Piano Posture

Posted by: pianokeys135

Piano Posture - 02/27/13 02:13 PM

Hi Everyone -

I'm interested in learning about proper piano posture. I've been struggling with wrist and upper back problems for the last few years. The issues seem to correlate to the amount of time that I spend practicing piano. I've thought about the Alexander Technique. Does anyone know of any good resources on this? I'm wondering if I'm sitting at the proper height and distance from the piano, etc.

Thanks.
Posted by: MarkH

Re: Piano Posture - 02/27/13 03:14 PM

I suffer a little from this because my adjustable bench doesn't adjust low enough. This makes my lower and middle back get sore after about an hour of playing. I really need to take a saw to the legs of my bench and remove about a half inch from each leg, but the challenge of shortening each leg by exactly the same amount has prevented me from doing this so far.

I don't know anything about the Alexander Technique, but it would seem that if height and distance are the variables you think may be affecting your fatigue, it should be relatively simple to experiment with changes over the course of several weeks. Generally speaking, taller people need the bench to be lower, and shorter people need the bench to be higher, so that your forearm is approximately parallel to the floor (my observations have been that shorter people sometimes sit at a height that makes their elbow just the slightest bit higher than their wrist, and taller people sometimes sit at a height that makes their elbow just the slightest bit lower than their wrist). As far as distance is concerned, you should be about far enough away from the keyboard that your upper arm is pretty much perpendicular to the floor (or angled just slightly forward of perpendicular, so your elbow is a little closer to the front of your ribcage).

But everybody's body is different, so just experiment, and make sure you're relaxing as much as possible smile
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Piano Posture - 02/27/13 04:55 PM

Unlike ballet dancing, there is no 'right' posture for playing piano. I've seen great pianists playing hunched over low down (as if breathing on the keys), equally great pianists sitting bolt upright, those sitting so high that their forearms are almost at 45ยบ to the horizontal when playing, those with elbows below the keyboard, those sitting perched on the edge of the bench, occasionally rocking it forward, those sitting so far back that their bottoms jut out grin ......and everything in between.

You have to find what's right for you. But developing good strong 'core' muscles (i.e. the ones around your neck, shoulders and trunk - including chest, upper, mid and lower back, and abdominals, and gluteal) is, I believe, the key to relaxed and ache-free piano playing for long periods. When you don't have strong enough support to hold your posture, that's when problems with recurrent aches start to develop.

There are all sorts of exercises that you can do to strengthen your core muscles without needing to use any weights or gym equipment.
Posted by: Miguel Rey

Re: Piano Posture - 02/27/13 04:58 PM

Posted by: 1001 pianos

Re: Piano Posture - 02/27/13 05:52 PM

3 tips for piano posture :
- try to play simple pieces with a cigarette box on your hand without let it fall down
- look at G. Cziffra videos and try to have exactly the same posture which is the best and efficient ever
- work hard and do Hanon excercices
good luck =
Posted by: MarkAW

Re: Piano Posture - 02/27/13 09:33 PM

I stand at the piano.

Standing is better for general health than sitting, not sure how good it is for piano playing though.
Posted by: pianokeys135

Re: Piano Posture - 02/27/13 10:09 PM

Hey -

Thanks for the responses. I have an adjustable bench, so I guess I can try different things.

I think that my seat may have been too low, which was putting my elbows too low, so I was raising my shoulders to get my forearms and wrists up to the right height and creating tension in my upper back / shoulders / neck. I also think that I was a bit too far back, which was forcing me to lean forward to get my hands to the keys.

Relaxing is always an issue for me! I think I have a tendency to tighten up and either lean forward or raise my shoulders.

I tried raising the bench and moving it forward a bit, and I think my back is feeling a bit better today. Not sure how I'll feel tomorrow morning. I'll have to see how it goes I guess.

I've been trying to do core/upper body strengthening, but sometimes it seems like I can't play as long when I do exercises, which is kind of frustrating. I believe that it will help in the long term though.

By the way, I love Glenn Gould as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure that I will be modeling my posture after that photo smile
Posted by: Michael_99

Re: Piano Posture - 02/27/13 11:11 PM

The question that is never answered is how long are you sitting at the piano bench before going for a walk around the block. I usally sit for a half hour and then walk around the block and come back. When I am learning a piece.

If I am just playing tunes I know that are fun and easy to play because I know them and play them all time, then I can pobably sit on the piano bench for about an hour without walking around the block.
Posted by: Charles Cohen

Re: Piano Posture - 02/28/13 01:32 AM

I can think of two professional categories who might answer your question:

1. Piano teachers;

2. Occupational therapists and/or physiotherapists.

Have you asked one of those?

. Charles
Posted by: slowtraveler

Re: Piano Posture - 02/28/13 02:43 AM

Regarding Alexander Technique specifically, the American Society for the Alexander Technique maintains a web site at:

http://www.amsatonline.org

You can also find Alexander Technique International at:

http://www.ati-net.com

You can learn _about_ the Alexander Technique from any number of books, but in my experience there's no substitute for instruction from an experienced teacher.

I took lessons some years ago from an Alexander teacher named Nancy Gootrad, who lives in New Orleans now. She is really good, and I was fortunate in that I sort of randomly picked her from a directory of nearby teachers. Her students included serious classical musicians as well as total amateurs like me who came across Alexander Technique more or less by accident.

