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#1234540 - 07/20/09 10:56 PM Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick?
ToriAnais Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/24/08
Posts: 244
Loc: Australia
I'm very aware how dangerous it is to have students playing with tense hands, but I don't seem able to find the trick to relaxing them.

I've tried the tips in the start of the piano adventures primers - arms like heavy ropes, unfurl hands like flowers, an arms length from the fallboard etc. I am very strict about getting students to play on their fingertips. I've told them to lift their wrists higher, relax their shoulders, let their arms hang heavy, use the weight of their arm to push their fingers down instead of muscles in their hands...it's driving me nuts that i can't get these kids to play with relaxed fingers!

What am I doing wrong?
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#1234599 - 07/21/09 01:13 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: ToriAnais]
keyboardklutz Offline
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Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
You cannot play on fingertips without tension. If you use the pads the hand can take its natural shape as Chopin advocated.
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#1234607 - 07/21/09 01:21 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: keyboardklutz]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5486
Loc: Orange County, CA
I observed this exercise at a master class:

Take both hands, raise them a foot above the keys, and just let the hands fall freely onto the keys. Repeat several times until the student is completely free of tension. Let gravity do all the work. Then, gradually let the free fall land on specific fingers and notes.

I used to be strict on hand shapes, but I've worked with a few kids who play with flat fingers--not by choice but by physical necessity. As soon as these kids try to form round hand shapes, their joints collapse inwardly.
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#1234629 - 07/21/09 02:37 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: AZNpiano]
landorrano Offline
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Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2466
Loc: France
mitts off, are you talking about dhildren or adults.

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#1234644 - 07/21/09 03:55 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: landorrano]
ToriAnais Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/24/08
Posts: 244
Loc: Australia
I'm talking about children. I know partly it's to do with building strength in their hands, but I'm sure there must be more tricks out there that haven't crossed my path yet and I wanna know em!
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#1234746 - 07/21/09 11:37 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: ToriAnais]
JazzPianoEducator Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/13/09
Posts: 203
Loc: Denver, CO
I agree with AZNpiano's technique which I also observed through a master class with jazz pianist Kenny Werner. I think this technique can work for kids and adults. Kids tend to take to it because it's kind of fun to just drop your hand on the piano...
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#1234748 - 07/21/09 11:39 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: JazzPianoEducator]
JazzPianoEducator Offline
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Registered: 02/13/09
Posts: 203
Loc: Denver, CO
Probably more suitable for your older students, but having your students check out Kenny Werner's book "effortless mastery" could be a resource on how to relax tension at the piano. The book also comes with meditation like cds to promote relaxation
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#1234768 - 07/21/09 12:13 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: JazzPianoEducator]
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13789
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I think it's also important to realize that for many students, fixing a problem like this can take months. There is no exercise that, done only a few times, creates the habit you want.

All of the above advice is good, but a big part of teaching is having the faith to take that advice and implement it in every lesson the student has over a period of months or years. I've seen kbk's hand shape advice and AZN's arm drop in countless masterclasses with students ranging in age from 6 to 26. Why? Because it's good advice and deserves attention throughout one's student years.
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#1234776 - 07/21/09 12:24 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Kreisler]
JazzPianoEducator Offline
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Registered: 02/13/09
Posts: 203
Loc: Denver, CO
Good point Kreisler, like most things important with learning piano there isn't an easy fix!
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#1234787 - 07/21/09 12:47 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: JazzPianoEducator]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
Mitts off, what you're doing wrong, in my view, is
trying to force some theoretically correct way of
playing on your students. This way might work for
you and the person who devised it, but everyone
is different physiologically and psychologically,
and no one way of playing is going to suit everyone--
in particular this arm-weight method, which I see
as fundamentally flawed. In the 17th to 19th centuries
students where taught to play with a coin on the
back of the hand, for the very reason that it prevents
using arm-weight to play and gets you playing mostly
from the fingers and hands, which is the simplest
and most efficient way to play. People today sneer at this
old way of playing as out of date, but all the great
players, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmanioff, etc.
learned this way.

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#1234796 - 07/21/09 01:00 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gyro]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5486
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: Gyro
no one way of playing is going to suit everyone--
in particular this arm-weight method, which I see
as fundamentally flawed. In the 17th to 19th centuries
students where taught to play with a coin on the
back of the hand, for the very reason that it prevents
using arm-weight to play and gets you playing mostly
from the fingers and hands, which is the simplest
and most efficient way to play.



