from the shoulders as a means of obtaining strength when playing block chords, octaves, etc.

however some pianists seem to be able to get just as good results with flat fingers - eg: glenn gould, who also sat very low, making the russian method impossible. i guess at the end of the day it's a personal thing and depends somewhat on the shape of your hand and what you're comfortable with.

i agree with eveyone above about the importance of relaxation whatever method you decide on. tension is fine, and a necessary part of music/perfomance, but you have to know how to release it, both musically and physically, otherwise it just  builds up and leads to stiffness.  

alexander technique is very good at developing awareness of stored tension in the body, not just the fingers, but arms, shoulders and neck, too... i had a course of lessons some years ago and it sorted out a lot of my stiffness problems.

a lot of that probably comes from the way your sitting, when you play the piano you are using the whole of your upper body right down to the small of your back, you must always be aware if your slouching even in the slightest, because it all contributes to your hands.  

it may just be that your hands are getting stronger, when i used to play for hours a day for the first few weeks i really spent time at the piano it really hurt, but i made sure i was seated properly and after a few weeks the pain went, and my hands were fine.

i tend not to play with finger rounded to that extreme unless i want a particular sound, i find that playing with rounded fingers with the tips playing the notes but not so far that my nails have contact with the keys.  like i say though it depends what sound your after, different sounds require different techniques.  

hope that helps a bit
well trying to avoid a dabate on what exactly a "world class" player is,
i will say this.  the pianists that i have known personally who have travelled the world giving concerts (which is how i define "world class") (which totals three i think) are all jazz pianists and have all done extensive hanon type technique work at some point in their lives.  however i am not convinced that this proves that they would not have become world class pianists without the hannon.
well, there are a lot of opinions on proper hand position and technique. however, i can tell you that you should not do the collapsed knuckles. most of the fingers' strength comes from the proper employment of the knuckle. horowitz did it, but he employed a number of other devices to give him dexterity and strength. also, he was one of the best pianists to ever live. i say... don't round your fingers too much. knuckles should be high and even, wrist always parallel to the keys. stretch your fingers out, with a slight curve, but make the knuckles the highest part of the hand position. don't play with the nail of the fingertip, pull the keys towards you with the flesh of the fingertip. pull, don't strike. then you'll be able to play very fast and lightly.  

in the beginning hand position may not be as important, but the more you play, your hand position may restrict you from a number of technical things (speed, clarity) and ultimately lead to discomfort and injury.

remember: comfort, key, dexterity, and most importantly: relaxation. that's what's most important about hand position.

get the book "the groundwork of the leschitizky method"...it has great illustrations showing you what to do. most importantly, get a teacher to help show you the right way; i'd recommend a good classical teacher; their study focuses on the technical mechanics or hand position so specifically, that they'd be sure to put you in the right direction.

sometimes i think that the importance of the hannon thing in these in other pianists develpement is not technique, but that teachers insist they practice the drills with a metronome on.  thus the hanon stage helps along with a steady diet of bach a true understanding of and ability to play the eigth note and quarter note.
in order to find the proper hand shape is simple and totally ergonomic.

using your left hand, hold your right wrist straight and then completely relax your right hand fingers.

now gently drop your hand onto any flat surface, your fingers will automatically assume the correct position!

get it?
it seems alot amateurs play with collapsed knuckles and flat fingers, but i dont really know.  i dont get the pull the keys towards you part.
i'm watching a video of hortowitz right now and looks like he plays with collapsed knuckles because his wrist and knuckles are the same height and his wrists sometimes is higer when he plays octaves.
this person has the high knuckles low wrist hand position especially with his right hand that i was talking about. are his fingers to curved? looks like he is playing from his tips near his nails.
my teacher has me do a variation of what 7 said. sitting at the piano bench i let my arms and hands hang completely and totally limp at my sides. one at a time i raise my hand as if i'm about to shake hands with someone,  move my hand forward over the keyboard, then turn my wrist and plop my fingers onto the keys. when your hand is completely at rest, hanging limp at your side, that is perfect finger position. the idea is to get your hands to stay in that shape when on the keyboard.

the teacher i'm working with now has really been drilling me on technique. initially i was very resistant to it, i felt it was distracting from my "artistic" experience of music. but after working with some of the things he's shown me it has made a big difference in my playing, everything is more efficient, smoother, easier. the whole idea of good technique is to use your body as efficiently and effortlessly as possible.

shrock, the reason your hands and wrists hurt might be because your bench is too low? you want to put the weight of your arms into every note, let gravity do the work, not the muscles in your hand. in order to do that your upper body should be tall, upright, your shoulders relaxed, and your elbow slightly higher than your wrist. i bought an adjustable bench on my teachers reccomondation.