Exposure to Alexander Technique helped me to notice and undo various ways in which I was using my body inefficiently. It's not a panacea, but it's very useful for getting yourself out of trouble when you experience habitual tension and discomfort in physical activity.

AT doesn't address piano technique specifically, but Alexander teachers typically spend a lot of time with performers of various kinds, so they are good at relating to issues pianists might have.

A couple of dozen lessons from a good teacher should suffice to give you a reasonable acquaintance with the Technique, IMO.

Cheers,

Ben
Posted by: pianokeys135

Re: Piano Posture - 02/28/13 12:06 PM

I try not to sit at the piano for more than 30 minutes or an hour. Sometimes, though, I just get up and walk around my living room and then sit back down in about 2 minutes and tell myself that's enough time. I guess walking around the block is a good length of time, and I can't short change it (without climbing over fences). Thanks for the tip.

I've been working with two piano teachers over the last few years. They have been helpful, but I haven't managed to resolve the problem. I haven't actually met with a physical therapist yet, but I've considered that, as well as a neurologist or orthopedist. I have worked with chiropractors and an acupuncturist - They have helped, but not solved the problem yet. I'm trying to decide what the best next step is, as there seem to be a number of options.

Re: the Alexander Technique, I live near NYC, so I'm sure there are some great teachers there. I wonder if it's worth going into the city to see some who specializes in pianists, if they do that. There is a registered teacher near where I live, but I'm not sure he has experience with musicians or piano players.
Posted by: woodog

Re: Piano Posture - 02/28/13 12:49 PM

Look on Youtube for the series of four lessons by Seymour Bernstein.

Here's a link to the first one

A lesson with Seymour Bernstein, Part 1, "You and the Piano."

It's a really good series about basics

Forrest
Posted by: slowtraveler

Re: Piano Posture - 02/28/13 01:09 PM

Originally Posted By: pianokeys135
...There is a registered teacher near where I live, but I'm not sure he has experience with musicians or piano players.


Almost all experienced Alexander teachers have worked with musicians, but there's nothing piano- or even music-specific about AT. I doubt that any Alexander teacher would claim to "specialize" in musicians.

If there's a certified teacher with good references near you, call him/her up and discuss your situation. Maybe take a few lessons and see whether what you're learning can usefully be applied to your piano playing.
Posted by: jdw

Re: Piano Posture - 02/28/13 09:55 PM

You might also want to look into the Taubman approach to ergonomic piano playing. I remember hearing Edna Golandsky (the most prominent teacher of this) say that Dorothy Taubman identified a problem in her piano technique that had been giving her chronic backaches.
Posted by: pianokeys135

Re: Piano Posture - 03/01/13 12:02 AM

I'm onto the 3rd of 4 of the Seymour Bernstein youtube videos. I like them a lot. Some things that he goes over I was aware of, but I definitely picked up a number of things as well. Thanks for recommending them. I also ordered his book - With Your Own Two Hands - which seems like it might be worth at least skimming through.

Thanks for recommending the Taubman approach jdw. I actually had just scheduled a lesson with a teacher familiar with the Taubman approach for early next week before I read your post. It's through the Well Balanced Pianist site. I was reading about the Taubman approach in another thread, and I ended up scheduling a lesson. It seems like a good step. The approach seems like it's worth checking out, given my back issues. Any thoughts on the Golandsky Institue as compared to the Well Balanced Pianist organization? I just learning about this approach now, so it's all new to me. Thanks.

Also, I'll probably schedule an Alexander Technique lesson sometime soon, or at least give the person a call who lives nearby to discuss it. It seems like another avenue that's worth exploring.
Posted by: jdw

Re: Piano Posture - 03/01/13 08:11 AM

I have no direct experience with the Well Balanced Pianist, as I study with a Golandsky Institute teacher. I've been impressed by the Well Balanced Pianist site, though. I notice that the leaders are former Golandsky faculty. Their interest in Alexander Technique also sounds as if it could be a good fit for you. I hope it works out well.
Posted by: rada

Re: Piano Posture - 03/01/13 11:28 AM

I think my posture is not very good but that's not what I want to think about when I am playing. I want to think about the music so I try to put out of my mind that it would look better if I could sit up more straight. I feel like I am embracing the piano by being a bit closer....not on purpose...just naturally. I have played the piano for a long time and have have little to no back soreness as a result of my posture.

rada
Posted by: pianokeys135

Re: Piano Posture - 03/02/13 04:53 PM

Hey - I just wanted to say thanks for the responses. This discussion was helpful. I'm still trying to digest all of the info. relating to postural issues. I guess I'll have to spend some time trying some different things out, like different body, arm, wrist, and bench positions, as well as working with some different people like piano teachers, physical therapists, alexander teachers, etc., and see what works the best for me.
Posted by: -Frycek

Re: Piano Posture - 03/03/13 08:26 PM

Originally Posted By: MarkH
I suffer a little from this because my adjustable bench doesn't adjust low enough. This makes my lower and middle back get sore after about an hour of playing. I really need to take a saw to the legs of my bench and remove about a half inch from each leg, but the challenge of shortening each leg by exactly the same amount has prevented me from doing this so far.



You too? I'm a 5'6" gal who's very long waisted and I have the same problem. I'm built like a corgi. My husband calls me a tall girl with short legs. I've got my "artist's" bench as low as it will go and I've even removed the little metal tips from the bottom of the legs. I've afraid to resort to a saw but I'd love to go lower.