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

Ideally, pianists should not experience hand injuries as a result of their practice. If you’re practicing regularly and correctly, constantly relaxing your shoulders, elbows and wrists, you should never feel pain, tension or discomfort in your muscles or tendons.

However, I don’t think there is a professional pianist in this world who had not suffered from a certain hand injury at least once in his/her life. No matter how relaxed we play, sometimes the pianistic challenges are too high and so is our desire to overcome them. As a result, tension and stress accumulate not only in our mind, but in our hands as well. Carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis are just two of the many repetitive motion related injuries that pianists may experience during their musical career.

I am not a doctor and I will not overwhelm you with complicated medical terms that will explain scientifically all these conditions. I will just share with you a few simple insights – the result of more than 20 years of hard work – that will help you understand the causes, the symptoms and the prevention measures of practice-related hand injuries. I will also tell you what exactly you should do in order to effectively deal with a muscle strain or a hand injury.

First, let’s analyze together the most common causes of practice related injuries:

1. Tension. Relaxed, heavy arms with flexible elbows and wrists – this is the foundation of an efficient, healthy and enjoyable playing habit. Tension is not only a productivity killer and a sure way of destroying the beauty of your sound. If your arms are tensed when you practice, if your elbows and wrists are rigid and immobile, then you also risk developing a hand injury! Always, no matter what you play, make sure that your posture is correct and there is no tension in your body – especially in your wrists!

2. Irregular practice. I actually call this phenomenon the lazy student syndrome. For many months, most students practice from time to time, without having an organized work schedule. When the exams or the concerts approach, the panic begins. One or two weeks before performance, these students start practicing 5 to 10 hours per day in order to ‘recuperate’ the lost time. They are stressed, they are in a hurry and they ‘skip’ all the necessary practice steps: slow playing, gradual assimilation of the musical material, awareness of the message encoded in each piece, a deep understanding of the emotional structure of the music and its dramatic content.

Unfortunately, this ‘student syndrome’ has a detrimental effect not only on the quality of your playing, but also on your physical and psychological health. The unexpected tension affects your untrained overworked muscles and tendons, leading to pain and other unpleasant manifestations. The panic and the unavoidable psychological discomfort make things even worse, aggravating the symptoms and making it impossible for you to achieve a quality performance.

I personally know many good pianists who gave up on their musical career because of severe hand injuries caused by incorrect irregular practice.

Piano playing is not just art; it’s also a high-performance physical challenge. Think what would happen to the legs of a long-distance runner if he or she would not go to training every day?

3. Playing ‘only with your fingers’.  This is another almost fatal mistake that leads not only to bad performance, but also to muscle strain and tension. As we all know, the correct piano technique is based on the involvement of your entire arm – shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists and fingers. If you play by moving only the fingers, the rest of your arm will be tensed, which will lead to pain and discomfort, not to mention the hammering ‘percussion’ sound.

4. Incorrect posture. A correct piano posture harmonizes the anatomical particularities of the human body with the particularities of the instrument. If your posture is incorrect (slouching, raising your shoulders, positioning the elbows too close or too far from the body, straining your wrist or lowering your knuckles below the wrist level), then you’re dramatically increasing your chances of developing a hand injury.

5. Too much ‘enthusiasm’ in your finger stretching exercises. Did you hear or read about what happened to Robert Schumann? He was a brilliant pianist, but he was seeking perfection in his piano technique, so he invented a ‘device’ that helped him stretch his fingers. Maybe the idea itself was not so bad, but unfortunately Schumann exaggerated with these exercises and he developed an irreversible hand injury. After that, he could never perform in public his own virtuosity pieces, which started to be promoted by his talented wife, Clara Schumann.

Be careful when you do your finger stretching exercises! Your whole body should be relaxed and each stretch should be performed at exhalation – just like in yoga. This way you’ll avoid an accidental strain that could cause a more complicated trauma.

6. Psychological tension, stress and a negative attitude. Even if you practice regularly, even if your posture is correct and you play relaxed, by using the weight of your entire hand behind each note, you still risk getting a muscle pain if your attitude is incorrect. Our state of mind is the fundamental cause of all our problems. A negative attitude will amplify and worsen all our dysfunctions, while a positive one will accelerate the healing process of the most severe traumas.

Now let’s see which are the main symptoms of muscle strain and other ailments related to repetitive motion and constant stress.

  1. Hand pain and/or wrist pain
  2. Numbness and weakness in your fingers and arms
  3. Diffuse pain radiating towards the forearms
  4. Poor blood circulation and cold hands
  5. Sore shoulders and/or neck

If you feel any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it means that you have to take urgent measures in order to stop the destructive process before it makes even more damages. The good news is that even the most severe injuries manifest their first symptoms long before the condition becomes irreversible.

Now let’s see what exactly we should do in order to deal with a hand injury effectively.

1. Stop practicing for at least one or two days. Rest and relaxation are the best remedies for tired sore hands. Take your time even if it affects your school schedule, your exams and your concerts. After all, your health is much more important! If you’ll not protect your hands when the first symptoms appear, it will be much harder to heal your injury in the future.

2. Resume your practice routine gradually. After a few days of rest (in a severe case the break should be longer – weeks or even months), begin your practice with several easy exercises. Play slowly some scales or a piece from your repertoire by using the weight of your arm behind each note. Don’t play pp or ff; mf is your main dynamic for the time being. Monitor your wrist, your elbows and your shoulders – they should be relaxed and heavy. Don’t hurry to play fast, the more time you dedicate to this thorough detailed practice method, the better your hands will heal.

3. Practice regularly. It’s better and healthier to practice 1 hour per day EACH DAY than 5 hours per day twice or thrice a week. Regular practice will always keep your arms, your wrists, your hands and your fingers in good shape. When your muscles are trained and prepared for their daily work, it’s impossible to overwork them.

I’ve seen many pianists wearing hand or wrist bandages when they get a muscle strain. I don’t recommend such measures. A tight bandage will decrease the blood circulation, slowing down the healing process. The blood has powerful healing capacities, that’s why we have to allow it to circulate freely, bringing fresh energy where it’s required and washing away the toxins. However, you have to be careful not to expose your hands to a cold environment. Wear something warm and gloves (especially during the cold season).

And let’s not forget that prevention is better than any treatment. No matter how difficult your repertoire is and how little time you have at your disposal for learning it, try to avoid the causes of hand injuries mentioned above. Keep your hands and your mind relaxed while playing, try to enjoy the beauty of the music, to explore its mysteries and understand its message. Don’t play only with your fingers, use your arms like a bird is using its wings – this is the only way to ‘fly’ and conquer new peaks!

If you enjoyed this piano tutorial, here are some other piano learning and practice topics you’ll like:

The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture

How to Practice Piano Scales and Arpeggios – The Art Behind The Exercise

157 Responses to “How to Deal with Piano Practice Related Hand Injuries and Muscle Pain?”

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  1. Paúl R. says:

    Hi, Ilinca,
    I have been following your interesting musings for some time now.
    In one of your earlier blogs you wrote that you were trained by a Russian teacher, and above you said: “I don’t think there is a professional pianist in this world who had not suffered from a certain hand injury at least once in his/her life.”
    I am curious to learn how much have Russian pianists been affected by the playing-related disorders. What you said sounds like they are no exception. Would you be able to share anything about that?
    Cheers

    • Chris says:

      Two of the most prominent figures associated with the “Russian school” of piano-playing, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, both apparently suffered from piano-related hand injuries (you can read anywhere about the former, this site claims the latter: http://www.pianomap.com/quality.html).

      • Ilinca says:

        Hi Chris!

        How about Richter? Gilels? Horowitz? Heinrich and Stanislav Neuhaus? Valentina Lisitsa? and the list can go on! 😉

        There is no such thing as an ‘ideal piano school’.

        The Russian piano school is a very complex system. It is focused on developing simultaneously and harmoniously all the musical skills of a future pianist – hearing and imagination, feeling and expression, rational understanding and in-depth theoretical knowledge, sense of rhythm, brilliant technical abilities and so on. Its recommendations are always focused on meaning, artistic concept, freedom of expression, relaxation, whole-arm action and comfort.

        These are the ‘official’ principles. How we apply them depends entirely on us – because every pianist is different!

        To every rule there is an exception. This doesn’t make the rule less useful – or the ergonomic playing principles of the Russian piano school less efficient! 😉

        By the way, which piano school do you prefer? Could you share with us your main ideas about how (approximately) a pianist should play for avoiding hand injuries?

        Thanks and have a wonderful day!
        Ilinca

        • Elena Nezhdanova says:

          I love that you always speak of a positive attitude while playing the piano. Growing up I was not taught proper piano technique that worked for me(even though I was brought up in a Russian system) and being constantly picked on at school and having a low self esteem as a player, I remember often approaching the instrument with a sad face. If I only knew what I know now back then, my life would be so much different haha.
          The sad part of all this is that the negative attitude and frustration we apply to daily practicing will gradually grow into habits and it won’t be long until we get injured due to tension caused by all this mental stress.
          I feel like more teachers (including the Russian ones) need to watch your videos and figure out different, more healthy approach to teaching!

          Thanks again!

          • Ilinca says:

            Hi Elena!

            Thank you for your comment! 😉

            You’re absolutely right – in the Russian piano school most teachers have no idea about the benefits of a relaxed, positive attitude! They teach us how to play, but they never mention how destructive stress is, how to handle performance anxiety, how to protect our health (including our arms and spine!) from practice and stress related injuries, and so on.

            Even if I had wonderful piano teachers who taught me many fantastic expressive & technical secrets, I was still struggling with the problems you mentioned in your comment: enormous stress, exhaustion from too much practice, frustration, lack of confidence – and the list can go on!

