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#1478910 - 07/22/10 03:56 AM Tension at the piano and in everyday life
molto_agitato Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/05/09
Posts: 162
Loc: Washington State
I am, and have always been, an exceptionally nervous, tense person. However, until I started learning how to play the piano, I was not aware of the severity of my natural state of tension in everyday life. Since I began learning to play the piano, I've become more aware of my physical self, and I've found that I exhibit considerable tension even when I am sitting still, presumably in a "relaxed" state. Now, it seems to be universally agreed upon that abolishing unnecessary tension at the piano is of paramount importance for both 1) developing correct technique, and 2) avoiding injury. However, given my high level of natural tension, what are the chances that I will be able to free myself of unwanted tension at the piano? Not good, I believe. Thus, my question is: should I work at becoming a more relaxed, less tense person in general, and hope that a newfound state of relaxation carries over to the piano? If so, how should I go about doing this? If there are any teachers reading this post, have you ever encountered a student with unusually high levels of tension? I have one other thought: perhaps people like me simply have no business trying to learn to play the piano in the first place. I'm willing to accept that to be the case.

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#1478913 - 07/22/10 04:21 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: molto_agitato]
Sviatoslav Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 98
Loc: Italy, Torino
"perhaps people like me simply have no business trying to learn to play the piano in the first place"

First of all: NO! Nobody is in such a desperate state of mind. There are reasons for your tension.
I'm usually relatively loose but when I try something outside of my comfort zone I get tense. To me, getting out of comfort zone means trying to speed up a piece which is not yet properly learnt. Well, in this specific case I turn into a board of mahogany.

The trick that works for me is repetition; slow repetition, then trying some acceleration, but then down again to slow repetitions. At a cerain point two things happen: a) I get so familiar with the few bars I'm practicing that I could play them in my sleeping, b) my tense muscles get so sick and tired of the situation that they start relaxing almost naturally.
In this state I make sure to file even more repetitions so that to stabilize that relaxation state.

All in all you should focus on slow speed so that to FEEL the loose state of your joints and muscles and then being able to replicate the same feeling over and over in different situations.

Hope it helps.

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#1478915 - 07/22/10 04:23 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: molto_agitato]
casinitaly Offline


Gold Supporter until March 1 2014


Registered: 03/01/10
Posts: 5746
Loc: Italy
I would say that it is actually a postive thing that you are aware of your physical tension now. Once you are aware of it, you can deal with it.

I have a lot of problem with tension too.

I think you should work on your tension in general - it can only benefit you!

There are alot of muscle tension/relaxation exercises you can do - I've done a lot of them myself. The kind I think really helps is the progressive relaxation exercise. Here is a link:

http://www.innerhealthstudio.com/progressive-muscle-relaxation-exercise.html

The author here starts with the big leg muscles. I actually start with my toes - and I do the exercises lying down, not in a chair.
The main benefit you can gain from the progressive exercises is that you really start to recognize when you are starting to tense up and the relaxation part gradually becomes an automatic response.

If you do a search on muscle relaxation exercises you will find many many links.
Give some of these a try and see how you do.
Don't be too quick to throw in the towel.

There are also specific exercises for pianists for relaxing your hands and arms - the "drop and flop" --- I think you can find links for that too - and I would bet money that some of our local experts will be around to clarify the idea behind this very soon.

Good luck!
_________________________
XVIII-XXXIX
Follow your teacher's instructions and practice wisely/much, and you'll soon wonder how you ever found it hard. BobPickle
Performance anxiety: make it part of your daily routine and deal with it...Cope! zrtf90

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#1478917 - 07/22/10 04:25 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: casinitaly]
Sviatoslav Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 98
Loc: Italy, Torino
wow, 2 posts from Italy almost simultaneously is unheard :-)

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#1478919 - 07/22/10 04:29 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Sviatoslav]
casinitaly Offline


Gold Supporter until March 1 2014


Registered: 03/01/10
Posts: 5746
Loc: Italy
Originally Posted By: Sviatoslav
wow, 2 posts from Italy almost simultaneously is unheard :-)


Bizarre! - but we are in the same time zone!
and the name of the original poster is "molto agitato"! lol.

Dove sei? (sorry for the little hijack Molto Agitato!)
_________________________
XVIII-XXXIX
Follow your teacher's instructions and practice wisely/much, and you'll soon wonder how you ever found it hard. BobPickle
Performance anxiety: make it part of your daily routine and deal with it...Cope! zrtf90

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#1478920 - 07/22/10 04:31 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: casinitaly]
Sviatoslav Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 98
Loc: Italy, Torino
Torino, not very far from Milano.

