The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture

5 basic elements of a correct piano posture - Copyright PianoCareer.com 2011Piano playing is a flexible art. For playing well and feeling good at the piano we have to be flexible and relaxed – both mentally and physically.

Why, then, do we need to have a ‘correct’ posture? Why can’t we simply play however we want and follow our musical intuition?

Actually, we can :). But we have to be ready to face the consequences!

If we want to interact harmoniously with the piano without affecting our health, if we want to ‘become one with the instrument’, to ‘tame’ it and achieve a beautiful sound and a good technique, we need to find that place (and posture) where the functionality of our body naturally meets the functionality of the piano mechanism.

This is what a correct piano posture is – that magical place where two worlds intersect ;).

Enjoy the video (and don’t forget to change its settings from 360p to 720p to watch it in HD)!

As you can see, having a proper position at the piano does not mean being ‘rigid’ and immobile. And, definitely, you don’t have to keep your body and your arms in a certain way simply because your teacher told you so!

A proper posture is a set of wise, ‘ergonomic’ guidelines that help us access, in a comfortable, healthy and relaxed way, the entire range of expressive possibilities of the piano.

Having a correct posture at the piano means working smart:

  • it allows you to feel good at the instrument and enjoy your practice;
  • it protects your spine and your arms from tension-related injuries;
  • it allows you to have an amazing power of expression and a brilliant technique;
  • it simplifies your practice and increases your productivity;
  • it saves you time and effort;
  • it ‘unlocks’ new horizons of unexplored possibilities;
  • it allows you to fully develop your potential and your pianistic skills;
  • it gives you confidence;
  • it gives you freedom.

As I told you in the video, having a correct piano posture is not complicated. You just need to keep in mind 5 basic elements:

1. Your attitude and your state of mind.

Just take a deep breath, relax your mind and your muscles and smile! Then sit at the piano.

2. The piano bench.

When adjusting the height of the piano bench, make sure that your elbows are aligned with the keyboard (you can also place them slightly higher than the keyboard, this way increasing your leverage). Don’t sit too far from the instrument or too close – you need to be able to reach all the keys and you should avoid the uncomfortable ‘backward pointing elbows’! Also, don’t sit on the whole bench – it’s recommendable to use only the front half.

3. Your back.

My teacher always used to say: you should feel like a queen (or like a king) at the instrument. How can we have such a dignified, noble attitude if we’re slouching? Keep your back straight – it’s good for your health, your image and the quality of your playing! Also, don’t stretch your neck forward – keep it well-aligned with the spine.

4. Your legs and your feet.

Don’t place your feet under the piano bench! You need stability when playing – that’s why it’s best to place your feet near the pedals (and make sure they are well-grounded) or on the pedals (depending on the piece you’re practicing).

5. Your arms – consisting of your shoulders, elbows, wrists, knuckles and fingers.

Avoid tension! Your arms should be always relaxed, like the wings of a bird or the paws of a cat. Keep your shoulders down and your elbows at a comfortable distance from the body. The wrist allows us to ‘breathe’ when playing – a flexible, relaxed wrist is the best remedy against tension! It also allows us to have a beautiful, deep and soft sound. The hand should form a ‘dome’ with rounded knuckles and fingers.

And a bonus element :):

A correct posture goes hand in hand with a correct key attack: Play from the shoulders, not from the fingers or the elbows! Only by involving your entire arms in the playing process, you can channel the weight of your body and the energy of the sound (which originates in our mind and materializes in our back) into the keyboard.

I will write more about the secrets of a correct piano touché in my future articles and videos! In the meantime, let’s continue to discuss the proper piano posture! Post your thoughts, share your experience or ask me a question in the comment section below!