            This is the main reason why I created my holistic approach to piano playing: I wanted to combine the professional principles of the Russian piano school (which ARE awesome!) with a different approach that will enable us to be healthier, happier, more relaxed, more positive, more fulfilled – and to enjoy our practice more, of course! 😉

            I’m really happy that you enjoy my ‘new perspective on piano playing’ and the tutorials that I share here! 🙂

            Warmest,
            Ilinca

  2. Ilinca says:

    Hi Paul!

    Thank you for your comment!

    As I wrote before, the piano school from my country is mainly based on the principles of the Russian piano traditions. The teaching methods of this school are especially complex, combining on a high level expression and technique, phrasing and flexibility, hearing and imagination – to mention just a few aspects.

    But no matter how wise and efficient a certain piano school is, people are still people and they often make mistakes. Teachers may forget to remind their students about the importance of a correct posture, about relaxation and piano-related health issues. Students, overwhelmed by the difficulty of the repertoire, can overwork their hands by practicing too much or by practicing irregularly. Most of them, however, experience hand injuries because of stress and extenuating psychological tension.

    I could also mention the case of the famous Russian pianist and composer Alexander Scriabin, whose right hand got injured as a result of his ferocious practice.

    However, there is a big difference between minor muscle pain – which can happen to most of us at least once when we practice incorrectly – and severe hand injuries that force a person to abandon their musical career. The first is a warning symptom – ‘beware, you’re doing something wrong!’ – and is absolutely reversible. The second, being a chronic degeneration of the first (‘you’re doing something wrong for a very long period’), can be regarded as a severe dysfunction that in some cases may be hard or impossible to treat.

    As a conclusion, I could say that even if you’re applying in your practice the most progressive principles of a certain piano school, you’re still risking to develop a hand injury or muscle strain if you’re not following the basic rules of balance and common sense: psychological and physical relaxation, regular practice and, of course, knowledge of your individual work potential.

  3. Paúl R. says:

    Thank you for responding, Ilinca.
    I agree with many things you said, but I am certain that there’s one more, deeper and more direct, reason for pianist’s disorders, something inside the physical act of playing that has been causing 9 out of each 10 piano hopefuls to experience playing-related pain in the first years of learning (2009 research), even though they’ve been constantly reminded of good posture, good hand position, need for relaxation, taking mini-breaks, etc.
    Anyway, what I asked was if you knew of the rate/cases of playing-related disorders among Russian students and pianists.

  4. Ilinca says:

    Thank you for your interesting ideas! Now I am very curious about this other physical cause of hand injuries that you mentioned! Can you tell me what exactly do you mean?

    About rate/cases of playing-related disorders among Russian pianists: I am unaware of exact numbers and statistics. As a performing pianist and a piano teacher, I have the chance to observe directly and correct different playing-related injuries and disorders that young pianists experience. In our country (Moldova) the rate of hand injures is much lower that the one that you mentioned (9 out of 10 beginners). Usually here (and in Russia as well) muscle pain and other disorders occur first of all as a result of irregular, incorrect and stressful practice (as I wrote in my article).

    If the beginner has a professional teacher who will show him/her from the first lesson the correct posture and hand position, will teach him how to ‘breathe’ with the wrist, how to manage his performance anxiety and practice regularly, then he has practically no chances of developing an injury :).

    This is what usually happens in my country. However, I will say again that people are different – teachers and students are all unique and sometimes not only their achievements are individual, but also their mistakes.

    Are you a performing pianist? Could you share your own experience related to this subject?

    Thanks!

  5. Paúl R. says:

    Hello, Illinca, Thank you for responding.
    > about this other physical cause of hand injuries…
    It needs quite a space to explain it well, so I will only say that I see a number of, thus far, unrealized and, because of that, unexamined reasons and causes for tension in playing (e.g. arm suspension). I see how they became incorporated into playing, long time ago, and today we see them as ‘natural,’ even axiomatic, part of this act. And they became cemented in mainstream pedagogy with (what’s practiced in most of the world as) “good hand position” – in the sense of even, straight, unmoving wrist and ‘economized’ motion. The whole act of hand-use in playing is founded on these tensions, so it’s only a matter of time for one’s discomfort to turn into pain and a disorder. Hence these appalling incidence rates.
    You mentioned ‘breathing’ with the wrist and that’s what I see as essential factor; the question is if it’s possible to teach it (and I know pianists who talk a lot about having a ‘breathing’ wrist who do not have it at all; I mention that to show the existing, serious differences in comprehension of these matters).

    As for myself, I am a teacher and occasional performer interested in researching the physical aspects of playing.
    Cheers!

  6. Ilinca says:

    Hello Paul!

    Thank you for your reply! I agree with you 100% – many pianists make unconsciously the mistake of playing with unmoving wrists and arms, especially when their teachers forget (or are unaware of) the dangers involved. I usually ‘attach’ this mistake to the second category from my post – ‘playing only with your fingers’.

    It’s sad that this mistake is still a reality. Almost two centuries passed since Liszt and Chopin ‘revolutionized’ the piano posture and technique, proving that it’s impossible to fully explore all the potential of the new hammerklavier by using only the movement of the fingers and holding the arms and wrists in an immobile position. It seems that today there are many people who don’t want to let go of the old limited harpsichord technique :).

    ‘Breathing’ with your wrists is essential. I had the luck of learning this technique from childhood (thanks to my teachers), and I teach it to my students from their first lesson. I’ve discovered that it’s much easier to teach a beginner to ‘breathe’ with his/her wrist than to correct the habits of a professional pianist. As the eastern sages say – ‘how can you pour fresh water in a full glass?’

    Thank you for your insights!

  7. Paúl R. says:

    OK Ilinca, here comes the heavy stuff..:).
    Basically, I agree with everything you said, only that … after several years of research, I look at it from a totally opposite perspective.
    The way I see it is that MOST (the definite majority) teaches and plays with unmoving wrists and arms. And it’s not because “their teachers forget … the dangers involved”, but because [1] it always seemed to them to be easier to teach that way; [2] most teachers have definitely been unable to see/perceive the dangers involved.
    In other words, what you described as hasn’t really happened. (Yes, many young teacher heard that line from their teachers, but, to put it bluntly, this words are just “wishful thinking,” aren’t true). Even in today’s world, *definite majority* of students are being taught to keep their wrists unmoving (and to adhere to the “economization of movement” principle – which brings the same and even more of the same).
    And, being the definite majority, they can’t be suspected of “occasional” of the sad outcome of their teaching, can’t they?
    In other words, it’s not that “there are many people who don’t want to let go of the old limited harpsichord technique,” but it’s that the *definite majority* of teachers still teaches this technique, and has been specifically instructed to do so – by the *mainstream piano pedagogy*.
    And what say you to that?

  8. Ilinca says:

    This is all very strange and makes me think that by ‘piano students’ you mean all the people who are studying how to play a little piano (for one purpose or another), not only those who plan to become professionals.

    In my country we have two levels of musical teaching:
    1. The musical schools – where children and young people can go on their free time and learn the basics of music theory and a little bit of instrumental performance. I agree that in this kind of elementary schools some teachers may be totally unaware of all the aspects of a true piano mastery (or they don’t want to complicate their lives by giving professional advice to people who only want to learn how to play a pop song, for example). But I consider this a mistake. Even if a person wants to learn only the basics of piano playing, he/she should be still given the elementary knowledge about a correct posture. Unfortunately, the reality is far from our ‘wishful thinking’, as you say.

    2. The professional musical lyceums and the Music Academy. Here the situation is totally different. We have 2 professional musical lyceums in our country. Children come to these institutions at the age of 6 with the purpose of becoming professional musicians. The instrument (piano, violin, cello, wind or percussion instruments) is their main class, and they also study here all the other necessary subjects: grammar and literature, natural sciences, math, as well as all the subjects on musical theory: solfeggio, harmony, history of music, polyphony etc. After 12 years of lyceum they go to the musical Academy where they study 4 years and then they can do 2 more years of master.

    The professional field is totally different from the ‘amateur’ one. During my 23 years of experience I saw many ‘amateurs’ playing with unmoving hands and wrists, but I can’t remember seeing a professional piano student making such a severe mistake. Those who make such mistakes (due to their laziness or their teacher’s carelessness) can’t survive the tough competition and quit their musical career before graduating the lyceum.

    But I agree with you in one aspect: everybody (professional or not) deserves to learn how to play piano correctly, even if they only want to learn how to play ‘My heart will go on’ :).

    Maybe in your country (I will not reveal it to the readers without your approval) things are different. I know that in Western Europe and America the musical education works differently than in the post-soviet space – which leads to different problems and challenges. Maybe that’s why you say that the ‘mainstream piano pedagogy’ still teaches the ‘economization of movement’ principle. To be honest, it’s the first time I hear that somebody can teach on purpose (on a professional level!) such an obsolete harmful technique.

    Thank you for your opinion and for the new information. It inspires me to write in the near future a post about the ‘wrist breathing’ technique and its importance (and maybe also record a video tutorial). Even if it’s hard (for many reasons) to implement the correct playing technique in all the little provincial schools, the internet has a bigger power of making a difference for those who really need it :).

  9. Paúl R. says:

    Hi again, Ilinca,
    Right down to business 🙂
    > makes me think that by ‘piano students’ you mean all the people who are studying how to play a little piano …
    Actually, the differences between approaches are considerable. I guess, it will be up to you to seek and notice them yourself.

    > some teachers may be totally unaware … or they don’t want to complicate their lives by giving professional advice… I consider this a mistake.
    On that, I agree with you totally.

    > … playing with unmoving hands and wrists… I can’t remember seeing a professional piano student making such a severe mistake.
    I would naturally agree that one needs to (even must) keep the wrists moving in order to perform the more advanced repertoire; and so everyone tries to do that, and so comes your observation. The not-so-obvious thing is that most of these pianists *learn* to play with wrist unmoving.
    Since you said that in your country every serious hopeful learns to play with the wrists moving, let me ask you this: would you believe that someone who learned to play with stiff/unmoving wrist could *later* acquire the same freedom in there (and acquire it by mainly-verbal instruction, cause that’s how it happens)?
    If you want, you could explore the element called “rotation”; could be a huge eye-opener on the differences in teaching!

