An Essential Guide to Healthy Piano Playing

Piano playing is a deeply satisfying artistic activity, but it can also be very demanding physically on our arms and hands. Just as elite athletes understand and care for their bodies, so should pianists think carefully about their approach to playing and practising. A healthy piano technique not only avoids injury – it also helps to achieve greater freedom of expression, a more beautiful sound and quicker progress.

With the number of piano-related injuries on the rise and as a response to this growing problem, we have worked with leading expert in pianist injuries, Penelope Roskell to publish a new guide to preventing and recovering from injury for pianists and teachers. Combined with Penelope’s existing resources on Yoga, warm-ups and posture, the guide offers detailed information on each of the most common playing-related injuries with numerous video demonstrations of practical remedial exercises to aid recovery and prevent relapse.

Example video demonstrating an exercise from the Roskell Warm-up Sequence called “Empty Sleeves” (click here to view the full collection of articles and videos on the Online Academy)

The information contained within this guide is based on Penelope’s many years of experience in working with pianists with injuries. Although it will be useful to any pianist, it is especially beneficial for those experiencing fatigue, tension or pain and piano teachers who want to know more about helping their students keep healthy. The guide covers the following topics:

  • Healthy playing – Develop a healthy technique (and wise practise) methods for greater freedom of expression, improved sound quality and quicker progress
    • General advice on healthy and wise practising
    • Whole-body approach and sitting posture
  • Preventing and recovering from injury – Learn how to look after your arms and hands to avoid problems in future and general advice on recovering from injury
  • Common pianist injuries
    • How to identify common injuries like RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome and tenosynovitis
    • General tips and practical remedial exercises for recovery
    • Technical retraining to prevent a relapse, including unique concepts and approaches such as the parachute touch, soft wrist, the splay and the singing finger touch

Example video demonstrating healthy alignment to avoid twisting of the wrist (click here to view the full collection of articles and videos on the Online Academy)

The Healthy Piano Playing guide is available for once-off purchase from our store here for £9.99 or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or click here to subscribe (click here to view the guide if you already have a subscription).

Further reading & resources

  • Healthy Piano Playing – Click here to view on the Online Academy.
  • The Art of Piano Fingering – Click here to purchase as an eBook from our store or click here to view on the Online Academy.
  • Yoga for Musicians – Click here to purchase as a stand-alone online product from our store or click here to view on the Online Academy.
  • The Complete Pianist: from healthy technique to natural artistry – Penelope’s latest book will be available from 20th February 2020. Click here to sign-up to her mailing list for updates and purchase details. 

Why a Healthy Technique is Important

This weeks’ guest blog post by Penelope Roskell looks at the importance of a healthy technique and how to go about acquiring it.

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Should we suffer for our art? 

Piano playing is a physically demanding activity. Just as elite athletes understand and care for their bodies, so should pianists and their teachers think carefully about their approach to playing and practising. 

A healthy piano technique not only avoids injury, ensuring a life-long enjoyment of music-making – it also helps to achieve a more beautiful sound, greater artistic freedom and faster progress.    

Minimising effort

The old maxim ‘no pain, no gain’ has been proven wrong over and over again, but still musicians find it difficult to ignore that inner voice that tells you that unless you are working very hard, then you are not really progressing. 

A healthy technique, however, prevents injury by minimising the physical effort we use to play the piano. Movements become more co-ordinated: the small muscles are supported by the larger muscles; the sound is produced naturally by gravity rather than pressure; and stretches are minimised to avoid build-up of tension.

Real progress comes, not from endless hours of mindless mechanical practice but from acquiring the technical know-how which allows the fingers, hands and arms to move freely around the keyboard.   

Minimum effort for maximum expression 

Every movement we make at the piano affects the quality of the sound; the freer the movements, the more flowing the musical phrase. Our technical skills must always serve a clear musical purpose – to express the meaning of the phrase as eloquently as possible, without exaggeration or inhibition – just enough and no more. 

