I want to tell you a little real story that inspired me to write this article: a few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a young pianist (a teenager) and his mother. I never heard him playing (he is not my student), so I don’t know how skilled or talented he is. During the conversation, his mother said something like this: “My son has to protect his hands, that’s why I never ask him to help me around the house or carry a heavy bag”. With the risk of spoiling the young man’s easy lifestyle, I told her that this is another piano myth and the reality is quite different.
Then I thought that there are indeed many pianists out there who honestly believe that their hands are made from delicate porcelain that could easily ‘break’ from a simple effort! This is entirely not true!
Of course, any person – musician or not – has to be reasonable about his health and the risks he’s taking. We have to know how to exercise correctly, we should be aware that when we lift something heavy we have to synchronize the maximum effort with the exhalation and keep our hands relaxed while carrying a bag.
In rest, everything is allowed in sound quantities! You can even practice martial arts if you want – a correct practice will have only positive effects on your arms and your self-confidence! Not to mention other things like cleaning the house or enjoying outdoor activities. What you should NOT do is make an excuse out of your piano practice that will justify your unconscious laziness!
Another stereotype is the common belief that playing piano is enough for keeping your hands strong, stretched and flexible. Somebody asked me these days: “Does piano practice exercise all the muscles in your arms?” The answer is simple: Of course not! Playing piano definitely has some benefits for your hands and fingers, but it is NOT a workout or a holistic health-improvement system.
You can’t have strong arms only by practicing piano. Let me be more specific: if you’re playing correctly, all the parts of your body used in piano playing – consisting of your back, shoulders, elbows, forearms and wrists – should be relaxed, ‘channeling’ their weight towards the fingers. That’s why the main muscles located in the upper and lower part of your arms are not supposed to be too active (and get tired – as in a real workout) during your piano practice.
Actually, I might say that the fingers are the only part of our body that gets strengthened during your practice. You probably noticed that all professional pianists have strong fingers with protuberant knuckles – the result of hyperactive finger joints.
So, if you want to have strong, flexible arms capable not only of brilliantly playing piano, but also performing many other various tasks, it’s time to let go of old stereotypes and myths. Your hands will surely not break if you use them for something else besides playing piano.
A pianist’s hands don’t need to be ‘protected’. Your shoulders, forearms, hands, wrists and fingers need to be constantly trained and strengthened. There are so many ways of doing this – just choose your favorite dynamic activity or combine several methods! Push-ups, stretching, or the more complex yoga and martial arts can do wonders with your back, shoulders and arms, strengthening them and making the piano practice much more productive!
So, no matter if you’re a man or a woman, stop playing the ‘fragile mademoiselle of the 19th century’ who’s afraid to lift an extra pound, worried that it might damage his/her pianistic hands! Learn how to be strong, stronger than the majority of people, and learn how to relax – this way you’ll never overwork your hands.
Take a deep breath, straighten your back and go outside! Start with simple exercises – a few push-ups, a few easy stretches, then gradually increase the complexity of this practice. You can also learn online many other exercises that will make your arms stronger, steadier and more flexible.
Also, don’t forget that the piano practice routine (even the correct one) may have a detrimental effect on your spine – after all, we spend HOURS every day in the same seated position. That’s why it’s so important to exercise not only your arms, but your whole body! In my next posts I’ll show you a couple of effective exercises for the back and arms that will help you get rid of the unpleasant side-effects of a long piano practice.
You probably noticed that we all have a certain comfort zone. It is created during childhood and, for the majority of people, it persists for the entire life. For most of us it means just what it says – comfort, familiar territory, warm and safe environment. However, you also probably noticed that all people who really accomplished something in their life did it by exploring and conquering new unknown territories – either we talk about business, sports, painting or piano playing.
Stay out of your comfort zone and always keep your mind open! Don’t be afraid to learn and apply new things into your practice – even if nobody did them before you ! Limiting beliefs and obsolete stereotypes are separating us from the complexity of this world, imprisoning us in a cage created by our own mind. So what if the mainstream piano pedagogy does not tell the students to practice yoga, to lift weights or to do push-ups? How can they know the positive effects of such activities if they never tried them?
To make a comparison, I’ll remind you of another real story, this time the one that changed the history of piano playing: Have you ever read about the reaction of the ‘academic circles’ to the revolutionary piano technique promoted by Chopin and Liszt ? Before them, the ‘correct playing’ meant using only the separate movement of your fingers, without involving the wrist or the weight of the entire arm. This technique was suitable for the harpsichord, but it was definitely not able to explore all the complexity of the new instrument – the hammerklavier (or, as we call it today – the piano). When Chopin and Liszt started to play in a different manner, by using their entire arms for a better control of the sound and a more powerful expression, the old professors started to criticize them, of course, proving to everyone how ‘incorrect’ their playing was. Can you imagine what could happen if everybody listened to the representatives of the old school? The piano could have remained until today an ‘unexplored territory’ with limited expressiveness and a narrow dynamic diapason.
That’s why I consider that today it’s time to take another step forward. Our modern lifestyle is too challenging and complex. How can we cope with the new realities by employing only yesterday’s solutions and recipes? How can we stay ‘in tune’ with the new millennium without changing our mindset and trying new things, new approaches?
If you enjoyed this piano tutorial, here are some other piano practice and learning topics you’ll like: