Learning Ten Finger Typing

23 July 2007 by Mathias Meyer

For ten years now, I've been rather successful with my own typing style, using mostly my index fingers. I am pretty fast this way, but over the last months this lead to more and more pain in my wrists and my knuckles which can be rather unpleasant, especially when you type for a living. Learning to use all ten fingers for typing has been on my list for quite a while now, so now I finally got over myself and started learning it.

Basically it feels like learning to walk again, or like quitting smoking. It’s like getting rid of a really old habit. And that’s what makes a rather long transition. But it feels quite comfortable, and my girlfriend doesn’t complain about the loud typing noises I used to make.

I’m still in the learning phase, but I can offer some advice that might help you to learn it.

  • Use a tutor. Get some professional help. You don’t have to pay a teacher for this, use a tool instead. It will help you to pick up the finger positions. It can be a tremendous help in the beginning. I’m using CueType, in my opinion the best tool for the Mac. An alternative is GNU Typist for Unix. I’m sure there are also tools for Windows out there.

    Don’t hold on to these tools for too long though, as Morpheus put it, they can only show you the door. They usually put the image of your keyboard right in front of you. But that image needs to be in your head. Usually you don’t have the text you’re writing on the screen, but in your head.

  • Practice. Force yourself to type with all ten fingers. It’s useless to stick to your old habit, when you want to get rid of it. I’d recommend starting on a weekend and use it to get used to the new style of typing. Be warned though, this new habit might interrupt your usual workflow for a while. You’ll be slower than usual, so don’t work on the same schedule you usually do, plan for some more time for slower typing. In the beginning, try to type as much as possible, especially things you’re usually typing at work. A longer blog post, some code, whatever suits you, just type it to get used to it.

  • Don’t look ma, hands! Try not to stare at the keyboard to figure out what you’re fingers are doing. Instead, always try to find the home keys and start again from there. The marks on the keys J and F make this easy, but you’ll have to get used to it. If you feel you’re fingers are lost, reset them on the basic positions and try again. You need to learn to look at the screen and let your fingers do what they do best: Type.

  • Take it easy. Don’t try to enforce anything. For me the switch was really hard. You lose productivity at first, and you know you could just go back to your old style and type faster. This might be frustrating. Don’t force your fingers to type fast right from the beginning, it won’t work. First make it run, then make it fast. If you feel you’re loosing patience, reset your fingers to the home keys and start again, or take your hands off the keyboard for a moment

  • Be ready to fall. You’re gonna produce typing errors, a lot of them. Learn to find the backspace key with your small finger, you’ll need it, a lot. Same is true for the return key. On a German keyboard it’s important to learn to differentiate between the two. Otherwise an instant messaging conversation might become pretty embarrassing.

  • Use a good keyboard. I’m using a three-year old Apple Wireless Keyboard at the moment, and just ordered a new one, since the current one is too hard to type with. The keys shouldn’t give in too easily, this would produce a lot of errors, especially when you’re getting used to letting your fingers rest on the home keys.

Right now, typing with ten fingers doesn’t feel so weird anymore, but the old habits try to take over from time to time. I’m sticking to it though, and the tips above definitely helped me.

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