If you play like that on a modern grand piano, you are severely limiting your range of dynamics and tonal colors.
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#1234798 - 07/21/09 01:03 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gyro]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
It cannot be simultaneously true that (1) "no one way of playing is going to suit everyone" and (2) your method is "the simplest and most efficient way to play." Furthermore, your assertion that "all" the great players learned that way is absurd.

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1234877 - 07/21/09 03:12 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: AZNpiano]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4801
Loc: South Florida
This is important:
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano

I used to be strict on hand shapes, but I've worked with a few kids who play with flat fingers--not by choice but by physical necessity. As soon as these kids try to form round hand shapes, their joints collapse inwardly.

The key is quietly observing then subtly guiding. Many teachers CAUSE tension by micro-managing technique. Most people will do too much of whatever we tell them to do. This is especially true with adults, but it happens with children too.

As usual Gyro's technical advice is very wrong.
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#1234891 - 07/21/09 03:36 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: AZNpiano]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11922
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
Originally Posted By: Gyro
no one way of playing is going to suit everyone--
in particular this arm-weight method, which I see
as fundamentally flawed. In the 17th to 19th centuries
students where taught to play with a coin on the
back of the hand, for the very reason that it prevents
using arm-weight to play and gets you playing mostly
from the fingers and hands, which is the simplest
and most efficient way to play.



If you play like that on a modern grand piano, you are severely limiting your range of dynamics and tonal colors.


Not only that. I learned with a coin on the back of my hand, but I do not teach it. I don't think it's a good idea, and my students do not have tension issues. Just because someone is taught that way does not mean they teach that way. Also, the pianos we play today are not the same as they used to be. I've played on period instruments and replicas. It is way different.
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#1234911 - 07/21/09 04:08 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Morodiene]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
I don't buy this arm-weight/gravity-based/relaxation,
modern way of playing. I see it as an inevitable
result of the continual modern trend toward ease and
convenience. Modern players want to do it the easy
way and don't want to sweat and sacrifice, and so
naturally, modern methods have evolved to accommodate
this with techniques that imply lack of hard work
and ease: let gravity do the work for you; let
the weight of the arm do the work of playing for
you while you loaf; just relax while playing and
everything will be fine; etc. That's okay if
you just want to play unchallenging pieces your
whole life, but if you want to rise as a player
you're going to have to work and suffer.


Edited by Gyro (07/21/09 04:11 PM)

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#1234956 - 07/21/09 05:23 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gyro]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11922
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: Gyro
I don't buy this arm-weight/gravity-based/relaxation,
modern way of playing. I see it as an inevitable
result of the continual modern trend toward ease and
convenience. Modern players want to do it the easy
way and don't want to sweat and sacrifice, and so
naturally, modern methods have evolved to accommodate
this with techniques that imply lack of hard work
and ease: let gravity do the work for you; let
the weight of the arm do the work of playing for
you while you loaf; just relax while playing and
everything will be fine; etc. That's okay if
you just want to play unchallenging pieces your
whole life, but if you want to rise as a player
you're going to have to work and suffer.

Ya, all the greatest pianists of our time are slackers. They don't play challenging stuff. They don't sacrifice time and energy to learn pieces to perfection. It's all because they want to be lazy and play without pain.
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#1234968 - 07/21/09 05:40 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Morodiene]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4801
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Morodiene

Ya, all the greatest pianists of our time are slackers. They don't play challenging stuff. They don't sacrifice time and energy to learn pieces to perfection. It's all because they want to be lazy and play without pain.

Add Chopin to the list of slackers. He was one of the first to start all this "silly modern stuff". laugh
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Piano Teacher

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#1235046 - 07/21/09 08:01 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gyro]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
Originally Posted By: Gyro
I don't buy this arm-weight/gravity-based/relaxation,
modern way of playing. I see it as an inevitable
result of the continual modern trend toward ease and
convenience. Modern players want to do it the easy
way and don't want to sweat and sacrifice, and so
naturally, modern methods have evolved to accommodate
this with techniques that imply lack of hard work
and ease: let gravity do the work for you; let
the weight of the arm do the work of playing for
you while you loaf; just relax while playing and
everything will be fine; etc. That's okay if
you just want to play unchallenging pieces your
whole life, but if you want to rise as a player
you're going to have to work and suffer.

