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.
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.
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.
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!