about that first knuckle, when it collapses, that whole part of your finger "flexes," like a shock absorber. it's unstable. it's like if you were hitting a nail with a hammer, but there was a rubber eraser on top of the nail head. the nail wouldn't absorb the full impact of the hammer, the energy would be dissipated and it would be less efficient. hope that helps.
in charles rosen's book "piano notes," rosen puts forth the theory that while there are certain technical principles like relaxation that always hold true, technique ends up being largely individual. what works for some may not work for everyone. hence, horowitz played with flat fingers. gould sat extremely low in a chair rather than a bench, while rubenstein placed his bench so high that he was nearly standing.  much of it is determined by physical makeup and especially hand size. (paraphrased from rosen)

on another note, i don't know if i agree with the principle that one's hands should hurt for even a few weeks due to playing.  traditionally, pain means that something is wrong.
i think the basic idea behind recommending curved fingers, finger tips, etc, is that it forces your hand to be on top of your fingers - some say "use high wrist" etc...  if your fingers are flat, then your hand is most likely behind your fingers, forcing the fingers to fend for themselves.  if your hand is above your fingers you have the benefit of the weight of your arm to help you play evenly. otherwise, your fingers have to try to match strokes - and since the fingers are each different sizes and shapes, it is more difficult to achieve evenness

it's not likely that the weight of your arm is going to change much during a performance or practice session, so if you learn to sort of transfer your arm weight from finger to finger, much like we transfer body weight from leg to leg while we walk, you have a better shot at evenness  

~just my thoughts
...this also makes it easier to control dynamics - to play louder, add more weight, use less to play softer...
schrock, i was a piano performance major in college, and i used to practice 4-6 hours per day, most days.
the only time my hands ever hurt was when i was playing too hard with the pinkies -- that muscle that runs along the outside edge of the hand would get strained.  that was only before i had built up that muscle and was over-practicing with it.
there is a lot of good advice here from whack, 7, and the others.  the hand should be relaxed with a natural curved shape.  the wrist should be about even with the hand and elbow.
pain in the wrist might be from sitting too high, or too much tension.

the only other "injury" we used to get in school was when the skin on the fingertip would split away from the nail, just under the nail.  damn that hurts!
we used to fix that by applying multiple layers of newskin liquid bandage to the fingertip.
i haven't read this yet, but there's nothing like a free book :)


if anyone has gone through it, i'd be glad to hear their opinion.
i've read it.

i recommend you do the same.

for many reasons.

it doesn't take that long to read this "book" and there are some absolutely fascinating takes on the piano and its technique, etc.

everyone complains that chang wanders about a bit, but still the side trips and detours are worth it. always educational and interesting, it is also very entertaining. the dry spots are few and far between.
it has already been written, but it can't be said to many times, you have to be compitly relaxed, especially in the wrist, playing far out on the keys with you fingertips will make it easier, it might be hard in the begenning, but if you keep at it, you will see the difference (hear :p).
p:s do not hit the keys, that will trash the tone, sink inte them instead, practesing scales is very dull, but it's good practse, bigen with each hand seperatly with a c major scale.

good luck ^^
my take is like many others here.  you need to be relaxed.

your fingers need to be curved, naturally curved, and you use not only the hand and finger muscles to hit a key, you use the weight of your arms. wrists loose, power comes from the larger arm and related muscles.

a lot of jazzers tend to sink their heads into their shoulders when playing.  don't do this!  it puts a lot of strain on your neck and other areas.  keep your chin up, whether or not your eyes or open or closed.

don't jab.  strike from above, not from an angle.

and something really important, make sure you're at the right height.  have your elbows even or below your wrists, not above. playing from too far above will cause injuries down the road.

same with playing too close. make sure your elbows have room to move and aren't locked into your rib cage.
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.
hmmm... my piano teacher has put a great deal of emphasis on getting my bench at the correct height. he actually has carpet samples at his studio, in addition to the adjustable bench, he "fine tunes" my body's height by having me sit on the thinner carpet samples on top of the bench. he tells me that my forearm should be just slightly wider than parallel to the ground, sloping upward towards my elbow (elbow slightly higher than the wrist). my arm is a straight  line from the elbow, through the wrist, and to the first joint of my middle finger.

