Archive for February, 2011

Perfecting Piano Posture

February 15, 2011

If you learn to play the flute, you spend the first lesson learning how to put the flute together, how to hold the flute and how to stand correctly. This is so that you can make a decent sound, and so you don’t tie yourself up in knots & land yourself at the chiropractor. If you are lucky, you might get to blow into the flute and try a note before the end of the lesson.

When you learn to play the piano, we can skip step 1 and modify step 2. We don’t need to learn how to put the piano together or hold the piano – we need to learn how to hold OURSELVES. This is so that we can make a decent sound and develop the technique to play fast & complicated pieces as we progress – and so we don’t tie ourselves up in knots & land ourselves at the chiropractor.

The truth is that with many instruments, even as a beginner we are forced to stand/sit/hold correctly in order to  produce a good sound – or sometimes any sound at all. The trap with the piano is that as a beginner, you could pretty much stand on your head and the notes would still actually play…..the problem is that without good  posture we will never develop a good technique – and then we will never play very well.

Good posture is everything when it comes to playing the piano. It needs to become a habit – something that is automatic as soon as we sit down to play. This takes a LONG TIME to acheive and only comes through constant attention and a conciousness about the way we play.  As teachers we are always reminding and correcting posture in lessons but this is not enough! Good posture needs to be PRACTISED at home so it becomes second nature.

Its a big topic – but take it in little steps  and will make a huge difference.

When PRACTICING good posture, we are aiming for (more or less) right angles – we want about 90 degrees at the elbow joint, hip joint and knee joint. To get this right, we need to be really fussy about 3 things:

1   Distance from the piano

2   Where we sit on the stool

3   Placement of feet

The most common ‘mistakes’ that we see in piano posture are:

1   Sitting too close (with knees tucked under the keyboard)

2   Taking up too much of the stool (we only sit on the front half)

3   Feet tucked under or feet dangling (our weight needs to be forward, onto the feet)

Having someone observe from the side as we sit is a very useful exercise – it can really help to get into the ‘right angle’ shape.

Here are a whole lot of bits that go together to make up a good piano posture:

  • Straight back – lower as well as upper
  • Sit on the edge of the seat. That’s right – we only use the front half of the piano stool….The seat should be ‘under the sit bones’ at the top of the legs, not under the bottom! This should put the weight forward onto the feet.
  • Feet take the weight of the body: slightly out in front, never crossed or linked behind the chair.
  • Footsteps are wonderful for little people – use one until the floor is easily reached or until the pedal is required
  • Knees should be JUST under the keyboard, not under too far – ask your teacher to show you the ‘karate chop test’

Once we get that right, we can think about ARMS, SHOULDERS & WRISTS

The most common mistakes here are:

1   Shoulders that tense up or rise (they need to be relaxed at all times)

2   Wrists that drop

3   Fingers that ‘cave in’ at the first joint (all joints need to curve)

So ….

  • Arms & shoulders must be relaxed (& not allowed to creep up when playing something tricky!)
  • Wrists are straight but relaxed for some movement. They are not high & not low. Wrists stay strong when playing chords (they never drop) and wrists stay straight even when the hand is ‘waiting’ to play (they never drop!)
  • Elbows do not move much in the early stages of piano development – you can use them more as you advance

What’s next?

Now it is time to think about what we are doing with all those fingers and thumbs!

THUMBS:

  • Need to be ‘watching’ all the time and never be allowed to drop
  • Need to stay strong – no ‘caving in’
  • SNEAK under when required – no big arm movement
  • Can go under fingers, but they NEVER go over fingers

FINGERS:

  • Stay close to the keys, they do not stick up in the air while other fingers play
  • Play the note using the padded part of the tip – not too close to the nail
  • Have trimmed nails! (Long nails do not work for playing the piano)
  • Curve at every joint – especially the stubborn ‘first joint’. (For many students this takes lots of boring EXERCISE but is VERY important. Fingers must not be allowed to ‘cave in’)
  • Pinky should be relaxed and ‘watching’ (not up in the air)

 

Lots to think about! And it takes time, effort and concentration – but it’s worth it. A relaxed piano posture is a life-long investment in musical enjoyment. Good luck!

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