Achieving balance

If the body is out of balance, for instance if your shoulders are hunched forward, then some muscles will be over-used and others under-used. We should aim to work around the most natural position – a comfortable, balanced sitting posture, loosely hanging shoulders, wrist neither too high nor too low and a naturally curved hand position. All these will bring about a greater sense of well-being and give poise and greater control to your playing.  

healthy piano technique and position

Reducing tension

If your wrists, elbows or shoulders are tight, the sound becomes thin or harsh. Tension also affects your ability to move freely around the keyboard, so phrases will sound less shapely and expressive. Your joints need to be supple, so they act as shock-absorbers which soften the impact of the hand on the keys. 

Everyone can acquire a healthy technique

A healthy technique is not a niche skill that only a few pianists need to learn. It is at the heart of all good piano playing, as it leads directly to good musicianship. Teachers in particular can avoid future heartache by encouraging good posture, sensible practice methods and ergonomic playing technique right from the beginning stages. 


Further reading & resources

  • Healthy Piano Playing – Click here to view on the Online Academy or click here to purchase from our store.
  • The Art of Piano Fingering – Click here to purchase as an eBook from our store or click here to view on the Online Academy.
  • Yoga for Musicians – Click here to purchase as a stand-alone online product from our store or click here to view on the Online Academy.
  • The Complete Pianist: From healthy technique to natural artistry – Click here to find out more about Penelope’s latest book covering all aspects of piano technique. 

Healthy Piano Playing & Pianist Injury Clinic

Saturday 18th July @ 14:00 BST

Join Penelope for a two-part online workshop on healthy piano playing. In the first part, Penelope will share from her lifetime’s experience and research into healthy technique. She will discuss the causes of tension and demonstrate techniques from her book The Complete Pianist, including exercises for warming up posture, hand position and alignment, and her ‘Parachute touch’ for controlled use of arm weight.

In the second part, she will answer more specific questions and give advice on what to do if you do experience tension or pain.  

Click here to find out more or to book your place!


Teaching Healthy, Expressive Technique Preview

This week we bring you a preview of a new project currently under development which will be launching soon. Based on Penelope Roskell’s award-winning book The Complete Pianist, we’re creating an online course called Teaching Healthy, Expressive Piano Technique. This detailed course will show teachers how to instil healthy practice methods in students of all levels, paving the way for a lifetime of fruitful, expressive and injury-free playing.  

healthy expressive technique video example

The course is primarily aimed at teachers and conservatoire students, although much of the material will also be directly relevant to pianists themselves. It aims to give teachers both new and experienced an in-depth understanding of how to teach all aspects of piano technique to students from beginner to the advanced level.

Each topic is addressed by a step-by-step approach, starting with simple exercises which are then developed into more complex intermediate and advanced examples. The exercises are then put into practice in pieces from the standard repertoire, as well as in pieces by Penelope herself.

healthy expressive technique image

We recently participated in NCKP 2021 which due to circumstances, was a virtual conference. As part of our activities, we hosted an online session in which Penelope introduces the course and demonstrates examples of some of the material featured in the course. If you missed the event (or would like to watch it again!), you can watch a recording of the session on Youtube:

The course will be launching in the fall with further online events to follow. Please click here to sign-up to the Roskell Academy mailing list if you would like further information and updates.

About Penelope Roskell

Penelope Roskell is equally renowned as a performer of international calibre, and as an inspirational teacher. She is professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and visiting professor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

As a soloist, she has played in major concert halls in more than thirty countries. She is the leading UK specialist in healthy piano playing and Piano Advisor to the British Association for Performing Arts medicine, where she holds a clinic for pianists with tensions or injuries. Her major book, The Complete Pianist: from healthy technique to natural artistry is one of the most significant books written on the art of piano playing in recent years.

Further links

  • Penelope’s website (click here)
  • Penelope’s author page on the Online Academy (click here)
  • The Art of Piano Fingering (click here to purchase print edition)
  • The Art of Piano Fingering (click here to purchase eBook edition)
  • Yoga for Musicians (click here)
  • Guide to Healthy Piano Playing (click here)

The Importance of Teaching Healthy Technique

We’re delighted to announce the launch of a new online course on teaching healthy expressive technique by Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, Penelope Roskell. In this week’s blog post, Penelope discusses the importance of teaching healthy technique and shares a few tips and suggestions for doing so!


