Playing the piano is so much more than just picking out notes on the keys. Sound, look, and feel your best by following these tips for good piano posture. Click here for a pdf of this handy piano posture chart that you can print out and keep with your lesson materials.
1. Find the Right Finger Shape
To find the right finger shape for playing the piano, try putting your relaxed hand on your thigh and sliding it forward over your knee. Notice how your fingers naturally curve around your knee cap. Keep your fingers in that position as you lift your hand, and set it on the keyboard to play. Another trick is to cup both hands together as if you were holding a small, delicate baby chick. Now, keeping that finger shape, rotate your hands so they are palm down, and you’re ready to play the piano.
2. Watch Your Thumbs
Unlike the other fingers, the thumb should not be curved when it plays the piano. Keep it straight but loose. When using the thumb to play the piano, just drop it downward. Only the side edge of the thumb, near the tip, should contact the piano key.
If your head is not aligned over your body, that’s a lot of weight your back and shoulders have to be holding up! To find the center balance point for your head, gently touch your fingers inside each ear and nod your head up and down, like you are saying, “yes”. This will help you feel where the center point of your head is. That center point should be in line with your shoulders over your hips.
4. Use a Foot Rest
It’s very common for kids to slide forward on the piano bench and sit too close to the keys. To keep this from happening, use a foot stool, a crate, or even a pile of books as a foot rest. Kids will be more comfortable and exhibit better posture at the piano if their feet can rest firmly on something instead of dangling.
5. Firm Fingers
Sometimes the end joint of the finger buckles the wrong direction when pressing down on a piano key. This joint should always curve out, not in. One way to practice keeping this joint firm is to place one hand in a curved finger position on a flat surface. Using the pointer finger of the other hand, push gently in on one end joint until it buckles inward. Now try it again, this time resisting the pressure so the curved finger stays rounded out. Remember that these are little muscles we’re dealing with here, so, please, go easy on yourself! Just a little bit of pressure is plenty. I would recommend only doing this exercise with fingers 2, 3, and 4. As you play the piano, make sure your fingers stay nicely curved and don’t buckle.
6. Use Gravity
Rather than relying only on finger strength to play a note on the piano, use the whole weight of your arm. To learn how to do this, try pushing the piano bench back a little ways from the piano. Practice holding your arm as if you had the keyboard in front of you, then letting your arm drop into your lap. Feel the natural weight of your arm as it falls limply into your lap. It may help to imagine you are a puppet with just a couple of strings holding your arm up. Someone cuts the strings, and the arm falls heavily and without resistance. After you have tried this with both arms, move the bench back up to the keyboard and, with fingers in curved position, feel your arm fall on each note. The weight of your arm will transfer through your fingers into each key.
7. Wrist Action
A flexible, supple wrist will help transfer the weight of your arm into your fingers when you play. With curved fingers already in contact with the keys, allow the wrist to comfortably drop, slightly, as you play a key. After you play the key, then allow the wrist to gently rebound back up, in preparation for the next down stroke. Fingers should stay in contact with the keys as you do this. Sometimes I tell my students to think of the wrist as a trampoline. It starts off level, then you bounce down, and whenever a trampoline goes down, it always rebounds back up! Above all, remember that the wrist should always feel comfortable and relaxed. Don’t force these motions—as I mentioned in the last tip, the trick is to let gravity do the work for you. Think of simply “falling” into each key.
8. Arm Alignment
When playing the piano, the pinky finger, the wrist, and the elbow should line up in a mostly straight line. Sometimes, especially when playing with both thumbs on Middle C, kids will rotate their hands so their wrists are bent. Try instead to keep the wrists straighter and let the hands turn in toward each other. Keeping the wrist locked at an angle creates tension, which interferes with playing your best.
9. Use Your Pinky Tip
The pinky (finger 5) is your shortest and perhaps least muscularly developed finger, so sometimes I see finger 5 “cheating” by lying flat on the key when it plays. The problem with a flat finger 5 is that it collapses your hand position, and it will fail to develop muscular independence and agility in finger 5. Finger 5 should have some curve like all the rest, and only the tip of the pinky should be touching the keys. It’s true that since finger 5 is shorter than your other fingers, it does not necessarily need to curve as much to find a comfortable playing position on the keys. It is important to not tightly “over-curve” the fingers. Remember, the whole point of curved fingers is to find a relaxed, efficient, and comfortable playing posture.
10. Sit and Lean
Kids seem to love to slide around on the bench when they play, but this isn’t really a good use of energy. It is better if they sit in one spot and lean if they need to. If an entire piece is played low on the piano, start out sitting to the left on the bench, or if the piece is high, start out on the right. If a piece goes low and high, sit in the middle and lean to reach all the keys. A foot rest can be a big help with this, providing balance and something to push off when leaning.