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#1478923 - 07/22/10 04:47 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Sviatoslav]
casinitaly Offline


Gold Supporter until March 1 2014


Registered: 03/01/10
Posts: 5746
Loc: Italy
Silly me, I didn't notice it in your signature! Lovely city.

Ok.... enough distraction - back to our friend Molto Agitato!
_________________________
XVIII-XXXIX
Follow your teacher's instructions and practice wisely/much, and you'll soon wonder how you ever found it hard. BobPickle
Performance anxiety: make it part of your daily routine and deal with it...Cope! zrtf90

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#1478929 - 07/22/10 05:18 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: molto_agitato]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Originally Posted By: molto_agitato
Thus, my question is: should I work on becoming a more relaxed, less tense person in general, and hope that a newfound state of relaxation carries over to the piano?
Yeh, why not, work at it.
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1478982 - 07/22/10 08:23 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: keyboardklutz]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2475
Loc: Virginia, USA
I have found that working on my relaxation at the piano has helped me a little with relaxation away from it. But, with some specific exceptions, I'm not a very stressed guy so my needs will differ.
_________________________
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  • Haydn - Sonata in Gm, Hob. XVI/44

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#1479034 - 07/22/10 09:52 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Andy Platt]
Coriander Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/09/10
Posts: 20
Loc: NY, USA
Molto, Wow! It is almost as though I could have written that post myself.

I have been a very tense person since early childhood. I have been on prescription medication for anxiety for 3 years. It has helped me enormously! Prior to that I was actually physically deteriorating from tension and depression. I am still however, a much more tense person than those around me. It shows in my piano practice especially. Do yourself a favor and talk to your GP about your overall state of being.

As for piano specific advice, I second the excellent suggestions and comments made by Casinitaly. I intend to follow suit myself.

Best Regards, Rich

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#1479079 - 07/22/10 10:40 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Coriander]
nancymae Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/27/09
Posts: 129
Loc: NE Wisconsin
Yoga has helped me develop a nice state of relaxation. You don't have to do all the yoga poses, but the meditations and stretching the arms, neck, back muscles are wonderful for getting the kinks out. Try standing up and stretching with arms to the sky..then slowly bend to each side, back to the middle, and then down to touch your toes. Check out a beginner's yoga dvd at your local library. Do the same with the neck...look from side to side, slowly...up and down. Breathe deeply. Yoga has helped me tremendously with my arthritis.

Good luck!

Nancy
_________________________
Piano Obsession Log:
Began Piano 12/25/09 on Yamaha starter digital keyboard
Playing on circa 1917/18 Chickering Grand Piano since July 2010
Finished Alfred Book 1-August 2010
Started Book 2--August 11, 2010
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#1479122 - 07/22/10 11:25 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: nancymae]
AlexDreamer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/17/08
Posts: 68
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: nancymae

Yoga has helped me develop a nice state of relaxation.

+1.
I am currently trying some yoga poses for several days, and it relaxes me a lot.
Good for back painss too.
_________________________
“Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music.” - WA Mozart.

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#1479156 - 07/22/10 12:12 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: AlexDreamer]
jotur Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 6032
Loc: Santa Fe, NM
I, too, tend to be more tense physically than other people I know. Playing the piano has actually helped a great deal smile Like molto agitato, I'm more aware of it at other times than I was before, for one thing.

what is really good for me is that whenever I start having trouble with tenitis it's from a computer keyboard. Playing the piano actually helps fix that, because I am much more relaxed and tension-free there.

Cathy
_________________________
Cathy

Practice like you are the worst; play like you are the best - anonymous

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#1479159 - 07/22/10 12:15 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: AlexDreamer]
Bgnr4ever Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/16/10
Posts: 40
Loc: Washington state, US
While I do find that playing a new piece (or increasing speed in a piece prematurely) builds tension, in general I find that playing the piano releases the tension I've built up throughout my day. If I've had a particularly bad day, I usually will play only pieces I know rather well, or sightread something for fun only.
My family knows to leave me alone when I'm only playing pieces in minor keys!

Parenthetically - this is my first post. I am really enjoying the forum!
_________________________
Petrof P IV
Kawai Studio

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#1479166 - 07/22/10 12:23 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Bgnr4ever]
Coriander Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/09/10
Posts: 20
Loc: NY, USA
Originally Posted By: Bgnr4ever


Parenthetically - this is my first post. I am really enjoying the forum!


Welcome! I am also new here.

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#1479216 - 07/22/10 01:38 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: nancymae]
tangleweeds Offline

Silver Supporter until Jan 11 2012


Registered: 12/21/08
Posts: 1275
Loc: Portland, OR
Originally Posted By: nancymae
Yoga has helped me develop a nice state of relaxation.