    > It inspires me to write in the near future a post about the ‘wrist breathing’ technique…
    The first post of yours I read was about freedom in hand-moving, and I thought: “Ilinca needs a reality check!” Many people are reading your post, thinking: “oh, yes, I know what she’s talking about” whereas, in fact, they will be playing with what to you would be *unmoving (or not-sufficiently-moving – which would be the same thing)* wrists – and exactly as they were taught.
    By the way, part of this not-the-best teaching I described includes taking care of “correct posture”, and, since you are also using this term, it helps all these readers believe that you talk about the same things that they learned 🙂

    I am writing from Canada, and I have been teaching piano students from all over the world.
    Cheers!

  10. Ilinca says:

    Hi Paul!

    Here are my opinions regarding your questions: 🙂

    “would you believe that someone who learned to play with stiff/unmoving wrist could *later* acquire the same freedom in there (and acquire it by mainly-verbal instruction, cause that’s how it happens)?”

    It’s extremely hard to learn to play correctly if the posture and the wrist technique are already damaged from detrimental teaching. However, it’s not impossible. It requires lots of patience and dedication, not to mention the time period – it could take up to 1 or 2 years. I’m not imagining these numbers – I’ve seen in my experience such successful ‘posture change’ cases. Of course, for a better result, the instruction has to be direct – meaning the teacher has to have a contact with the student – show him how to play, rearrange his hand when necessary and so on. If the instruction is mainly verbal and visual (as in case of internet teaching) – the goal is harder to achieve, but still not impossible. In the end, it all depends on the determination of the student. If he doesn’t give up because of the first frustrations and challenges, than he has a real big chance of success.

    That’s why I’m planning to record a series of video lessons in the near future – it won’t be the same as having your teacher next to you, but it will still be much better than plain text.

    Regarding the misunderstanding about the freedom of performance and the breathing wrist, I just answered your question above. In order to avoid such misunderstandings, I plan to record on video the technique so pianists could see for themselves what the ‘moving wrist’ looks like – what is correct and what is detrimental.

    On the long run, this is the purpose of this site – even if it’s very hard and challenging – to provide professional advice to everyone interested – professional or not, and to change (as much as possible) the old perspective on piano playing.

    As you say, the reality is often sad and there are many problems. But instead of complaining about all these difficulties, we should try to change things – little step by little step :).

  11. Richard says:

    Hi Ilinca and Paul,

    First, sorry my bad english. This is not my primary language.

    I read your post with very interesting. I’m writing not how a professional or teacher people like you, but I’m exactly in the other side of room. I’m a beginer piano student and I’m here like a case of study. 🙂

    For some time I’m looking for information about posture during the study period. That’s because I have felling some pain fingers during the study period and a great discomfort in the shoulders and arms. At first believed was natural and possibly caused by the short time that had began their studies. Though the time and went beyond the problem persists, I’m having problems when accomplishment arpeggios or phrase which has long ranges. The muscle simply does not respond to the brain.

    Unfortunately I have not achieved with my teachers a solution, because I believe that there is no preparation or maybe they do not give much importance to discuss and work on the posture of the student.

    In this phrase (on the Ilinca post) “…If the beginner has a professional teacher who will show him/her from the first lesson the correct posture and hand position, will teach him how to ‘breathe’ with the wrist, how to manage his performance anxiety and practice regularly, then he has practically no chances of developing an injury…”, I agree in 100%. But I add this is not for first lesson only, but this should be during all the learning process.

    Well… finally, do you know a good literature who talk about of posture and other things for help the perform of the student?

  12. Ilinca says:

    Hello Richard!

    Thank you for your comment!

    First of all, let me recommend you Heinrich Neuhaus’s book “The Art of piano Playing” – it’s a ‘must read’ for every pianist! You’ll find many useful insights there that will help you a lot!

    Regarding the problem that you’re experiencing – I’m sure that you feel pain and discomfort in your arms and shoulders (especially when playing arpeggios and long phrases) because you are tensed when you play. You are right – it is not natural – it is a result of incorrect practice!

    In order to improve and correct your practice, try to follow the advices from my post. Learn how to play – ALWAYS – with relaxed hands and wrists. Feel the weight of your entire hand behind each note – don’t keep your hands tensed, fixed, ‘suspended in the air’ – allow them to ‘dive’ in the depth of the keyboard, let them have a support point – the pressed keys. You wrist should never be ‘immobile’ – it should always be in a continual flowing movement – imagine the softness and flexibility of a cat’s paw! This comparison is usually very useful for my students! 🙂

    Practice arpeggios and complicated passages slowly at first – so you’ll have time to analyze your each movement and you’ll be able to control your hands, not allowing them to get tensed. Don’t let your fingers get ahead of your brain. Never play mechanically!

    You can also read my post The piano sound and the technical trap – I’m describing some of these things there as well.

    I also plan to record some videos in the future where I’ll explain step-by-step which are the elements of a correct posture and a relaxed practice.

    Good luck in your piano practice and I hope to hear from you soon!
    Ilinca

  13. Ilinca,
    Playing 28 hours a week in a restaurant in Savannah for about three years has improved my skill to the point I began feeling pain in a few knuckles of my right hand. Treating them with hot bion packs (a bag of sea sand boiled and frozen a few times begins releasing bions) helped a lot and also readjusting my technique on the black keys as well as keeping sets to forty five on, fifteen off.
    if you ever come to Saavannah, stop in Vic’s On The River,
    James

  14. Ilinca says:

    Hi James!

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

    The use of bionic packs in the treatment of hand injuries seems interesting and original to me! Natural remedies should always be given priority – after all, they usually don’t have any negative side-effects.

    However, after dealing with the pain and returning to your usual practice, make sure the injury does not return by avoiding the things that caused it in the first place!

    Good luck and all the best!
    Ilinca

  15. Elexis says:

    Hi Ilinca!
    1st I want to apologize for my English because is not my primary language. Anyway I’m a Chinese n I’m in my teen years,so Im not a professional or studying in music school.I’m going to sit for my piano exam soon but to maintain my grades in school,I always practice irregularly.which Is something like 2-3hours twice a week.I found that my left pinky very painful after stretching some chords or even playing fast tremolos.somehow the pain will radiate from the pinky to my elbow muscle den the whole left arm,making me have to stop playing my piece because unable to resist the pain.I been seeking advices from various teachers but didn’t get much help, but one of them found that if I stretch my left pinky,it will automatically straighten the whole finger,which produce a massive pain if I play too much octaves n beyond.the left pinky would not curve back unless I stop playing.Im in a worry now as the exam draws nearer n I can’t continue all my pieces fluently.I hope u don’t mind helping a normal student like me.

    Sincerely,
    Elexis

  16. Ilinca says:

    Hello Elexis!

    Thank you for your question!

    As I wrote in my article, irregular practice usually results in pain. It’s better to play 1 hour every day than 2-3 hours twice a week. If you don’t have one hour, you can play for 30-45 minutes per day – it’s still better than not playing at all.

    Regular practice is good. However, it should always be combined with CORRECT practice. Without seeing how you play, I cannot determine if you have a correct, relaxed posture or not. If you are playing with a tensed left hand and a tensed pinkie, then this is the cause of your pain. Straightening the pinkie is ok – tensing it is not!!!

    Then, it’s also important to choose appropriate pieces. For example, if you have small hands, it’s not advisable to play pieces with many octaves and chords that require lots of finger stretching!!! You have to progress gradually!

    When you play these ‘uncomfortable’ fragments, make sure your wrist, your elbow and your shoulder are totally relaxed! Relaxation of your entire arm is the most important principle in piano playing!!!

    One more thing: if your hands are small, it’s impossible to play octaves without straightening your fifth fingers (the pinkies). So the straightening itself cannot be the cause of your pain. But if you’re doing it in an incorrect, tensed way, then you’ve found your cause! Play the complicated passages slowly, with awareness! In playing each octave or chord, make sure that your wrist is totally relaxed! And in the future choose (or ask your teacher to choose) pieces that are more appropriate for your level.

    One more thing – tremollo (especially in octaves) is also not suitable for beginners, because it makes your wrists stiff and tensed! Choose your repertoire wisely!

    If you have time, read my article about Hand Injuries again and try to follow, step by step, all the advices you find there.

    If you have more questions, feel free to ask!

    Good luck!
    Ilinca

  17. Elexis says:

    Thanks…I should be more aware when choosing my pieces when I start playing but I know It too late to change any of them now. About the left pinky, we have two joints on the finger.For some reason, while stretching it(even not playing anything), the lower joint will automatically straighten n become stiff , leaving only the upper joint bend down(the finger nails part) n I cnt bend the lower joint. If I did a ‘tak’ sound will be made between de joints n of course doing it I have to stop playing.last year I did met a pianist, I think u know him (Nicholas Ong)..I did ask him for advices but I need more from other experienced pianists like you.Did any of your students encounter this?

  18. Ilinca says:

    Your situation is quite unusual! I’m curious: did you ever have a trauma of the left pinky? Maybe something that affected the lower joint? I begin to think that your problem is not only piano-related…

    I often correct the finger position of my students (many of them like to play with stretched, immobile fingers). However, these problems appear only as a result of incorrect and irregular practice. After explaining the correct principles of finger positioning to the student, he or she starts gradually correcting the problem. Generally, there are no physical impediments (like in your case) – only negative habits.

    That’s why it’s hard for me to correctly assess your problem without seeing you play. Maybe you should consult a doctor (not only a pianist) and see if your finger joint is not dislocated?

