Hand kinematics of piano playing

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Dec;106(6):2849-64. doi: 10.1152/jn.00378.2011. Epub 2011 Aug 31.


Dexterous use of the hand represents a sophisticated sensorimotor function. In behaviors such as playing the piano, it can involve strong temporal and spatial constraints. The purpose of this study was to determine fundamental patterns of covariation of motion across joints and digits of the human hand. Joint motion was recorded while 5 expert pianists played 30 excerpts from musical pieces, which featured ∼50 different tone sequences and fingering. Principal component analysis and cluster analysis using an expectation-maximization algorithm revealed that joint velocities could be categorized into several patterns, which help to simplify the description of the movements of the multiple degrees of freedom of the hand. For the thumb keystroke, two distinct patterns of joint movement covariation emerged and they depended on the spatiotemporal patterns of the task. For example, the thumb-under maneuver was clearly separated into two clusters based on the direction of hand translation along the keyboard. While the pattern of the thumb joint velocities differed between these clusters, the motions at the metacarpo-phalangeal and proximal-phalangeal joints of the four fingers were more consistent. For a keystroke executed with one of the fingers, there were three distinct patterns of joint rotations, across which motion at the striking finger was fairly consistent, but motion of the other fingers was more variable. Furthermore, the amount of movement spillover of the striking finger to the adjacent fingers was small irrespective of the finger used for the keystroke. These findings describe an unparalleled amount of independent motion of the fingers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Female
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Music*
  • Posture / physiology
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Professional Competence*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Time Factors