It’s a New Year and many of us make New Year’s Resolutions – setting goals to better ourselves in one way or other. Sometimes those goals are so hard to attain that we end up failing and by February we swear to never make another resolution. For pianists, we have different reasons to try to better ourselves. Spending hours in front of a piano practicing is difficult enough. But what about how we sit at our instrument? Poor posture can bring on a number of problems.
The Bad Things About Bad Posture
In order to master a spine-tingling performance, pianists have to pay attention to their spine. Poor posture is the result of a misalignment between the shoulders and the spine. When they are not in proper positioning a number of issues can develop. Unless you enjoy headaches, a sore neck, and lower back pain, you will want to learn how to correct your posture when seated in front of your instrument. In addition to these problems, poor posture can invite fatigue and disease.
How To Correct Your Posture While Playing The Piano
You won’t likely find any of this in your average piano lesson but it is something you really do need to learn. Your posture says a lot about you. Slouching does not give off a good impression nor is it good for your back. Fortunately, there are corrective devices available to assist if you have a chronic posture problem. However, the same devices will not improve your piano playing skills. That you have to work on yourself but you can work on your posture.
Tip #1 – The Sitting Part
Pay particular attention to how you sit in front of the piano. Do you sit high or low to the keyboard? The best position is to be seated at a comfortable height. This won’t be the same for everyone. First, you need a solid seat or stool. It shouldn’t be too soft nor should it be rock hard. The seat also has to be stable and not move around when it is not supposed to. Sliding across the front of the piano is not an option. An adjustable seat is a good choice. A couch or rocking chair is not.
Tip #2 – The Positioning of Your Feet
In order to keep the rest of your body stable when vigorously playing the piano – Beethoven comes to mind – your feet should be touching the floor. Not just your toes and not just your heels. The entire surface of each foot should be making complete contact. The support you can gain from this is incredibly important, especially when you leap out of your seat to take a bow. Resting your feet on a footstool or the piano keyboard is not going to give you the stability you require so don’t even try to alter your piano method to include this move. It won’t help your back any, either and posture is all about your spine and how it aligns with the rest of your body.
Tip #3 – The Positioning of Your Legs
If your feet are supposed to make full contact with the floor surface, this means that your legs are also part of the equation. They should be relaxed, slightly open and not rigid. If your thighs are sore after a few hours of intense piano lessons, there may be a reason. It could be that you are exerting unnecessary upward pressure on them and not even realize it. Leg stretches before being seated in front of the piano may help to relax them. Playing the piano with a pet or someone else seated in your lap will not.
Tip #4 – Getting The Straight Goods
Keeping your back straight by using your abdominal muscles for support with do two things. One, it will give your lungs the room to fill fully and function properly with your chest out and back correctly aligned. Secondly, it will force your ab muscles to work on keeping your spine stable and holding the rest of your upper body in proper position. The end result is that you will get an ab workout. Didn’t think the piano was sexy enough to play? Now you have a secret way to build that six-pack and play music at the same time.
Tip #5 – Relax The Shoulders
If your back is straight but your shoulders are tensed up all you are doing is inviting problems with your neck and shoulders. By relaxing your shoulders you remove that pressure and give the abdominals all the hard work. Your chest will thank you for it. Plus, if your shoulders are relaxed, you’ll be able to play longer without your arms getting tired and worn out. Or at least that’s what our teacher told us when we started to learn the piano.
Tip #6 – Use Your Head
Bobbing up and down in head banging fashion may be the right thing to do in a rock concert, but it is never the right thing to do while seated at a piano. If you have straightened your spine and relaxed your shoulders the best thing to do is the hold your head in alignment with your spine. That means facing forward. Avoid dipping your chin to get a better view of the keys as this will give you neck strain. If you are seated at the correct height, you won’t need to dip your chin. Unless you are so bored that you are beginning to fall asleep.
Tip #7 – Gimme Some Elbow Room
Your arms should not be flapping about. Well, that is unless you are trying to shoo away a wasp or something. If anything, your arms should be at a relaxed level. You can judge this simply by watching where your elbows are. They should ideally be located at either the same height as the keyboard or slightly lower. Elbows even with the foot pedals can be the sign of a much more serious problem where posture correction is not going to be of much assistance.
Tip #8 – I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Since your fingers do all the walking on the keyboard it makes perfect sense that your hands should rest gently on it. The combination of your wrists, the palm of your hands and the tips of your fingers should create a slight curve. Again, the more relaxed you are in front of the piano, the less stress on your body, muscles, joints and piano teacher. Using one hand should be reserved for party tricks and not for serious performances or piano lessons.
Tip #9 – Stretching Your Fingers
Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of keys on a piano keyboard? It’s like there’s close to a thousand of them. Plus, some chords require your fingers to be two or three inches longer than they actually are. You just need to prolongate the palm of the hand curving your fingers when they are supported by the keys. Do not bend your fingers back to the level of their phalanges and you’ll be able to master some pretty nifty sounds on that keyboard.
Your Back Will Dance!
According to Ukrainian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, the back of a pianist is much like the back of a dancer. He reasoned that the movements of a great pianist will show in their back featuring strength, grace, precision, power, speed, resistance and elegance – like dancers. If you can develop these characteristics, you will prove the 20th century pianist correct. Your dancer’s back will serve you well when seated at your piano.
One Final Thing
A simple way to prepare your body for the long period of time it will spend seated in front of a piano is to do light exercises between lessons. Stretching exercises in particular will assist in building some strength and endurance. Also, stretching muscles will help them to relax prior to getting in position to play your instrument. Now get back to your piano lesson!