The only challenging piece you've spoken of learning is Chopin's Op. 14, which has apparently been stalled at 3/4 speed for years. It might be time to question your own assumptions about what works if you ever want to progress.

You've said, too, that you lack talent, which could be a factor in the sweat, sacrifice and suffering you find necessary. I think playing (and even practicing) should be pleasurable, and it is—as I think it generally is for people whose goals are reasonable. Even if it's not always exactly "easy," it certainly never involves the brutal struggle of brute-force repetition to which you so often refer.

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1235052 - 07/21/09 08:17 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: sotto voce]
ToriAnais Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/24/08
Posts: 244
Loc: Australia
Hehehehehe i love a good laugh in the morning. I'm pretty sure gyro doesn't believe the stuff he says most of the time and is just trying to get a rise out of everyone. It's funny stuff.

So hmm, interesting conclusion everyone's coming to - that by micromanaging I'm doing more damage than if i calm down and realise this is going to take time.

Incidently I started my youngest student ever yesterday - a girl who has just turned 5, and she has hands like a babies. It's terrifying. She kind of just poked at the keys. I'm going to have to take a way different tack to how I start off 6 year olds I think!
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Piano teacher since August 2008.

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#1235120 - 07/21/09 11:08 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: ToriAnais]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4801
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: mitts_off
Hehehehehe i love a good laugh in the morning. I'm pretty sure gyro doesn't believe the stuff he says most of the time and is just trying to get a rise out of everyone.

Only Gyro knows why he does what he does. If he is being humorous, he's maintained the practical joke for 3304 posts. smile
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Piano Teacher

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#1235218 - 07/22/09 06:25 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: ToriAnais]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Originally Posted By: mitts_off
Incidently I started my youngest student ever yesterday - a girl who has just turned 5, and she has hands like a babies. It's terrifying. She kind of just poked at the keys. I'm going to have to take a way different tack to how I start off 6 year olds I think!
Don't expect tiny fingers to play on anything other than a light keyboard. Teach 'drop and flop' (down) and flick (up) instead. You'll find them here: www.youtube.com/isstip
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#1235577 - 07/22/09 07:29 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: keyboardklutz]
ToriAnais Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/24/08
Posts: 244
Loc: Australia
Thanks a tonne KK :*)
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Piano teacher since August 2008.

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#1235581 - 07/22/09 07:35 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: ToriAnais]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4801
Loc: South Florida
I recently had a little girl who had pain in her pinky on two chords that she played with no problem at home, on her unweighted tiny keyboard.

Her mother wanted her to "be brave and play through the pain in lessons".

It took me three weeks to fix that!!!
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#1235605 - 07/22/09 08:25 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gary D.]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4794
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Evidence: I learned with the coin on the hand thing and now, decades later, the tension has indeed limited my technique sacrificing speed, articulation and tone. I am now struggling to learn how to relax all that tension.

(BTW my teacher has me doing the ropey arms thing, slow scales while concentrating on releasing tension, heavy arms, exaggerating movement in my wrists, etc. The key seems to be in my shoulders. If I concentrate on relaxing them, it helps all the way to my fingerips.)
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Deborah

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#1235609 - 07/22/09 08:31 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: gooddog]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4801
Loc: South Florida
I have been telling people for YEARS that the muscles in the shoulder/neck area are trigger points. The moment you get students to release unnecessary tension there, you will see the upper arms, elbows and forearms release tension, and it goes right down into the fingers.

Usually children only hold tension there when they are badly instructed, but adults will hold those muscles so tight, they will actually spasm.
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#1235653 - 07/22/09 10:19 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gyro]
Little_Blue_Engine Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/30/09
Posts: 1233
Loc: Ohio, US
Originally Posted By: Gyro
I don't buy this arm-weight/gravity-based/relaxation,
modern way of playing. I see it as an inevitable
result of the continual modern trend toward ease and
convenience. Modern players want to do it the easy
way and don't want to sweat and sacrifice, and so
naturally, modern methods have evolved to accommodate
this with techniques that imply lack of hard work
and ease: let gravity do the work for you; let
the weight of the arm do the work of playing for
you while you loaf; just relax while playing and
everything will be fine; etc. That's okay if
you just want to play unchallenging pieces your
whole life, but if you want to rise as a player
you're going to have to work and suffer.