A healthy piano technique is at the heart of all good playing. It not only avoids injury but also helps to achieve a more beautiful sound, greater artistic freedom and faster progress. Teachers with good understanding of the principles of well-coordinated technique are able to resolve common problems quickly and easily. They also instil in their students a confident, musically-focussed approach to technique which can lead to a life-long enjoyment of music-making.  

‘I never have time to teach technique thoroughly!’

Piano playing is a complex skill and there always seems to be so much to cover in each lesson. Most teachers have limited lesson time – and our students often have very limited practice time too. Teachers are also naturally concerned that a traditional diet of dull, lengthy studies will discourage and demotivate students. So sadly, the foundations of technique often get pushed aside and bad habits become established.

When should I start teaching healthy technique?

It’s possible to teach all the fundamental techniques more quickly and easily than you might think. The main piano-playing movements (up/down, sideways, forward/back, rotation and rounded movements) can all be taught in the first year of lessons (for any student, whether beginner or a higher-level transfer student). Once learnt, these simple techniques can then be refined and put into practice in all pieces of music.

Teaching healthy technique

Teaching technique can be fun!

Teaching technique does not need to be dull. When devising exercises I always think of how the exercise relates to the student’s own experiences and interests. I give the exercises imaginative, sometimes quite quirky, titles, such as ‘The Parachute Touch’, ‘Jellyfish’ and ‘Swat that Fly’. Even my adult students all like these titles as the imagery inspires them to achieve the correct movement spontaneously and with ease. 

Are studies the best way to learn technique?

All my exercises are short, fun and easy to learn. They also have a very specific musical purpose. I find it’s not necessary to study copious lengthy studies to acquire stamina and an excellent technique. In fact, some studies can even be counterproductive. They may encourage a very mechanical approach to playing, which can then spill over into the playing of pieces. And if the study is played with a faulty technique, the improvement will be minimal – the student’s practice only reinforces the existing bad habits.

Studies are traditionally played hands together and involve time-consuming note learning which can distract the student from learning the correct movements thoroughly and from listening carefully to the sound. Each study tends to incorporate several different techniques, which makes it more difficult for the student to focus on and perfect the movements. I personally teach very short, simple ‘exercises in movement and sound’, mainly hands separately. I have devised these over forty years of teaching students of all levels, from beginners to professional. Once a student has learnt these techniques, they are quickly able to put them into practice in pieces of music. 

What are the main requirements for developing a healthy technique?

  • Warming up regularly before playing
  • Coordinating the body so that the stronger muscles of the back, shoulder and arm support the smaller muscles in the hand, especially when playing forte
  • Using gravity rather than pressure for cantabile playing
  • Minimising stretches where possible, especially for pianists with small hands
  • Keeping joints supple and learning how and where to release tension 
  • Working around the mid-point of movement
  • Using minimum effort for maximum music result
  • Using flowing natural movements that are in keeping with the musical message
  • Developing sensitivity and awareness of movement and sound

Why teach healthy technique?

As a specialist in playing–related injury, I have worked with students and professionals who have suffered devastating injuries resulting from their playing technique. I think that as teachers, we have a duty of care to protect our students from injury as best we can. Spending a little extra time to correct faulty technique as it arises can avoid major problems in the future and the skills learnt will remain with the student throughout their musical life. The earlier you teach the fundamental techniques, the better!


Penelope’s online course, Teaching Healthy Expressive Piano Technique, is now available! Click here to view the course index or here to find out more about it.

Further links 

  • Penelope’s website (click here)
  • Roskell Academy website (click here)
  • Teaching Healthy, Expressive Piano Technique (click here)
  • The Complete Pianist: from healthy technique to natural artistry (click here)
  • The Art of Piano Fingering (click here to purchase eBook edition)
  • Yoga for Musicians (click here)