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25 Responses to “The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture”

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  1. Rodney James says:

    Hi Ms Vartic,
    A wonderful video! I especially like how you equate good posture with a positive state of mind! I have a DVD of the pianist Solomon playing Beethoven’s Appassionata. I think it’s from the late 50′s. The one thing that stuck with me from that particular performance was his posture! He looked so dignified and regal! I watched this over and over. Watching his posture and king like attitude just demanded respect. It added a great deal to the performance!
    I guess its true what my high school football coach would tell us, “if you look good, you feel good, you feel good and you play good!
    I am really looking forward to your future tutorials!
    Rodney

    • Rodney James says:

      As you can see, I was only talking about the mental side of proper posture. The say it affects your state of mind. I didn’t feel the need to mention the obvious ergonomic advantage of sitting properly!
      Rodney

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Rodney!

      Thank you for your comment! :)

      Yes, everything begins with our state of mind, including our posture at the piano!

      I’ve just watched on YouTube the beginning of the 1st movement from Appasionata in Solomon Cutner’s interpretation. Yes, he has a dignified, regal attitude combined with a wonderful simplicity – the result of a very deep musical understanding and many years of experience! This is what both my professor and Rubinstein had in mind when they talked about dignity and nobility!

      Did you notice how he relaxes his wrists after the first phrase? Amazing! It’s the gesture of a lazy tiger – extremely relaxed, but you can see in this relaxation his unbelievable power! :)

      Thanks for sharing this fantastic performance – it’s a very inspirational one!

      Yes, your football coach was absolutely right!!! He definitely had a holistic approach on football and life! ;)

      Have a wonderful Sunday!
      Ilinca

  2. Alexandra says:

    Another inspiring topic and video, Ilinca!! With Buddhism I learned that one’s outer manifestation reflects one’s inner being: I think this idea applies to making music, particularly at the piano. It is easy to “get into” the music and almost dance with your body unconsciously when playing, and sometimes even includes hunching, slouching, jiggling one’s head in emphasis, etc. –Have you ever seen someone really into a video game or some concentrated task and they start to contort their facial features or start doing funny things with their mouth?haha!– But, like dancing, one should still carry one’s body –posture– correctly, and sitting at the piano bench is no exception.

    Thank you for sharing what your teacher said to you regarding posture, about feeling like a queen or king, feeling the nobility of music…It changes one’s attitude immediately when one adopts that posture. When I find myself slouching and correct myself, all of a sudden, with correct posture, I feel a sense of purpose and responsibility to the music, that I should represent it to the best of my ability (…which hopefully will continue to improve!)
    Evgeny Kissin is particularly inspiring to me; when he plays, he is so purely and simply nobility embodied… (especially his earlier performances like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndeIuv_Ta0o&feature=related). And , yes, he has good posture :)
    On the other end of the spectrum, we have “the Glenn Goulds”. After seeing Glenn Gould perform, I thought it was OK to sit cross-legged and slouch over while practicing Bach inventions (terrible!), and it IS comfortable to sit that way, especially at the end of a long day, (not using the pedals anyway). But, as you encourage in your video, it is not the correct way to play, for all the reasons you wisely state. I think G.Gould was THE exception (in fact, he had a spinal injury, if I read that correctly, in his childhood, which caused him to prefer sitting in a low chair!)

    Piano posture is, of course, important and there are others out there who encourage this too, but you are the only one explaining the WHY’s and HOW’s of proper piano performance of the highest level!! Thank you so much for respecting the art and for teaching me (and others) and passing on this incredible legacy.

    • Ilinca says:

      Thank you for this wonderful comment, Alexandra! ;)

      I loved what you said about Buddhism and the way our mind reflects in everything we do! This is entirely true! That’s why I always insist that everything begins with our state of mind – in time, our body will obediently follow :).

      I believe that we should always train our body to listen to our mind. When our body starts moving around too much (especially slouching or making other awkward gestures), it’s a sign that tells us that we need more awareness in our playing.

      We should always strive to become stronger and calmer, to know and conquer ourselves, to ‘tame’ our mind, its thoughts, to learn how to reduce its movements and to find that amazing depth that only stillness can create. It’s no wonder that ‘awareness’ is one of the most important concepts in Buddhism :).