+2

I like the Iyengar style yoga. I liked the strength & flexibility it gave me when I was young, but now that I"m not so young, I like that Iyengar teachers use use props to help the stiff or aged to get full benefits of the poses.

This is a style in which one is very careful with the alignment of the poses (teachers are very careful about preventing injury), and one tends to stay in poses for somewhat longer, instead of jumping from pose to pose. Less trendy than some other styles, but in my opinion it's much more physically sound.
_________________________
Please step aside. You're standing in your own way.

intermittent piano blog

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#1479237 - 07/22/10 02:21 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: tangleweeds]
Jacob777 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/21/07
Posts: 103
You are lucky you have found the piano, molto_agitato! Till now you may not have felt the need to confront the issue of tension in your body, but as you seem to be very aware of, tension kills music. So if you love the piano and want to master it, it could be your guide to less tension somewhere down the road.

As someone who has been there, I would do the following:

- Start in a yoga class. It is a fantastic way to release tension and you will probably start to feel your body in a new way. Tension is the result of not obeying what your body tells you. Yoga can make you more open to the signals of the body. It can be very addicting on top of that!
- Get Eckhardt Tolle’s book “The Power of Now”. Living fully in the present and not the future or the past, is another great way to become grounded and feeling your body again.
- Get William Westney’s book The Perfect Wrong Note. A very liberating approach to the piano. One where tension becomes almost impossible.
- Take frequent breaks during the day. Perhaps close your eyes for ten minutes several times a day. Very often ambition and trying control the future is what causes tension. It certainly was for me. Realizing we cannot control it and that it is OK may give a boost of energy!

Also, David Nueve has some interesting thoughts on the subject of starting out: http://www.davidnevue.com/pianomyths.htm, http://www.davidnevue.com/pianoadvice.htm


Edited by Jacob777 (07/22/10 02:48 PM)

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#1479246 - 07/22/10 02:34 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: molto_agitato]
Elssa Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/15/05
Posts: 1645
Loc: NY
I usually feel much more tense when playing classical pieces, probably because of the supposed need to be "perfect" with that. When playing my own pop/jazz arrangements, my mood is much more moderato than agitato. smile I wouldn't be so critical of yourself, though.. People who are borderline hypomanic I've noticed are the most productive people around. All that energy can be a benefit! thumb Allow yourself some downtime as well, though.

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#1479247 - 07/22/10 02:37 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Jacob777]
Stanza Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/02
Posts: 1458
Loc: Chapel Hill, NC
I believe the two biggest reasons for tension are:

1. Poor posture. Be balanced at all times
2. Uncertainty/Fear. When you are not quite sure of the next note(s). This can be conquered with very slow play.
_________________________
Estonia L190 #7004
Casio PX 310
Yamaha NP 30

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#1479249 - 07/22/10 02:42 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Coriander]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
I completely disagree with this obsession with relaxation and
lack of tension at the piano. In my opinion, this is nothing
but a sham and a marketing ploy. This is promoted by
some teachers, because lack of tension implies lack of
effort and hard work, and this of course greatly appeals to
people. Thus, if the student is having problems at the piano,
the cause is always that he's playing too tense. So the
teacher never gets the blame for the player's problems.
It's always the tension that is to blame.

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#1479257 - 07/22/10 02:58 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Gyro]
Inlanding Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/05/09
Posts: 1822
Loc: Colorado
Perhaps you can see playing and learning the piano AS a form of relaxation. By developing a sense that doing things you enjoy... perhaps it can provide a form of relaxation that will be of some help.

Exercise, reading, getting a massage, yoga, getting plenty of rest, eating well, etc., talking with others are all good things.

Dealing with tension and stress is a normal part of the human condition. There are lots of books and people with whom you can speak that that can help you broaden your perspective, and so it goes with the fine folks here that are providing you with some good advice about managing tension. Don't go it alone - otherwise it might take longer than you'd like to get a good balance and learning to manage stress/tension.

Whatever you do, be good to yourself and apply that to the piano.
Glen

_________________________

A Bit of YouTube
PTG Associate Member

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#1479264 - 07/22/10 03:07 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Gyro]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2475
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: Gyro
I completely disagree with this obsession with relaxation and
lack of tension at the piano. In my opinion, this is nothing
but a sham and a marketing ploy.


For me, the single most important thing that has helped me since starting lessons has been to relax my hands and arms. Nothing else comes remotely close to giving me improvement. And my teacher has never tried to blame everything on that - not even close.
_________________________
  • Debussy - Le Petit Nègre, L. 114
  • Haydn - Sonata in Gm, Hob. XVI/44

Kawai K3

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#1479289 - 07/22/10 03:45 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Andy Platt]
josephinechang Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/29/10
Posts: 47
I have had a history of tension at the piano also, but I didn't notice it until I started practicing for more than an hour a day. If it's not manifesting itself into physical pain, then I don't see any reason to make a big fuss about it.

