Good piano posture has three main goals. The first one is efficient playing. With good piano posture, a pianist can get the maximum results for a minimum effort. The second goal is comfort. Playing the piano correctly should feel good, and never cause pain. The third goal is accelerated progress. Students will advance faster in agility, speed, and their ability to play increasingly difficult pieces if they have good piano posture habits.
It is very important to establish good piano posture as early as possible. Habits are hard to break once established, and if your piano posture is poor, you’ll get inefficient playing, you may find playing the piano uncomfortable, and have a hard time making progress.
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Here are some things to watch for in establishing good piano posture:
Use a piano bench, not a chair, when playing piano, since a chair will almost certainly position you too low in relationship to the keys. Sitting too low (or too high) will cause wrist tension when playing–not good! The bench height should be such that the arm from elbows to knuckles are parallel to the floor when fingers are placed on the keys. For younger students, this will usually mean a bench height of about 20-21 inches (51-53 cm). Older students and adults will probably want the bench at around 19-20 inches (48-51 cm). Make sure the bench is pulled out far enough that the elbows are slightly in front of the body, but comfortably so, maybe one or two inches. If your elbows are touching the torso, you are sitting too close.
How to Sit
The back should be comfortably tall. Not stiff like a soldier, but no slouching! Align the head, shoulders, and hips so that skeletal structure, not muscular effort, provides balance. This gives the body more freedom and energy to put into making music.
Make sure the shoulders stay relaxed and neutral. Many children are trying so hard as they begin to play that their shoulders start creeping up. Have them lift their shoulders all the way up, then let them drop so they can feel the difference between tense shoulders and relaxed shoulders. I like to tell my students to pretend they’re a puppet, and I’m going to use a string to raise their shoulder, then cut the string. With the string cut, their shoulders are in the right position to play.
Wrists should be in a neutral, level position at rest. During playing, wrists will naturally rise and fall, but they should start level and end level and relaxed. The fingers should be curved and comfortable. To find a naturally curved position for fingers, let your hand hang limply to your side. Notice how fingers at rest naturally assume a curved shape. Use that natural hand shape to play the piano.
Playing the Keys
When playing with one finger, do not let the other fingers fly up in the air. In general, fingers stay resting on the keys even when not playing. It is okay for fingers to hover slightly over the keys, but they should not stick out straight.
If your child is playing and one or more fingers are sticking up in the air, that shows excess tension in the hands. Tension is the biggest enemy of good piano posture. As I mentioned, good piano posture means comfortable playing. Try to always keep fingers in the relaxed, curved shape as you play.
Keep At It Till It Sticks
I have found that kids need lots of reminders about piano posture. It doesn’t often come naturally. Some kids get it from their first lesson, others struggle with it. Make sure to review Lesson 5, the piano posture lesson, as often as needed. You can also use a practice game to focus on piano posture. If your child is having trouble finding the right hand shape or body position, remind them that good piano posture is always relaxed. Another good idea is watching videos of other performers with good piano posture.
Good piano posture will help your child play more efficiently, more comfortably, and with greater success as they progress. Next week, I’ll be sharing more tools and hints to help with good piano posture.