    Best wishes,
    Ilinca

  19. Elexis says:

    Sorry for the late reply. Well, i did a lot of practice on my left hand.The pinky still occur the same problem but recently I didn’t take much notice of it because after those practice it kinda “listen” to me now. You might want to know what song I’m playing which this problem occurred, is the Sonate Pathetique by Beethoven. Just to let you know I’m sitting my ATCL exam this Thursday(30th) & I am so nervous. Anyway, I have another problem which is hand freezing. For some reason I can’t play in too cold atmosphere. My hand are like cramping & I can’t feel my fingers or even control my strength on each note properly like I used to. Any suggestions to avoid this?

  20. Ilinca says:

    Hello Elexis!

    First of all, I want to wish you good luck on tomorrow’s exam!

    Beethoven’s Sonata Nr. 8 op. 13 (Pathetique) is a real challenge, and not only technically. I imagine that your left pinkie problem may be connected to the octaves in the left hand in the beginning of Allegro – maybe you were playing those measures with a tensed hand? Anyway, I’m glad that in the meantime you noticed some improvements as a result of your practice.

    The freezing hands is a problem that is affecting most pianists. Actually, your question gave me the idea to develop this important topic in a future article. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to get rid of ‘cold hands’ permanently in a day or two.

    Why does this happen? There are several reasons. The most important ones are psychological tension (anxiety before the exam) which in turn causes energy blocks; and low blood circulation (which affects people for various reasons, being mostly a consequence of a static lifestyle).

    There are many ways of dealing with this problem: from relaxing meditation that will remove all the unconscious tension from your muscles and blood vessels, allowing blood and energy to circulate freely; to contrast showers and regular exercising. Personally, I use these methods for several years with significant progress :).

    In my future article on hand freezing I will write more about dealing with this annoying problem, also describing several effective exercises.

    As an emergency solution, during my studying years (back then I didn’t practice various holistic trainings) I used to put my hands alternatively in cold and hot (but not too hot!!!) water – it is a good exercise for the blood capillaries. I also used to wear gloves and keep my hands warm, but I discovered afterward that these temporary measures cannot solve the problem itself – they only remove the symptoms for a while.

    For solving the problem, we need to improve our lifestyle and become healthier, and this is a process that requires time, patience and dedication (more details in my future article!).

    Good luck!
    Ilinca

  21. Helen says:

    Hi, Ilinca,

    First off, I want to thank you for writing this article, and for creating this website. I was absolutely delighted when I found both!

    I found this article after feeling discomfort in my hands after playing piano and decided to search it up on the web. I took your advice and stopped playing the piano for a few days, and then started to play a simpler piece with less octaves–my hands can be considered smaller than most. I noticed that after starting to play again, my hands felt much better, but my wrist still had some discomfort.

    I know, after some reading from your website, that one’s wrist should “breath” when playing. I also read from your article that one’s knuckles should be above one’s wrists. I was wondering, when breathing, should/can one’s wrist rise above the knuckles, or would that be incorrect posture as well?

    Thank you, I look forward to any comments or videos you may post. And thank you for your time. 🙂

    -Helen

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Helen!

      Thank you for your comment and your appreciation! I’m glad that your hands feel better after applying my advice! 🙂

      You still feel some discomfort in your wrists because they are not totally relaxed (and you’re probably still feeling the consequences of the past tension and – maybe – of the other causes I’m mentioning in my article). Playing with tensed, immobile wrists (or tensing them during difficult passages, large intervals or fast tempos) is a negative practice habit: besides causing us hand injuries and pain, it also affects the quality of our sound, which becomes brutal, lacking depth and expressiveness.

      The flexibility of our relaxed wrist is one of the most important technical ‘secrets’ of piano playing. Metaphorically, this relaxed mobility is called ‘breathing’ – because the effects it has on the quality of our sound, on our technique and our overall well-being while performing are indeed equivalent to the benefits of deep breathing :).

      Every time we relax our wrist, it’s like we’re taking a deep breath – all the tension from our mind and our arms goes away. When there’s no tension, there’s no pain – it’s as simple as that!

      I just took some pictures to illustrate the answer to your second question – about either we should rise our wrist above the knuckles or not.

      This is the correct piano playing hand position:
      Correct Hand Position

      When I say that we should not rise the wrist above the knuckles, here is what I mean – this is an incorrect position:
      Incorrect hand position - the wrist is above the 'flattened' knuckles

      When the ‘dome’ of the hand is ‘collapsed inward’ or ‘flattened’, tension appears inevitably. We can raise the wrist above the knuckles only when our hand is rounded and there is no tension, like in this picture:
      Correct hand position - the wrist is above the knuckles

      Another case when we have to raise the wrist above the knuckles is when we lift our hand from the keyboard – or when we breathe – during rests or while playing portamento. In such cases, the flexible wrist goes up first, followed by the relaxed weight of the entire hand:
      Correct wrist relaxation

      So – yes, when breathing (either we lift the hand from the keyboard or keep in on the keys during legato), our wrist should definitely rise above the knuckles – with the condition that the knuckles are relaxed and the hand forms a rounded ‘dome’!

      One more tip: when playing octaves, follow the same principle and make sure that your knuckles do not ‘collapse’. I have small hands as well, but my teachers always insisted I keep the ‘dome’ even when playing large intervals. This way, pain-causing tension is avoided and the wrist is free to be flexible all the time, no matter what you play!

      Incorrect hand position while playing octaves:
      Playing octaves - incorrect position

      Correct hand position while playing octaves:
      Playing octaves - correct hand position

      I hope this helps! 😉
      Ilinca

  22. Joanne says:

    omg, i had all the symptoms for stressed and tired hands but i cant possibly rest for at least a day 🙁 my exam is in 2 hours and my hands are still sore… oh no..pray for me guys.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Joanne!

      Thanks for your comment! I hope your exam goes well!

      After that, you’ll definitely need to rest for at least 2-3 days and then resume your practice slowly, with relaxed arms and wrists!

      Try to follow the advice from my article and soon your hands will feel much better!

      If you have questions about your hand discomfort and your practice, don’t hesitate to ask! Also, check our my questions and answers page: Ask Me a Piano Question!

      Good luck! 😉
      Ilinca

  23. Ruby says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    I had injury due to an accident three years ago which caused a hairline fracture at the base of my right hand, where it meets the wrist. Although, the fracture itself has healed, there’s an extra bone fragment which causes me pain when I use my hand too much. Doctors don’t understand exactly how terrible it is because most of them think only the fingers are used in piano playing. Surgery is an option but I risk damaging some nerves which would then render me incapable of playing altogether. Inspite of the injury, I managed to give the DipLCM and the Associate of London College of Music exams in the past two years. However, the pain has just made me lose hope and I am extremely frustrated when I try to play and I haven’t touched the piano in six months. I spend my time teaching but I’m dying to play myself! Is there anything that you can tell me which would perhaps help me a bit? Perhaps if you’ve heard of other pianists with similar injuries and how they’ve dealt with them? I’d really appreciate it!
    Thanks 🙂

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Ruby!

      Thank you for your question and welcome to PianoCareer.com! 😉

      I’m sorry to hear about your injury! The wrist is the most important part of our arms when it comes to piano playing – and sadly, the doctors treating you do not seem to know that pianists play with their entire arms (including the wrists), and not only with their fingers.

      Of course, I’m not qualified to give you medical advice and I can’t know how dangerous and painful that bone fragment in your wrist is. On the other hand, I know one thing: the healing powers of our body are limitless! They are much more powerful than what the modern medicine believes!

      You asked me if I heard about pianists with similar injuries. As a matter of fact, I did! My second piano teacher is about 85 years old now. When she was very young, the world war II began. She was already a good pianist by that time (she was about 16) and their family had to be evacuated because of the bombings. When climbing on the platform of the train which was supposed to take them out of the city, she felt a sharp pain in her right wrist: it was a stray bullet! She, along with her parents, had to go back to the city and find a doctor who treated her wound. Then they left the city with another train and they spent several years in exile.

      My teacher was very passionate about piano playing. The doctors told her that she will never be able to play again – after all, she had a hole in her wrist! It was healing, of course, but the damage to the bones, nerves and ligaments was too severe. Even now, she has an ugly scar from that bullet wound!

      What do you think my teacher did? She never gave up – she simply loved piano too much! She stopped playing for about a year – until the pain diminished and the injury healed (at least on the outside). In the meantime, she was practicing only with her left hand (on the window sill – she didn’t have a piano in exile) – she told me that she was studying at the time Chopin’s Concert in e-minor :).

      Then, she started to bring her wounded wrist back to life. At first, she couldn’t play more than a few notes per day. The fingers were not listening to her and it was a very frustrating experience. However, she made little steps day by day in her recovery and in several years she felt that she could play as good as before the war :).

      When the war was over, she began a brilliant career as a piano soloist and teacher. Now, regardless of her age, she’s still teaching and being an inspiration for us all. She’s an amazing woman – brave, determined and strong!

      Her recovery proves that everything is possible! I will say again that I don’t have the right of giving you medical advice, but, as a pianist, I will give you several suggestions (which will hopefully help you):

      1. Resume your practice gradually. Our body has an amazing power to adapt. Play only a few notes with the right hand the first day! Slowly increase the practice time, but take only very small steps, allowing your wrist to adapt to your ‘commands’. In time, the structure of your wrist will change because it will have to adapt to your daily practice! Small side-note: did you ever notice that everyone who uses the computer mouse on a daily basis has a bigger bone where the wrist touches the table? Our activities inevitably change the structure of our body! Activities which are performed incorrectly can cause injuries, while activities which are performed in a correct, mindful and relaxed manner can even heal injuries!

      2. ALWAYS keep your wrist relaxed. When playing, you have to feel that all the weight of your relaxed arm goes into the fingertips, without affecting the wrist. The wrist is simply channeling this weight, being free, flexible and relaxed all the time. Generally, pain comes from tension. Your case is an exception, of course, but I’m sure that tension amplifies your pain. Correct relaxation, on the other hand, will diminish it!