A better reason for working on your tension is to help you play more musically. If you have ever heard a tense pianist play versus a more natural pianist, then you are aware of the difference in sound.

The tension problem can stem from our desire for control, which causes the muscles to tighten. But, playing the piano is a very natural thing. Try allowing your body to react the way that it wants to. The wrist and forearm naturally want to shift from right to left, up and down, to help play a passage. These are some things to consider if you are interested in achieving a more pleasing sound at the keyboard.

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#1479537 - 07/22/10 11:32 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: josephinechang]
molto_agitato Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/05/09
Posts: 162
Loc: Washington State
Thank-you for the excellent suggestions, everyone smile

You've provided me with much helpful advice that will serve me well in the coming months and years.

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#1479617 - 07/23/10 02:51 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: josephinechang]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Originally Posted By: josephinechang
A better reason for working on your tension is to help you play more musically. If you have ever heard a tense pianist play versus a more natural pianist, then you are aware of the difference in sound.

The tension problem can stem from our desire for control, which causes the muscles to tighten. But, playing the piano is a very natural thing. Try allowing your body to react the way that it wants to. The wrist and forearm naturally want to shift from right to left, up and down, to help play a passage. These are some things to consider if you are interested in achieving a more pleasing sound at the keyboard.
Well said! So many miss that - the goal is not body oriented, it's artistically.
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1484351 - 07/30/10 02:54 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: keyboardklutz]
molto_agitato Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/05/09
Posts: 162
Loc: Washington State
I realize that all forms of unnecessary tension are bad, but does tension in a given part of the body indicate a specific problem? My tension is in my shoulders; when it's especially bad it spreads to my neck and my upper back. My hands, wrists, and forearms are relatively free from tension.

Nevertheless, my finger joints do have a tendency to "catch"; that is, their range of motion is not always fluid and continuous. However, I had this problem before beginning to learn to play the piano, and it occurs with many of my other joints as well. It has gotten worse in recent years, though.

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#1484735 - 07/30/10 04:05 PM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: molto_agitato]
Richard W Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/07/04
Posts: 17
Loc: BC Canada
I'm not so sure it will help your joints, but you might like to look into Alexander Technique. It would certainly be very useful for your shoulders. I won't go into any detail because I only have a passing awareness of the subject, but I'm sure the internet has plenty of information on it somewhere. A general awareness of the technique might help you a little, even if you don't at this stage feel compelled to put in the significant time and financial investment for lessons.

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#1485041 - 07/31/10 05:11 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Richard W]
Jacob777 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/21/07
Posts: 103
Seeing an Alexander teacher is probably a good investment. The technique focuses on making gravity easier on your body by "relearning" the body the proper skeleton alignment. The goal is for the skeleton around the neck area and down to be formed like a straight line all the time in order handle the great impact of gravity. But for many of us it is often formed like an S (when we sit/stand hunched, or the head points slightly upwards) which takes a great toll on the muscles around the shoulder/neck area from the down push of gravity since the skeleton is no longer helping. The Alexander technique teaches the importance of the neck being free.

I had five lessons myself as shoulder tension was often what determined the length of a practise session for me and now there is very little shoulder tension when playing the piano. When I have tension in this area it is usually from an awkward sleeping position.

Thomas Mark's book, What Every Pianist Needs to Know about the Body, is also a great help for understanding the importance of skeleton alignment and the reasons for the body's maladjustment at times, why it tries to compensate the way it does. It can probably explain it in more detail than an Alexander teacher.

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#1485064 - 07/31/10 06:29 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: keyboardklutz]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
So many posters are chuffed to know that without tension you'd collapse in a heap, but how many know where that tension should reside?
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1486314 - 08/02/10 01:06 AM Re: Tension at the piano and in everyday life [Re: Jacob777]
Tendu Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 21
Loc: United States
I just got Thomas Mark's book and DVD, both entitled "What Every Pianist Should Know About ther Body". They are excellent! I recently developed tendonitis in my right forearm, which responded well to rest, acupuncture, and alternating hot and cold compresses, and I want to learn how to prevent a recurance. I have watched the DVD, and begun to explore the book, and I have already learned some things. As a former ballet dancer, I know the importance of correct alignment for enabling the best technique and preventing injury, and that is what Mark makes very clear. The book goes into more detail, but the DVD is really helpful. He demonstrates correct and incorrect alignment of the entire body using his own body, as well as life sized model skeletons of the spine and arm. There's nothing like good visual aid! I highly recommend these resources.

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