My dad always told me "it's better to work smart than work hard." Why torture yourself and suffer if the same results can be achieved with less work?
_________________________
I'll figure it out eventually.
Until then you may want to keep a safe distance.


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#1235756 - 07/23/09 05:16 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gary D.]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
I have been telling people for YEARS that the muscles in the shoulder/neck area are trigger points. The moment you get students to release unnecessary tension there, you will see the upper arms, elbows and forearms release tension, and it goes right down into the fingers.

Usually children only hold tension there when they are badly instructed, but adults will hold those muscles so tight, they will actually spasm.
I always remember meeting a student of Matthay at a conference. The fluidity of the playing was overwhelming. She said afterwards it's in the shoulders where the last bit of tension is found and released, then all the fireworks start.
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snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1235776 - 07/23/09 08:03 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gary D.]
Ebony and Ivory Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/05
Posts: 1179
Loc: Minnesota
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
The moment you get students to release unnecessary tension there, you will see the upper arms, elbows and forearms release tension, and it goes right down into the fingers.


Gary, HOW do you get this to happen? What do you say/do to get that tension to go away?
I have a young lady that plays like this and all of my attempts to get her to relax have been temporary fixes. Her mom says she doesn't play that way at home (not sure though). When she comes to lessons she is strung tight!
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#1236040 - 07/23/09 03:50 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Ebony and Ivory]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4801
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Ebony and Ivory


Gary, HOW do you get this to happen? What do you say/do to get that tension to go away?

This will sound extreme.

Make relaxation more important than correct notes.

Make relaxation more important than correct fingering.

Make relaxation more important than correct or even rhythm.

Make relaxation more important than anything else.

This will be TEMPORARY. But you have to get a tense student to believe that being relaxed is more important than playing well. The reason is that you can NOT play well with unnecessary tension. Sooner or later tension will kill everything AND cause serious health problems.
Quote:

I have a young lady that plays like this and all of my attempts to get her to relax have been temporary fixes. Her mom says she doesn't play that way at home (not sure though). When she comes to lessons she is strung tight!

I never listen to parents or students about what is happening at home. According to them, the play correct rhythms, correct notes, relaxed, and everything that goes wrong in lessons ONLY happens HERE. laugh
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#1236387 - 07/24/09 09:25 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gyro]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/09
Posts: 2464
Originally Posted By: Gyro
I don't buy this arm-weight/gravity-based/relaxation,
modern way of playing. I see it as an inevitable
result of the continual modern trend toward ease and
convenience. Modern players want to do it the easy
way and don't want to sweat and sacrifice, and so
naturally, modern methods have evolved to accommodate
this with techniques that imply lack of hard work
and ease: let gravity do the work for you; let
the weight of the arm do the work of playing for
you while you loaf; just relax while playing and
everything will be fine; etc. That's okay if
you just want to play unchallenging pieces your
whole life, but if you want to rise as a player
you're going to have to work and suffer.


If you honestly think that placing a coin on sombody's hand would provide an antidote to an excessively tense manner of playing, I seriously hope you're not a professional teacher.

The best thing I've found is the advice of Alan Fraser about activating proper grip in the hand. Unless the hand can support, relaxation in the shoulders is futile. If you don't achieve balance, the tension will have to occur somewhere, no matter how hard you try to relax. I was badly affected by the ludicrous idea of a slack hand. It held me back for years. Once I finally got my fingers to support, it became possible to relax. Free shoulders are important, but concentrating on the shoulder itself is futile unless you can find balance at the key. I find the most important thing is to get the kid to learn to rest on the fingers in between the notes. Once they get used to a solid platform to balance on (without need for much effort), things can start to ease up. I'm convinced that tensions in the shoulder usually come out of necessity when then the hand is not supportive enough.

Concentrating on tension in the arms and shoulders etc. before using the hand properly is like trying to fix a leaking bucket by adding more water. First you have to plug the hole, before you worry about adding more water. I think this is a rather uncoventional appraoch, but it certainly worked for me. Relaxing in the wrong places was the underlying cause of the most destructive tensions.

Andrew



Edited by Nyiregyhazi (07/24/09 09:30 AM)
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