      3. Start with easy pieces. Don’t start with Chopin’s Concert in e-minor :). My teacher played it only with the left hand during her recovery, while for the right hand she used easy exercises that gradually restored the functionality of her wrist. Take some pieces for beginners and play them in a very relaxed manner, paying attention on how your wrist ‘behaves’. Notice when the pain intensifies, and immediately relax your wrist. Don’t ‘tolerate’ sharp pain and don’t torture yourself! Stop playing when the pain begins to bother you or at least switch to an easier piece – and play it slowly!

      4. Be patient and determined. You may not feel any progress during the first days/weeks. Do not get discouraged! If you are insistent and careful at the same time, you’ll ‘teach’ your wrist that it has to heal – that it simply has no other choice!

      5. Our thoughts always materialize. Always have a positive attitude and believe that your wrist will get better! Each day, visualize your goal and ‘see’ how your wrist is healing, how that bone fragment finds its place and how your wrist is healthy and flexible again. Each time you practice, keep this goal before your eyes. It may take some time (maybe even a few years), but I’m certain that your injury will heal 100% and you’ll be able to play as well as before your accident – and even better!

      With correct training, our body can gradually change its structure. The same can be said about healing an injury. Did you know that every couple of years all the cells in our body are replaced by new ones? Well, it’s up for us to decide which kind of cells will replace the old ones!

      One extra tip: Passion can move mountains! If you really love to play piano, you’ll certainly overcome your current problem – just as my teacher did! 😉

      Almost forgot: I agree that surgery should be our last option. In emergency situations, surgery can save lives (nobody can deny it), but in cases like yours, we have to do everything possible to avoid the irreversible damage that surgery could cause! I will say again that our body has amazing healing powers – we just have to know how to use them! 😉

      Good luck, I hope to hear from you soon – and I hope to hear good news!
      Ilinca

      • Pauline says:

        Hi Ilinca

        I’ve just read your wonderful story of your remarkable piano teacher. She is an inspiration and a true ambassador of the piano to be able to overcome adversity like that. What an extraordinary achievement.

        I knew a lady who had a stroke on her right side. Before she had the stroke she was able to play piano to diploma level. After her stroke, she couldn’t read music at all – it was just like dots on a page. One day a friend brought her a little keyboard while she was in hospital, small enough to put on her lap while lying in bed. With much perseverance and courage, she battled through the pain to gradually be able to move her right hand and fingers. Like your teacher, she loved piano so much that after a year of intense hard work of starting from the beginning, she worked her way up to being able to play at Grade 8 level again.

        You’re so right in that we have an extraordinary ability to overcome adversity if we’re passionate enough. Not everything can be overcome though and your teacher’s and the lady I knew were fortunate to be able to do so.

        I hope Ruby is able to overcome her difficulties and I wish her well.

        Take care Ilinca.

        Pauline

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Pauline!

          Yes, my teacher is a remarkable woman! Now, despite of her age, she’s still considered the best piano professor in our country! During her almost 70 years of teaching experience, she had hundreds of students, inspiring them to be faithful to their musical passion and never give up in spite of all the problems they may encounter.

          The story you shared with us is inspiring as well! Recovering after a stroke and being able to play Grade 8 pieces is certainly a wonderful accomplishment. It proves once again that we are indeed extremely powerful – of course, if we are determined and passionate enough! 😉

          Thank you for your comment and for your ‘get well’ wishes to Ruby!

          Ilinca

  24. Ruby says:

    Dear Ilinca,
    Thank you so much for your reply! Thank you for giving me such a detailed response. I was amazed by the story of your teacher and I really admire her strength and perseverance. I will certainly take your advice and begin practising slowly 🙂 I’ll let you know of my progress soon!
    Ruby

  25. harry says:

    dear Ilinca –
    i have just immensly enjoyed reading your blog – it has left me i guess with a sense of validation that its ok and alright to take a bit of a break when encountering difficulties, and i guess reminding me to work up to large amounts of practice. I started playing when i was 15 and got grade 8 in three years with very little practice at all and no teaching. now, 10 years later and having not really ever played consistently, sometimes with a full year or more break, i suddenly jumped straight back into scales, Bach inventions, preludes and fuges, and various exercises for 6+ hours a day as i`ve completely fallen in love with piano again and have an interview with the royal college of music in a few months……and then got confused as hell when my arms and wrists started hurting and getting tight after a week or so – its nice to be reminded to take things more slowly and i`m grateful to you for giving me this reminder!xx

  26. Ilinca says:

    Hi Harry!

    Thank you for your comment! It’s very nice to meet you! 😉

    Your piano journey sounds really interesting! 8 grades in 3 years – that’s more than impressive! Then, practicing for more than 6 hours per day after a long break – it’s natural that your arms started to ‘disagree’ with you! 🙂

    I’m glad that you found my articles helpful! Feel free to explore all the information on my site, including my recent video tutorials – and you’re certainly welcome to join our “Questions and Answers” page!

    Talk soon,
    Ilinca

  27. Wilson says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    I want to thank you for your very generous teaching materials. It is very helpful for someone like me who doesn’t have the flexibility for a full time teacher because of my current work situation.
    Question,
    I’ve been playing piano about 1.5 months now. I’m playing a lot and playing songs much further than my experience level would dictate, but I am effectively learning them. (part of my impatience is that I’ve mastered the guitar and want to get caught up with piano). I know this may seem like a bad idea but…
    I am being smart about injury prevention. Whenever my hands/wrists starts to feel stressed I call it quits for the day. Interestingly the only stress I ever feel is on the outside of my wrist and generally occurs if I’m learning a song which requires the wrist to be bent at an angle. For example…a song where you must be playing a rhythm on the left hand around the middle C position and then with the right hand hit a very low note on the piano, making your body twist a little bit to reach that low note. And thus…the left wrist has to twist a bit with the body to continue playing the rhythm on the left hand but still hit an octave with the right hand down low on the left side of the piano.

    I think the stress I sometimes feel on the outside of my wrist is due to playing this way over and over. Repetitive Strain I suppose.

    I know that since I’ve just started out I should probably expect a few aches and pains as my wrists/hands are adjusting and getting stronger, so I’m not really surprised or alarmed at this outside wrist stress (which only occurs after several hours of playing). By the way this “stress” is located right above the large outer wrist bone, where the wrist and the hand connect. *And also I definitely play with relaxed wrists (thanks to your advice). Though perhaps I need to concentrate even more on keeping that area of my wrist relaxed…

    My question really is….is this type of strain somewhat common? And, is it something that simply goes away over time as one gets more used to playing the piano? Or, is ANY wrist stress merely a cause of bad form?

    Thank you so much,
    -Wilson

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Wilson!

      I’m always happy to help – thank you for appreciating my tutorials! 😉

      First of all, I want to tell you that I really admire your enthusiasm and your determination to make a fast progress in your piano playing!

      It’s also good that you’re aware of the dangers of tensed practice and that you’re trying to keep your wrists relaxed!

      After reading your question, I went immediately to the piano and I tried to play what you described: playing something with the left hand near the middle C and simultaneously playing a low note with the right hand. Here is what I noticed: if you keep your elbows too close to your body (this happens when you sit too close to the instrument), then there will be an uncomfortable angle between your forearm and your hand – and this angle will make your wrist to bend! On the other hand, if you sit at a comfortable distance (the elbows are forming an obtuse angle instead of a sharp one), then there will be no uncomfortable angle at the wrist!

      Of course, I cannot ‘diagnose’ your problem with a 100% accuracy without seeing how you play, but from your description I got the feeling that it’s first of all a posture problem (and not simply a Repetitive Strain): you’re probably sitting too close to the instrument (or your piano bench is too low). Otherwise it’s very difficult to bend your wrist while playing such a type of technique!

      You can take a look at the pictures from my article The Piano Posture and The Energy of the Sound. In the first picture, please notice that the elbows are in front of the body – between the body and the instrument. In such case, if you’re playing something in the middle of the keyboard (no matter what hand you’re using), you’ll have to keep your arm almost straight, without bending it at the elbow too much. In such a case, just as I already mentioned, it will be impossible to bend your wrist!

      In the second picture from this article, I’m demonstrating an incorrect posture – where the elbows are too close to the body and they form an uncomfortable sharp angle. In such a case it’s very easy to twist your wrist, especially when playing a fragment like the one you described.

      Now I’ll quote some of your questions and write my answer below.

      You said: “I’m learning a song which requires the wrist to be bent at an angle“.

      Instead of bending the wrist, it’s better to avoid doing it! My impression is that it’s possible to play this song without bending the wrist – by keeping your posture correct as I explain above ;). If for some reason this is not possible, then could you please send me the score or tell me which song you’re learning? This way it would be easier for me to tell you what to do. You could also film yourself while playing this uncomfortable place and send me the video.

      By the way, now I’m working on a new project: a Piano Community forum where it will be very easy and fun to post your questions (according to certain categories) and also share your recordings! I will answer each question in a very detailed manner (sometimes I will make video answers!) The forum will be launched in a week or two – and there will be a special category dedicated to posture problems, and another one dedicated to correct practice! You can subscribe to my email newsletter to stay updated! 😉

      *And also I definitely play with relaxed wrists (thanks to your advice). Though perhaps I need to concentrate even more on keeping that area of my wrist relaxed…

      First of all make sure that your posture is 100% correct (you can also watch my recent tutorial The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture). Then, even if you’re already trying to play with relaxed wrists, there’s always room for improvement! Practice the uncomfortable place in a very slow tempo first, making sure that when you play the rhythm in the left hand (by the way, is it a fast tempo?) your wrist is totally relaxed! When you begin to feel totally comfortable in a slow tempo and there is no pain and discomfort in your wrist, you can gradually increase the tempo (without losing the feeling of comfort, flexibility and relaxation!).

      You also said: I am being smart about injury prevention. Whenever my hands/wrists starts to feel stressed I call it quits for the day.

      This is a good strategy! However, it’s even better to try to make sure that no matter how long you play, there’s still no tension in your arms/wrists!

      I know that since I’ve just started out I should probably expect a few aches and pains as my wrists/hands are adjusting and getting stronger, so I’m not really surprised or alarmed at this outside wrist stress (which only occurs after several hours of playing).

      Yes, all beginners need time to adjust to the new sensations involved in piano playing, and also to strengthen their arms and fingers. However, feeling pain in your wrist is not normal – not even for beginners. So try to follow my advice from above and avoid such unpleasant symptoms!

      My question really is….is this type of strain somewhat common?

      No, it’s very rare!

      And, is it something that simply goes away over time as one gets more used to playing the piano?

      As I already explained, you have to correct your posture and wrist relaxation, and then the strain will go away :).

      Or, is ANY wrist stress merely a cause of bad form?

      Yes, I think it is!

      Good luck with your practice!!! Good posture and wrist relaxation are very important, of course. However, the most important thing remains our passion for what we do – and you’re definitely on the right path! 😉
      Ilinca

      • Wilson says:

        Ilinca,

        Thank you so much for the very detailed explanation. I think you solved the issue…I need to be more conscious of keeping my wrist straight/relaxed and not bent, regardless of what is required for the song.

        Thank you!

  28. Erin says:

    Hi Ilinca
    I have had pain in my neck and shoulders for about 9 months now. It started to come on a couple of months before that, but I didn’t take any notice, kept practising hard and ended up making it lots worse. I am 19 and I’ve been playing for about 10 years now, when I got the injury I was practising about 2 hours a day, I was playing Beethoven’s sonata pathetica. What basicaly caused the problem I think was the octaves in the left hand in the first movement (although I have probably been bringing it on for a long time with bad posture, stiff rists and bad studying habits).
    Also had quite a lot of pressure because I was preparing for exams (to get into conservatoire), playing lots of concerts etc.
    I’ve been to phisiotherapists which helped a bit, read lots of stuff about how to play without tension and have learned a lot about my body and trying to correct what I have been doing wrong. I am now trying acupunture. But it still is not getting any better.
    I am now studying in the conservatoire, and have quite a lot of pressure to play well with my new teacher who is also not very helpfull with the whole problem.

    To make things worse I am now starting to get pain in my right forearm, it is normally when I am playing studies (moskovsky op. 72 1, 6) and things with a stretched hand.
    I know (more or less) how to play without cause excessive strain on the muscles but I’m not sure what to do to prevent this new pain to turn into another injury (exercises maybe?).

    I know I have written a lot of information, but I think that may be helpfull for you to give me some advise.

    If you can help me that would be great! Thanks

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Erin!

      Thank you for your question and welcome to PianoCareer.com! 😉

      Being a professional piano student and studying in the conservatoire is certainly a challenging experience! I remember my own conservatoire years – that’s when I learned how important it is to know how to deal with pressure, how to compensate the long hours of piano practice and how to practice mindfully, which means being relaxed and concentrated at the same time.

      Now I’m going to quote your questions and reply to each one below.

      I have had pain in my neck and shoulders for about 9 months now. It started to come on a couple of months before that, but I didn’t take any notice, kept practising hard and ended up making it lots worse.

      Usually, pianists who are practicing in an incorrect, tensed manner are suffering from wrist pain or forearm pain. It’s extremely rare to hear that someone is experiencing neck and shoulder pain as a result of hard piano practice!

      My question is: are you sure that your neck pain is connected to your piano practice? Maybe it’s a result of an injury or it’s a symptom of a spinal deformation, disc dislocation etc. You said that you’ve been seeing physiotherapists – did the doctors confirm that your neck pain was caused by piano practice? It’s a very rare case!

      I am 19 and I’ve been playing for about 10 years now, when I got the injury I was practising about 2 hours a day, I was playing Beethoven’s sonata pathetica.

      2 hours per day is certainly not much! In fact, if we practice correctly, we can practice 5-7 hours per day without any risks for our health.

      What basicaly caused the problem I think was the octaves in the left hand in the first movement (although I have probably been bringing it on for a long time with bad posture, stiff rists and bad studying habits).

      Yes, those octaves in the beginning of Allegro di molto are very uncomfortable and they can cause tension and pain if practiced incorrectly. However, I agree with you: they are not the primary cause of your problem!

      If we assume that your neck and shoulder pain was caused by piano practice, then the answer is obvious: just as you said – it’s a problem of bad posture and incorrect practice! It’s a very good thing that you are aware of this – because awareness is the first step towards correcting your playing habits!

      The neck pain could be caused by the fact that you’re slouching and bending your neck forward, breaking the line between the spine and the neck. We have to keep our neck straight all the time – including when we practice piano! For verifying the straightness of your spine, do a simple exercise: go to a wall and put your back against the wall. Your ankles, your hips, your back and the back of your head (not the crown!!!) have to be connected with the wall! Now remember this posture (especially the straight neck and the upward pointing crown!) and try to be aware of it as often as possible – especially when you practice.

      Also, make sure that you sleep on a straight, relatively hard bed. Soft beds with a deformed surface are extremely dangerous for our spine! Your doctors probably told you that a straight spine is the most important thing when it comes to our health!!!

      Shoulder pain can happen because you’re raising the shoulders and keeping your arms and wrists tensed when you play. When you sit at the piano, take a good breath and relax your entire body. Your spine should be straight – but in rest all the muscles (especially in the shoulders and arms) should be totally relaxed. Now place your arms (which are heavy and flexible) on the keyboard and remember this feeling – allow your body to get used to playing with relaxed, lowered shoulders. Start your practice with something easy, in a slow tempo. Keep your focus on your posture and on your relaxation.

      Relaxation is your main priority now – and the quality of your playing should be subordinated to this priority! When you practice, fist aim to achieve freedom and relaxation in a slow, comfortable tempo, and then gradually increase the tempo WITHOUT losing the feeling of comfort and relaxation.

      This practice method is extremely beneficial – but in order to feel positive changes, you need patience and determination! It may take you months to correct a bad playing habit – but it’s entirely possible! As a matter of fact, I had posture problems myself, and I corrected them thanks to my conservatoire teacher, who was patient and determined enough to teach me how to play correctly :). For this, I’m forever grateful to her!

      You can also watch my video tutorial The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture where I explain and demonstrate the main elements of a correct, comfortable piano posture.

      Also had quite a lot of pressure because I was preparing for exams (to get into conservatoire), playing lots of concerts etc.

      Stress, anxiety and a negative attitude (which often happen during exam preparation) are another major cause of pain and injuries. In fact, stress is the MAIN cause of all our problems – and learning how to control our emotions and keep calm in difficult situations is the most important thing a musician should learn!

      In the Piano Community Forum which I’m currently designing (you can learn more about this project by reading this article), there will be a special board dedicated to performance anxiety – there I will post tutorials and answer your questions about dealing with stress and learning how to change our attitude and our habits so that each performance will become a pleasant, liberating experience!

      On the forum, there will also be a board dedicated to correct practice – where I’ll give all the members detailed personalized advice on how to practice certain pieces in an enjoyable, productive and pain-free way!

      I’ve been to phisiotherapists which helped a bit, read lots of stuff about how to play without tension and have learned a lot about my body and trying to correct what I have been doing wrong. I am now trying acupunture. But it still is not getting any better.

      It’s great that you’re learning how to correct your playing habits. Tension is the main cause of any pain – but you should understand that it took you many years to form these incorrect habits. For this reason, it may take a while before they go away.

      However, as I already said, incorrect practice may not be the only cause of your problem. A spine deformation or a neck injury could make everything worse – so I suggest making sure that you’re not suffering from such a condition!

      To make things worse I am now starting to get pain in my right forearm, it is normally when I am playing studies (moskovsky op. 72 1, 6) and things with a stretched hand.

      This happens because you keep your elbows and wrists tensed when playing complicated passages and stretching your hand. Initially, it may seem that this way you can control your technique better – but it’s an illusion! I will repeat again: relaxation is the foundation! First, learn to play in a relaxed manner, slowly, with flexible elbows and wrists; then, gradually, learn how to keep this feeling of relaxation and flexibility while increasing the tempo. If you notice that in a faster tempo you get tensed again – go back to the slower tempo!

      Also – are you familiar with the ‘whole arm action’ principle? It means playing with your entire heavy relaxed arms – and not only from your fingers! It’s impossible to play in a relaxed manner, to achieve a beautiful sound and a good technique without mastering this playing principle!

      I know (more or less) how to play without cause excessive strain on the muscles but I’m not sure what to do to prevent this new pain to turn into another injury (exercises maybe?).

      There are several useful exercises for our arms and wrists that can increase their mobility and strength. I will make a few video tutorials on this subject first thing after I launch the forum! However, when you’re in pain you don’t have to exercise. You have to rest and to relax first – just as I explain in the article above – and only when the pain fades you can proceed to slow correct practice and a few exercises).

      So, relaxation (mental and physical), correct mindful practice, correct posture and playing with your entire arms – these are the main things you have to focus on. I have many articles on these topics on my site – feel free to browse them (go to Archives for the full list)!

      At the same time, don’t forget that exams and good marks are all irrelevant if they make you feel bad and jeopardize your health. Learn how to change your attitude and your priorities! Health and an enjoyable practice should always come first! If you love what you do, if you practice with a positive attitude, in a relaxed and calm manner – then you’ll progress extremely fast! On the other hand, if you practice with fear, with negative thoughts and in a tensed manner – you’re only sabotaging your practice and it will be very hard to see some progress!

      So, instead of practicing 2-3 hours in a tensed state, it’s better to practice 1 hour in a relaxed, mindful manner, and then go out for a walk, do some physical exercises or simply have some sleep!

      Keeping all your activities in balance is extremely important for a productive practice!!! This is the essence of my holistic approach on life, music and piano playing (you can read more about it in my article Reaching Harmony: The Power of a Holistic Approach in Piano Playing).

      I know I have written a lot of information, but I think that may be helpfull for you to give me some advise.

