Robert Estrin - piano expert

Do Men and Women Play Piano Differently?

Answers to an interesting and unusual question

In this video, Robert tells you what differences there might be between a man and a woman playing the piano, and how to cope with those differences for an optimal result.

Released on September 18, 2013

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a viewer question, "Do men and women approach the piano differently from one another?" This is a great question. And yes, there is an answer to this question for you but it's not what you might expect, so I'm glad to address this.

Now, you know, I've got to study with some phenomenal pianists, both men and women. My father, Morton Estrin, with enormous hands. John Alden, also tremendous, large man, towering big hands, big, fat arms. I also studied with a couple of sensational women pianists. Ruth Slenczynska and Constance Keene, each of them probably weighed less than 100 pounds. So what are the differences in approaching the piano when you have massive hands and small hands?

So the real thing between men and women isn't so much the sex as it is. The size of the hands, the arms, and the stature, and it goes beyond that because different hands have different shapes. For example, my hands are not only small, but you notice how my thumb does not go totally straight. Now, if you look at Rubinstein's hands, this would be a direct line. And well, this is the hand I have so I have a small reach even for the size of my hand, so my approach is gonna be different. And everybody's got different hands. For example, with big fingers, it might be difficult to play between the black keys. Small hands like mine, it's very easy to play light and fast because you can get between the keys differently.

So how do men and women approach piano differently assuming typical stature for a man and a woman, where the man is going to have more mass, bigger, more muscular arms, larger hands compared to a woman with a little bit more delicate structure and generally smaller hands with some notable exceptions naturally? Well, I'm gonna show you a bit. Well, for example, somebody who has very large hands and a lot of mass can play big chords fairly effortlessly just utilizing this part of the arm right here. So for example, it's a big chords like at the beginning of the Tchaikovsky B-flat Minor Concerto. Now, in playing just now, I only used this part of the arm. Now, I remember watching Ruth Slenczynska, for example, play big chords where she used not just this part of the arm but the entire arm for more of a technique like this.

Interestingly, it's all about the sound. Being able to create the sound you hear in your head and what you have to do on the keyboard is different for different players. As a child, I always had a certain concept with sound that I really wanted to get out of the piano but I had really pathetically weak hands, very small, I couldn't even reach an octave with any solidity even as a teenager. So I would squirm and twist and do anything I could to try to get the sound out of the piano that I was looking for. Now, I don't suggest that as a solution but the point is, I saw many extremely talented students of my father's who could approach the keyboard completely differently from me as youngsters just because of the different hands. So you have to find your way in this world. Beyond that, there isn't just one way to play the piano.

One of the great things with technology is the fact that you can go on YouTube and see Vladimir Horowitz performing a piece. And then look at the same piece with another great legendary pianist perform the same work, and it's amazing how differently different pianists approach the piano. And you understand that there isn't just one way to play the piano and you have to find what works for you with your physical attributes, as well as your concept of sound. So experiment and realize that if you're of slight build and have small hands, you wanna use more mass, more of the arms. Whereas, if you have more mass and bigger hands, you could depend upon the strength closer to the fingers, the fingers, the wrist, and just the forearm. You don't have to use as much of the rest of your body when playing the piano. And that's in a nutshell the difference between how men and women generally approach the keyboard. Thanks very much for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

FULVIA M BOWERMAN * VSM MEMBER * on November 3, 2021 @4:08 pm PST
When listening to WETA I generally detect if it is a man or a woman on the piano. But I always spot right away if Claudio Arrau is playing. To me it sounds as if he had a special touch that nobody can duplicate!
Claire * VSM MEMBER * on November 3, 2021 @8:54 am PST
Thank you, Robert! As a petite woman with small hands, I appreciate your insights. Here's another question that may be on the minds of others: Why do we have "ear worms" and how does one get rid of (or at least minimize) them? My mother (who was also a pianist) wondered about this too. I always have some piece of music I'm working on going through my head, and even when I'm gardening, or waking up in the middle of the night, there is always music. Fortunately, it is never a TV jingle, but usually something I like. However, it can drive me nuts. Is my brain trying to work on these pieces of music? What's going on here?
Robert - host, on November 3, 2021 @4:45 pm PST
Try going through in your head all the way to the end of the piece or song. That should help to stop the music. Then you can go on to another piece of music!
Suzanne K. * VSM MEMBER * on December 12, 2013 @8:23 pm PST
Thanks for answering this, Robert! I have always been curious about this question! I love your positive attitude, and agree that it is all about practicing and finding good arrangements that accentuate your natural talents.
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