      My teachers never told me this – it’s something that I discovered myself after studying Buddhism for several years: piano playing is like a meditation. Just like we keep our back straight and we breathe deeply when we meditate, just like we relax and try to focus only on our breath (or simply visualize the stillness of our mind) – the same, during our practice, we should try to become calmer, to control our mind and gestures better, to be mindful and to be more positive, being in the present moment, feeling and understanding as best as we can the music we’re playing.

      That’s why a correct posture is not only a way to increase our productivity and to feel good at the piano – it’s also a ‘meditation posture’, a ‘warrior of the light posture’ – it should combine self-control, simplicity, power, flexibility, calmness, wisdom, compassion, kindness and LOVE for the beautiful music we’re playing! (well, I’m out of metaphors, but the list can definitely go on!!! LOL).

      I know this is easy to say! :) But I strongly believe that by taking small baby steps each day, we can move mountains!

      Thank you for sharing with us Evgeny Kissin’s performance! Yes, he has a very good posture and a wonderful mastery of the art of sound and the art of phrasing. While watching the recording you mentioned, I also came across Yuja Wang’s interpretation of the same piece by Gluck – and I think the way she combines a good dignified posture with an amazing simplicity of expression and a perfect phrasing is truly inspiring! You can also check out Rachmaninoff’s performance of the same piece – you’ll find the same amazing, unbelievable horizontal phrasing! Wow!!! Fantastic performance!!! This is what I mean by horizontal thinking!

      And of course, there are always the exceptions when it comes to proper posture or, as you say – the Glen Goulds :). Here I can only say that this world is so beautiful because it’s so diverse and that everyone has something unique to contribute to the universal symphony we call life :).

      However, I’m especially inspired by pianists with a dignified, simple posture combined with an amazing depth of expression. Here is a picture of Rubinstein I came across yesterday:

      Despite his age, there is so much dignity, nobility, power and simplicity in his posture! And his gestures – just take a closer look how he plays that interval with the right hand! Super! A perfect ‘dome’ and a wonderful position of the wrist! ;) While the left hand is truly a wing of a bird flying freely!

      What can I say? I got really inspired by your comment and I ended up sharing some more thoughts and impressions about piano posture and not only!

      I wish you a wonderful week and lots of joy in everything you do, including in your practice! ;)
      Ilinca

  3. Kevin says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    I haven’t been playing piano for very long and I’ve noticed that my finger joint closest to the fingertip has a tendency to collapse and doesn’t retain that dome shape you spoke about in your posture video. My question is is this bad? If so why?

    Thank you in advance.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Kevin!

      Welcome to PianoCareer.com! ;)

      A correct piano posture is not a purpose in itself. It is simply the best way to make sure that our playing is enjoyable, productive and relaxed :).

      Having a collapsed finger joint (or collapsed knuckles) is not advisable. This kind of hand posture creates tension and stops the weight of your relaxed arm from reaching the fingertips and the keyboard. It also doesn’t allow you to create a wide range of dynamics and to feel stable – in playing more complicated pieces, you’ll always have the feeling that your fingers are ‘shaky’ and tensed, lacking power and confidence.

      (You can also read my article on a related subject: The Piano Posture and The Energy of the Sound).

      In the beginning, you may not notice all the negative ‘side-effects’ of a collapsed joint because the pieces you’re playing are not yet so complicated. However, if you keep playing with such a hand position, you’ll find it hard to improve your technical skills and the quality of your sound.

      For achieving new levels of piano mastery (a beautiful sound and a good finger velocity) we have to make sure that we are relaxed and there are no such ‘blockages’ in our arms and hands.

      When you practice, try to keep your fingers rounded and your knuckles in a dome shape. In time, your finger joints will become stronger, keeping this shape without any effort. You’ll also discover that this shape helps you to avoid tension, being extremely comfortable and ‘ergonomic’.

      I will say again that a correct posture is not a ‘must’. It’s simply a means to an end – the best shortcut towards an effective, tension-free piano practice!

      Good luck! ;)
      Ilinca

  4. Munam Goodwin says:

    Ilinca,

    Thank you so much, I read the Piano Phrasing guide from beginning to end. I have been having a love affair with the piano starting when I was 13, quit for the reasons that a kid would not want to sit on a piano bench for half an hour, which was an eternity. I took it up again as an adult, while waiting for my son while he took guitar lessons. I have been fortunate to have been taught by two talented women who have been schooled at the Juilliard. I am, of course, not talented, but I have the passion for music and theater. :) I love playing; will never be a concert pianist, and what I lack in God-given talent, I make up for it by my diligence and joy I find in learning and interpreting the lesson in the sound my piano gives back to me.

    Anyway, you were on point on some of us lose interest when our teachers “scare” us and I took a tutor to help me play chords and I would come home feeling like a total loser so I quit after 3 lessons because all I heard were criticisms from her. I decided to surf the web for tutorials and tips on how to play better.

    In doing so, I have abandoned the classical music and discovered the works of an American composer, David Nevue and his music and his arrangement have made me come back, with great passion to playing the piano again. One time, I was attending training and my classmate asked me if I play the piano because “Your posture looks like you do.” That was a great thing!

    I am loving the time when I am playing in the early morning, this being my meditation. I also like playing the piano late at night when all is quiet.

    And then lo and behold, I came across you on the Web as well. How great is that?

    I have watched your intoning video and have been painstakingly making myself aware of the Ilinca lessons: play from the shoulder, pivot the wrist and I am finding that pivoting with my wrist tenses my whole hand and then when I would do it, I second guess myself to make sure it was how it should be done. I will watch and rewatch your tutorial on intoning.

    Thank you for sharing your talent, skills and your holistic view on our shared passion for piano playing and music in general. I have always been a “closet” piano player because I always said I am bad at it. No longer. I am more confident in playing for a select group of friends and my family.

    And my cats love my music, one of them literally sit inside my piano (when I have the lid up) while I play. When he does not like it, he uses his head to push the music sheet off the reader:), when he does like it, he would just sit there, being my loyal listener.

    I will keep following your lessons! THANKS and HAVE A WONDERFUL day!

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Munam!

      Thank you so much for your appreciation – and for writing this inspired comment and sharing so many detailed from your piano journey! ;)

      By the way, you wrote that you are not talented. Please allow me to disagree!!!

      Talent is not a magical quality that we are born with. Talent = Passion + Perseverance + Dedication + Motivation + Knowledge + Lots of CORRECT PRACTICE!

      Good luck and have an amazing day! ;)
      Ilinca

      P.S. You can find hundreds of other detailed video and written tutorials on my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com :).

  5. Marco Rodriguez says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    My name is Marco a Father of a 13 year old pianist living in Boston and atending the New Engalnd Conservatory of Music, she studies with a very known pianio teacher in the US but although her music teachings are beautiful her technique is very much without any wrist movements pretty much like the harpsichord technique as you explained in your video. She has developed injuries in the thumb muscles and has not been playing for the past two months it has been very hard on her. Would you consider taking her as a student and I will bring her to you (moldova). Here I send you links of her playing a year ago when she was 12. I hope you can help me, my best regards.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGVl8OSY7w4

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkcEEJVbodg

    Marco Rodriguez

  6. David Dinger says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    It has been a while sense I have played the piano. When i was younger I took piano lessons but had only gone as far as to learn a few easier songs such as Fur Elise by Beethoven and have sense forgotten them. about four years ago i was in an accident and suffered a great injury to my left hand resulting in having my middle finger amputated. a have regained almost full motion back in my hand but with the lack of the finger I am putting more stress on my right hand to play and it is causing wrist pain as well as finger pain from reaching farther to make up the notes my left hand cannot hit.

    Is there any advice you could give that might help me?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi David!

      This is Simon, Ilinca Vartic’s assistant :).