      It’s ok – I’m happy to help! 😉 If you have more questions, feel free to ask!
      Ilinca

      P.S. I will launch the Piano Community forum in the middle of February! You can subscribe to my email newsletter to stay updated (and receive a complimentary copy of my report “A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing)!

  29. Angela says:

    Hi illinka.
    I played a little as a child but studied more seriously from grade 5 and up when I was 26 and a fulltime mum. I developed neck problems (including prolapses) within a couple of years, which have become chronic for 25 years. About 10 years later I developed ganglions and tendonitis as well. I manage my pain issues with rest, relaxation, meditation, and small amounts of mindful practise and reduced my goals. My teacher was trained in Belgrade Uni and taught me a lot of the techniques that you mention but not the breathing wrist, which I will look into. She did not think my neck problems were due to piano and you seem to confirm this, so possibly it was just overwork and stress generally – we were also renovating ourselves.

    I have a small teaching studio in Australia, and where playing with a still hand had been presented as the norm…though awareness is gradually changing. Thanks for your insights.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Angela!

      Thank you for your comment! 🙂

      Actually, I’m amazed by the fact that within 2 days, two persons are writing in their comments to this article that they have neck problems which they believe are associated with their piano practice!

      It’s amazing how things happen – in all my 25 years of piano experience I don’t remember coming across such problems – and now I hear about 2 different cases of neck pain in two days!!!

      Just like I told Erin in my reply above, and just as your teacher believed – I don’t think that this kind of neck problems are caused by piano practice. Yes, they may be aggravated by incorrect practice habits, but you should look for the real cause!

      Usually an incorrect lifestyle, stress, too much work (just like you said), a poor diet and lack of physical exercise are the real causes of all our illnesses.

      Of course, it’s great that you’re dealing with your problem by using natural remedies such as meditation, relaxation and rest.

      At the same time, it’s extremely important to be aware of the correct playing principles: playing from your entire arms; keeping your arms relaxed all the time; keeping your wrist flexible (or, as your mention, breathing with the wrist); making sure that there’s never tension in your shoulders, elbows and wrists.

      In my articles and video tutorials, I always mention the importance of these playing principles, which are the foundation of the Russian piano school.

      Besides helping us to achieve a beautiful sound, a good expression and a brilliant technique, these ‘secrets’ also allow us to feel comfortable and relaxed at the instrument, protecting us from spine deformation and hand injuries!

      So I encourage you to study these playing basics and slowly begin to apply them in your daily practice! It’s impossible to change your posture and your habits overnight, but with a little patience, with tiny little changes you’ll notice one day that you’ve made considerable improvements!

      When you begin to play, imagine that your arms are like the relaxed wings of a bird, or the paws of a cat: you’re using their entire relaxed weight for creating the sound – and not the separate movement of your fingers.

      This way, it’s impossible to be tensed – and therefore it’s impossible to aggravate your pain and your condition.

      I describe the correct piano playing principles in most of my articles (including in my replies on “Ask Me a Piano Question“) and especially in my video tutorials – The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture and The Secrets of a Correct Piano Key Attack. I hope that you’ll find them helpful!

      I’m also working on a new project – an Online Piano Community – where we’ll be able to discuss these topics in detail!

      I know that in many piano schools playing with a still hand (only from the fingers) is still considered ok. As I often mention – this playing principle is actually the old harpsichord technique – and it’s totally not suitable for the modern piano, which has heavier keys and a different mechanism!

      Good luck in your practice, take good care of your health and I hope to see you soon on PianoCareer.com! 😉
      Ilinca

  30. Rick says:

    Hello Ilinca,

    I wish to thank you along with the others for the effort you are putting in here. I actually found your site when I searched youtube for pedaling instructions as I’m getting ready to dive into that section of my piano education but after watching the video I also saw the one on relaxing the body.

    I must say it was very helpful and I could see a difference in my recordings of my practice right away. Long way to go of course but now I add the mantra “Relax, Relax, be the cat” to my routine. The rise in confidence and loss of tension is so advantageous to my playing, my teacher is always telling me to relax but it is harder when I am trying to focus on so many things at once and the tension always creeps back in unawares. Adding the relaxing mantra to my at home practice should allow me to be that much more at ease during my lessons. Thanks again. Oh and I just love the way a relaxed pianist’s hands float around the keys, watching you do that during the pedaling video got me to look for more on how to get better at that.

    Rick

  31. Ilinca says:

    Hi Rick!

    Welcome and thank you for your comment! 😉

    I’m really happy that my tutorials helped you to improve your relaxation! Your mantra is great (including the ‘be the cat’ part – super!) You’ll see that after a while it will become easier and easier to play in a relaxed state naturally, without trying too much.

    Relaxation is a habit that we build day by day, by taking small steps (just like you do now with your mantra).

    This is also the foundation that allows us to develop all our pianistic skills – including a quality sound, a brilliant technique and an amazing expressiveness!

    Thanks again for sharing your experience and your progress! 😉

    Good luck and I hope to see you on PianoCareer.com soon!
    Ilinca

    P.S. Have you heard the news? On 15th of February I’m launching a unique Piano Community & Coaching Program (you can read a short description of this project here). Yesterday evening I opened the pre-registration, and now it’s possible to register for free, reserve a spot (spots are limited!) and also receive a lifetime 50% discount membership coupon – by visiting PianoCareerAcademy.com.

    For daily updates, you can subscribe to my newsletter and follow me on Facebook! 😉

  32. prasana kumar says:

    how to reduce psychological problems while playing piano

  33. Rebekah says:

    So glad I came across this today. I played for church this morning, and my right wrist and forearm are killing me! This has been an on-going battle since a wrist injury last March, so off to research I went. I had no idea I was guilty of so many incorrect techniques. I am sure these will help me. Thanks for such an insightful and helpful post.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Rebekah!

      You’re welcome! It’s nice to meet you! 😉

      I’m glad to hear that my article helped you to find out what was the cause of your wrist injury!

      Correct posture, relaxation and comfort, elbow and wrist flexibility, playing from your entire arms, slow practice – these are the most important pillars of an enjoyable, tension-free practice!

      Have a productive week and an inspired practice 😉
      Ilinca

  34. Tamara says:

    Hello Ilinca, It’s EmbraceWithin from youtube! 🙂 thank you for your kind answer over there, this was my original question on youtube:

    “Hi, I have problem with my right hand, doctor said I? have inflammation on the tendons, currently practicing only left hand… Also have pain on my lower back and the area were shoulder and neck meet when practicing.. Could this be related? Any tips? I don’t wanna say bye to piano becuase of this :-(”

    My biggest issue is I guess bad posture overall, maybe neck included, I don’t know If is the fact that I’m short (I’m about 158cm) or that I don’t have a piano bench (office chair instead), what can I do Ilinca?, this is kiling me, I know it must be really, really hard to do consultation over the internet, but I trust you and I’ll play by your rules and listen to your advise carefully. 🙂 So what do I do next?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Tamara!

      My intuition (and experience) are telling me that your hand, shoulder and neck pain are caused by incorrect posture and tensed piano practice. However, I am not a doctor and I cannot rule out other medical causes (for example, arthritis or another similar condition).

      If your problem is piano related, here is what you have to do:

      1. Learn the Basics of a Correct Posture by watching my video The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture. In this video, I also explain how exactly you have to adjust your bench – and how to keep your back, neck, elbows and wrists for avoiding tension and pain! The fact that you’re not very tall is definitely NOT a problem. The important thing is to adjust your bench so that your elbows will be aligned with the keyboard (like I show in the video).

      The lower back pain can be a consequence of BOTH incorrect posture AND lordosis. If you have (or suspect that you have) lordosis (a deformation of the lower back), you have to consult a doctor and begin exercising! I recently posted a new video workout tutorial on PianoCareerAcademy.com (you already watched the short preview :)) – the exercises presented in the full 19-minute video will help you to improve your posture and straighten your spine gradually – also improving your overall well-being!

      If you have neck pain, it means that you’re not aligning your cervical area correctly. As I explain in the workout video, you have to make sure that the crown of your head forms a straight line with the spine. In other words, don’t point your chin forward and don’t bend your neck downwards! Maybe you have some eye-sights problems? Myopia can be the cause of too much forward leaning – which can result in neck and back pain.

      2. Learn the correct, relaxed key attack (The Secrets of a Correct Piano Key Attack). Wrist and hand pain are caused by incorrect, tensed practice. The main cause of an incorrect piano playing habit is the old harpsichord technique – playing only from your fingers instead of using the professional ‘whole arm action’ principle. When you try to overcome the resistance of the heavy keys with your fingers alone, by applying separate ‘finger effort’, your forearm muscles get tired very fast, causing pain! Instead, you have to offer your fingers a ‘backup’ – the natural heaviness of your arms. Playing ‘from our entire arms’ allows us to depress the keys without effort, in a very relaxed manner – also being the ‘main cause’ of a beautiful, deep, professional sound.

      Piano playing is not a ‘finger’ activity. It’s a whole-arm (and even whole-body) activity, where our fingers are simply pivoting points that hold the weight of our arms. This is a very smart application of the lever principle! 😉

      Plus, you have to make sure that your wrist is relaxed – loose and supple – all the time! A flexible wrist is another pillar of the correct piano playing technique – and it’s impossible to play well and avoid pain if your keep your wrists immobile!

      3. Follow the tips I share in the article above!

      4. Join my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com. There you can find countless other piano playing tutorials – many of them focused on overcoming problems similar to the ones you’re currently experiencing.

      That’s all for now! You’re right, it’s not easy to explain in written form all the little details involved in a correct, relaxed, painless and enjoyable piano playing. I hope I didn’t miss anything and that I estimated the cause of your pain correctly!

      Take it easy, follow the advice above (especially the tips shared in the article) – and play in a relaxed manner ALL THE TIME! If your pain is piano-related, you should feel major improvements shortly!

      Good luck and keep me posted on your progress!

      Best wishes,
      Ilinca

  35. Ilinca says:

    You’re welcome, Tamara!!!