to me this makes sense ergonomically. your forearm's center of gravity is probably about an inch back from the center of it. if the idea is to use the weight of your arm to produce a tone on the instrument, it makes sense to me that if the center of gravity of your forearm is below your hand, there is less weight available to transfer to your hand, you're only transferring the weight of the section of your  forearm on the hand side of the center of gravity, not the whole weight of your arm. i'm no physics major, i could be wrong, but i seem to get a bigger tone when i'm sitting slightly   higher than the keyboard than slightly below it.
upper arm weight is involved too.
from a pragmatic standpoint:  because the keys move in an exclusively vertical direction, our fingertips must descend vertically as well!  any diverted or slanted direction of the fingers toward the keys is uneconomical.  

multiple people including scot, and dr. whack have advocated "using the weight of the arm." they neglected to mention when  to employ this nebulous "weight of the arm," and how.

is arm weight practical for scalar passages? as scot and whack have described it, no.  according to their somewhat vague definition, this kind of arm weight is really only applicable to the free-fall technique or the thrust (both described in greater depth than is within the scope of this response, in gyorgy sandors, "on piano playing").  

in the soloing context, which is what i believe most members are applying this advice to, scot's and whack's advice regarding "arm weight" evokes two things:

1.      some imaginary type of 'momentum' in the arm that somehow has an effect on tone even though your forearm should never actually 'drop' into every subsequent note of a phrase.  

2.       consider a phrase of let's say five notes. logically speaking, if arm weight generates, or even helps generate tone, there must be a movement of your arm in to the key on each note. with no arm movement, there would be no possibility for its weight to express itself. these movements will most likely create bumbs in your tone that destroy any sense of phrase.

while i hope they are refering to the former, the function of arm weight is not to generate tone! you don't "use" your arms, as scot put it, to play a note, or group of notes.

instead, it is not weight but activity that produces piano tone!  by cultivating a feeling of "arm weight" you may be helping yourself, but this is because by percieving yourself as letting weight generate tone, you are just relaxing enough so you muscles can work well.  

you do feel as if you are using the mass of you arms because you have hopefully relaxed those muscles to a certain extent.  remember, howeve, that the actual function of this relaxation is not to generate tone with arm weight, but to facilitate the imperceptible yet crucial participation of all the appropriate muscles and bones in movement. activity, not weight produces piano tone!

dr. whack-  be careful advising the "high wrist" and playing with the hands "behind" the fingers.  because of the limitations of online pedagogy, your advise might cause students to perform actions to the extreme, in this case, undermining the vertical movement of the fingers into the keybed.

shrock, in response to your comment that horowitz seemed to play with collapsed knuckes- it may seem this way upon first glance, however, carefully observe the metcarpal ridge of his hand, and what do you find? that the structure and support of that ridge is maintained to absolute perfection! it is extremely difficult to succeed in this, because whatever movement we make tends to undermine the security of the ridge.

also to shrock, if looking at the video of the jazz player, i beg you not to try to emulate his left hand position!  if you observe, you'll see that because his knuckles collapse, the arch of his hand is robbed of its potency!  perhaps this is why his chords sound somewhat "clunky!"

best wishes

thank you for your comments.  it's always interesting to see what words people choose to express their ideas regarding piano technique.  as you point out, one should be very careful in doing so. obviously, words and phrases can be interpreted many different ways.  watching a video performance of the likes of horowitz, would go a long way towards helping someone  understand what all this mumbo jumbo is about :)

in my own defense, i would like to reiterate that i did not advise "high wrist" or "playing with hands behind fingers", i was merely trying to justify the genesis of those expressions.  in my opinion, there are as many different ways of saying the same thing, as there are different opinions.

i have students who were taught to hold their hands completely rigid with terribly curved fingers, some were told to practice with coins resting on the tops of their hands, etc....a lot silliness goes on in this arena:)
the arm and body weight behind getting the right kind of power to make a note sound is something my first piano teacher drilled into me for years, so i take the entire thing for granted.

i think in simple terms what it does is help people strike the keys from above, and not from an angle as someone mentioned.  it hurts me when i see people jabbing at the keys, even great players do this.

the actual technique of using arm weight is kind of like this:

have that imaginary ball in your hand, make your forearm level and your fingers ready to hit a chord.  then, move your entire forearm down and when your fingers hit the keys, allow your wrist to break just a little bit and continue down maybe an inch.  it's like you're giving the note just a little it of extra pressure.

obviously you can't do this for every note when you are playing a scale or improvising a single note passage.  but you can use the arm weight technique to help bring out certain parts of the passage, help get into the flow.

my best advice, though, is if you have any technique questions or any discomfort when playing or practicing, go find a classical teacher for a few weeks.  i found the best people in this area are graduate students are universities. nearly every single piano graduate student in the world is looking to make a few extra dollars by teaching, and for the most part they have the technique thing down to a science.
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.
play some slow chords by lifting and dropping your arms, don't press.
what is high wrist? how high is it
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