      Ilinca would love to write an answer to your question – but every minute of her schedule is already fully booked. She dedicates her entire time to her Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com (where we currently have more than 200 members) – and unfortunately it’s physically impossible for her to offer free individualized guidance as well (by giving detailed replies to all the questions she receives on a daily basis). There are simply not enough hours in a day! :(

      So the only way Ilinca can help you in your piano quest is through her Piano Coaching Program – where you can find hundreds of piano playing tutorials that share the professional principles of the Russian piano school :). The tutorials are focused on an extremely wide range of piano topics:

      - posture and key attack (based on the professional whole-arm action),
      - sound and expression,
      - technique (including step-by-step Scale Tutorials),
      - teaching,
      - correct practice,
      - performance,
      - repertoire (including lots of downloadable scores, method books and other useful resources),
      - detailed practice recommendations for specific pieces,
      - step-by-step Lessons for Beginners,
      - health, motivation etc.

      In the meantime, you can read this article:

      How to Deal with Piano Practice Related Hand Injuries and Muscle Pain?

      Best wishes,

      Simon,
      PianoCareerAcademy.com

  7. Andy says:

    Hi Ilinca

    After 30 years of working in an office I have just returned to playing the piano for a living (I used to be play in bands and also cocktail work in hotels when I was in my mid twenties to early thirties but as a semi-professional).
    I am playing in a hotel for 3-4 hours with short breaks but I am getting backache even after 30 mins of playing.
    I have tried keeping my back straight, is there anything you can suggest that my help as I guess my back is used to having back support from an office chair!

    Kind Regards

    Andy

  8. angelica says:

    Hi Ilinca!???? THank’s again about your precius advice your ENglish is perfec as your way of teaching piano IWould like to see you CHopin’s N2COncert talk soon ANgelica

  9. PraveenMax says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    I am into keyboard. Does your techniques apply in this case?
    I have finally corrected my guitarist posture to proper piano posture by seeing your video.Thanks.

    -Praveenmax

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi PraveenMax!

      This is Natalia, Ilinca Vartic’s assistant at PianoCareerAcademy.com.

      Yes, the correct piano posture and ergonomic technical principles should be applied to digital pianos as well.

      For more information on this topic (choosing the best keyboard or digital piano for developing all your piano skills), please read Ilinca’s detailed answer to question No. 24 from our FAQs (http://www.pianocareeracademy.com/faqs/) at PianoCareerAcademy.com.


      Sincerely,
      Natalia
      Customer Support
      PianoCareerAcademy.com

  10. Reza says:

    Hello!
    What you think about Glenn Gould’s posture?!
    Is that OK to bend over the piano?.. will it cause the back-ache?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Reza!

      Glenn Gould’s posture is an exception to the rule, something that worked only for him – and we should never try to imitate it! Sitting so low, with the elbows below the level of the keyboard and a slouched back would have LOTS of negative consequences for our health (back pain and hand injuries are just the tip of the iceberg!), not to mention the technical and expressive limitations.

      Every pianist should begin his/her journey by learning the most comfortable, safe and ergonomic piano posture (the one that I describe in my video above). Then, as we acquire more experience and we become really knowledgeable about what works for us and what doesn’t, we can make (or not) little adjustments to this ‘default’ position: some people will sit a little lower than others; some will keep their arms wider and sit a bit farther (especially women with light arms) etc.

      Also, your piano posture should not be something you’re doing because your teacher (or I) said so – or something you’re trying to imitate (as for example Gould’s posture). Everything you do while playing should be based on knowledge and a proper understanding of how our body works, and what movements allow us the most technical and expressive freedom! ;)

      Cheers,
      Ilinca

  11. Samantha Atkins says:

    Hi,
    I notice that my little fingers which are shorter on my hands than for many people, tend to not want to stay rounded. Also on my non-dominate hand it is like my fingers are webbed together. If I hold down a note with my third finger and attempt to play other notes with other fingers it is very difficult fro me to do so without the fingers attempting to do the same thing as the one I intend to move. Will exercises possibly correct this or is it something I should learn to play around.

    I am a total beginner simply attempting to make sure I start right. Also I see some instructions for playing piano recommend against whole arm movements and focus more on finger type playing. Is this different style, different opinion or what?

    Thanks very much and thanks for these lessons. You communicate love of the piano and a holistic approach toward playing it very well.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Samantha!

      Thank you for your comment and your appreciation! :)

      Our 5th fingers (the pinkies) do not have to be too rounded (or even worse – curled). Because they are naturally shorter than the other fingers (and also weaker), the pinkies have to have an almost vertical position, being straighter than the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers. You will find detailed tutorials on this topic in the Members Area of my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com.

      It’s also entirely normal for our non-dominant hand to be less agile and obedient than the dominant one when we only start playing piano (you mentioned that you are a beginner). With patience and correct practice, the non-dominant hand will get stronger, and your coordination and dexterity will improve. You don’t need any special exercises to correct this problem (and you don’t have to play around it either) – you simply need to follow a progressive, comprehensive and harmonious Course that will develop all your skills correctly, one step at a time.

      The ‘finger-only’ playing is an old-school approach (being based on the harpsichord technique of the 17th and 18th centuries). This technique, which was very good for the light keys of the harpsichord, is not suitable for the modern piano (which has heavier keys), and it can lead to tension-related pain and injuries (not to mention the technical and expressive limitations). Unfortunately, this playing approach is still widely spread nowadays, being recommended by teachers who studied in this manner and are not familiar with whole-arm action yet (in other words, it still exists because of lack of knowledge, and because only very few people have access to Conservatory-level teaching). The results of this approach are quite sad – mechanical playing, tension, stiffness, poor expressive skills, speed walls and clumsiness – and also pain, injuries and a lot of frustration.

      In the Russian piano school, we use whole-arm action and weighted playing – which is the natural, ergonomic and pain-free way of playing piano. It consists of taking the force needed for depressing the keys from our back and from the natural weight of the arm (instead of overworking our fingers alone). Whole-arm action is based on the balance between arm/wrist relaxation and flexibility and hand/finger strength – and you can learn it from scratch by following the lessons of my Video Course for Beginners (available on PianoCareerAcademy.com).

      By following this Course, you will learn how to play piano correctly, in an enjoyable progressive manner, harmoniously developing ALL your technical/expressive/reading/aural/analytical/theoretical/practice/pedaling skills, according to theprofessional system used in the Russian piano school.

      Find out more about this Course (and about the functionality of PianoCareerAcademy) by reading our super-detailed FAQs.

      Please pay special attention to the following questions from the FAQs:
      No. 17: a detailed description of our Course for Beginners;
      No. 1-3: discover what PianoCareerAcademy is, how it works, what is included (and what is not included) in the membership.
      No. 4-6: learn more about our membership options (monthly and yearly) – and how they work.
      No. 19: a detailed description of the Scale & Arpeggio Course.

      Cheers,
      Ilinca

  12. nasreen says:

    Hello, that was a nice video !
    What I’m wandering about now is : Why does a pianist have to play sitting ? What is it he couldn’t do standing, if the keyboard was at his level – that is placed much higher. I know there would be a problem using the two pedals, but would it affect our arms, our fingers ?
    I’d be interested to know if someone has an answer to that ?
    Thanks Nasreen

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Nasreen!

      You will find a detailed answer to this question in the Members Area of my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com (one of our members asked me a very similar question a while ago, and I wrote an article on this topic).

      Shortly – if you play on a keyboard that has an adjustable stand, you can obviously stand up, but you have to make sure that your arms and elbows are in proper alignment with the keys (like I explain in the tutorial above). Otherwise, if the keyboard is too high or too low, there is the risk of tension, discomfort, technical limitations etc.

      On an acoustic piano, you can ONLY play sitting (because the height of the keys is not adjustable).

      Cheers,
      Ilinca

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