    I’m really happy to help! 😉

    By the way, poor eye-sight can be corrected with exercises and relaxation – so that one day you won’t need glasses anymore. Contacts can be a good solution – but they are not the healthiest alternative for your eyes. Have you considered buying a pair of glasses with larger lenses (only for practice) – so that when you’ll look down you’ll still see well?

    Keep positive, stay relaxed, enjoy your practice, take it one step at a time – and I certainly hope to see you on PianoCareerAcademy.com soon!

    Have a wonderful week,
    Ilinca

    • Tamara says:

      Thank you so much Ilinca! I’ve been making progress so far 🙂 my wrist still hurts a bit when playing but doing better, my bench was too high, my posture terrible and with my right hand I don’t play from my shoulder, oh and hand was wrong position when playing and playing octaves…

      It’s really interesting that you mention exercises and relaxation for curing eyesight, I did my little research into this and have been practicing since december last year, started with Bates method that didn’t work that well for me but gave the foundation and explanations needed.

      Until one day I found this! http://eorama.com/en/3_point_exercise.html This exercise has worked wonders for me (I went from having 2 of myopia to 0.75 but my astigmatism’s still the same at 4) thanks to this I was able to get contacts, before I couldn’t, so that was definately progress, after a couple of days doing this exercises I was able to get flashes of clear vision! I couldn’t believe it now they last about 7 seconds top but like the author said it takes years, so I was very lucky to see progress so quickly. I will definately buy some glasses with larger lenses for practicing 🙂 Thanks for the advice.

      I think you were able to figure me out very well, through piano practice I had come to realize myself that I’m not relaxed at all, nor my mind, my spirit or my body is relaxed, instead they are very strained, even the muscles in my abdominal area I find myself contracting them through out the day and this is the way I’ve been living since I was a kid, it’s stiffness in the mind, my ideas, social situations, everything… Oh boy! I do really have a lot to work on. I don’t really know what made me this way…

      Have a wonderful week too 🙂

      • Ilinca says:

        Hi again Tamara!

        You’ll be surprised to know that about 80% of musicians are struggling with the same problems that you’re mentioning: physical and mental tension, incorrect posture and playing habit, poor eyesight (because of unilateral lifestyle and too much reading/looking at the screen) etc.

        The good news is that it’s never too late to change things for the better! You just have to start believing in yourself – and take it one little step at a time! 🙂 Smile, keep positive, try to remember about relaxation as often as possible – and apply it to your practice!

        You’ll gradually improve your posture, your playing habit, you’ll get rid of pain – and your self-confidence will improve as well!

        Also, for overcoming the stiffness you’re mentioning, I strongly recommend physical exercises! They have the power of liberating our mind, increasing our energy levels, making us more relaxed, flexible and self-confident – both physically and mentally!

        By the way, thank you so much for the link to the eye exercises! I’ve used the Bates method myself, it got me from -4 myopia to -2, but now I definitely feel the need to try something new that will help me to cover the remaining distance to perfect vision. I gave up glasses and contacts 3 years ago and now I’m allowing my eyes to slowly recover on their own – it’s not easy, but I’m not giving up!

        As you can see – I’ve been through many of your current problems, so I KNOW that things can and WILL get better! 🙂

        Enjoy your practice, keep making small improvements on a regular basis – and keep me posted with your progress!

        Warmest,
        Ilinca

  36. Janine De Lorenzo says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    So glad I found your website today, full of insightful, interesting and very informative information.
    Much of it, as a professional piano player I have utilized on a daily
    ( or nightly 😉 basis over the past 30 years.
    I have been working as a musician with Cirque Du Soleil on one of their resident shows in Las Vegas for the last 8 years, so on a 10 shows a week schedule, my main focus has been on playing in a relaxed state, both mentally and physically. I also found that playing each night was my form of meditation…something I could get lost in and be in that wonderful state of connecting, where the music flowed through me rather than from me.
    It has only been recently that I have been forced to reconnect conciously with the basics, the fundamentals that I have instinctively used throughout my career and many years of piano playing, due to an injury…one which is the nightmare of injuries for a pianist.
    Breaking both of my wrists in an accident 7 months ago forced me to stop altogether, and I have now experienced the longest time NOT playing in my life.
    I have to admit that I learned how much the mental side of an injury plays its part in recovery. There were weeks when I was saying that I didn’t even feel like I wanted to play again….can you imagine? This came out of sheer frustration and anger at what had happened, and pure sadness when I sat at the piano and realized that something that once brought me such happiness and joy, was now causing me pain…both physically and emotionally. It was quite devastating.
    I have begun again to play as much as the sharp pain caused by ligament damage will allow, and am trying to build up my strength and general endurance. I have been blessed to have received some lessons from my first piano teacher, who shared some exercises she did when she was forced by sickness to rest for a year from the piano. We wre working on strengening the individual fingers. I am playing 5 note arpeggios very slowly but taking one finger for each note and reaching from 1-3-5-8-10-8-5-3-1. eg. In C major using C-E-G-C-E-C-G-E-C
    The second time changing the chord to the minor by lowering the third – C minor
    then the third time, changing the chord to the first inversion of the flattened 6th note – A flat major

    The only way to do these is slowly, and over the past few weeks I am now able to get through about 30 minutes of practice.
    It is really about retraining the brain, and reminding my body that it is possible.
    I have found these exercises so helpful and wanted to share them with you and your readers today.
    Maybe they can help someone else who needs to literally ‘start again’.

    All the best,
    Janine

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Janine!

      I’m very happy to meet you and welcome to PianoCareer.com! 😉

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing your story! You worked with Cirque du Soleil – that’s impressive! Yes, performing on a regular basis is a wonderful way of training our mental and physical relaxation – I learned this during my collaboration with our country’s National Radio Orchestra (we used to have many concerts, lots of tours, lots of playing too!).

      I’m sorry to hear about your injury – you’re right, it’s every pianist’s worst nightmare!

      Your story is really inspirational because you didn’t give up piano despite the pain, the frustration and the anger! Overcoming big challenges is never easy – but what doesn’t kill us (or our dreams) definitely makes us stronger! I admire your determination to go on and rebuild your pianistic endurance – and I’m sure you’re going to do great! Yes, recovery is first of all a mental process: faith, patience, perseverance and a positive attitude can do miracles!

      Thank you for sharing with us these interesting exercises! By the way, how exactly do you play them: on legato or portamento? Do you use wrist navigation (moving the flexible wrist in the direction of the arpeggio) or not? I’m asking this because playing 5 note arpeggio requires lots of stretching (especially when you play a 4th with the 3-4 fingers, as in G-C in C Major), which can cause discomfort and tension if performed incorrectly.

      Thanks again for sharing your experience and good luck with your recovery!
      Ilinca

  37. Janine De Lorenzo says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    Great to hear back from you.
    Thank you for the response to my message.
    I wasn’t specific about how I play them, but most definitely ith a flexible wrist motion in the direction of the arpeggio.
    So it is like a big semi circular motion, as I play in each direction.
    I don’t understand how anyone could play them without this technique, mainly because of the bigger stretches involved.
    The intention is to play them slowly, and to be mindful of the motion of the wrist, the depth of weight on each finger, and of course, to play in a relaxed state.
    And I have already started composing some melodies in my mind, as I play through the chord progression…I can’t wait to implement them when I get my ‘piano hands’back!

    It has brought back some of that meditative experience again, which I am happy about.

    Have a great day

    Janine 🙂

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi again Janine! 😉

      Yes, this is exactly how we play arpeggios in the Russian piano school (with a flexible wrist motion that ‘anticipates’ the layout of the arpeggio) – even if we usually don’t play 5 notes arpeggios as a part of our daily technical warm-up.

      By the way, you’d be surprised to know how many beginners (and even experienced students) play passages with big stretches without wrist flexibility! This is why I usually emphasize this technique so much in all my tutorials :).

      Thank you again for sharing this exercise and have a wonderful week!
      Ilinca

  38. Alexis says:

    Hi Ilinca!

    I’m playing La Campanella by Liszt, but at the last page there are a lot of octaves, and I have trouble reaching the speed without having tensions in my wrists because my hands are small. I’ve been practicing slow with good technique for a while, but I haven’t been able to speed up for two weeks. Any suggestions on how I should practice?

    Thanks!
    Alexis

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Alexis!

      Sorry for replying with such a delay!

      This is a complex question, and it will take me a while to write a detailed, useful answer. Now I’m very busy with my work (the Private Members Forum at PianoCareerAcademy.com) – but I’ll do my best to get back to you when I find a little free time! 😉

      In the meantime, you can try a higher wrist position (the wrist is slightly above the knuckle level – continuing to be very relaxed), also ‘guiding’ your hands and fingers with your relaxed arms and forearms. Playing La Campanella is definitely not easy for pianists with small hands – and it usually takes a while to master this technique. But don’t worry – daily little steps make a BIG difference!

      Have a wonderful day and talk soon,
      Ilinca

      • Alexis says:

        Hi Ilinca,

        Thank you so much for telling me about that technique! Now I can play the octaves a little faster! 🙂

        I have a question regarding the technique. When I’m playing the octaves, should my wrists be tight? I’ve seen the technique used by some pianists, and their wrists look rather tight to me.

        Also, do you think it would be okay if I gradually leaned in forward a little as the octaves head close to the ends of the keyboard?

        Thank you so much for the help and have a spectacular day,
        Alexis

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Alexis!

          You’re welcome! 😉

          Sorry for not replying sooner – again, my work has kept me very busy.

          Please remember one important thing, no matter what type of piano technique you’re playing (octaves, fast runs, intervals, trills etc.):

          Your wrist should ALWAYS be relaxed and flexible!!! A tensed wrist is the shortest path to pain – not to mention that tension will not allow you to play in a fast tempo.

          The fingertips are the only part of a pianist’s arms that have to be crisp and precise. All the other joints – wrists, elbows, shoulders – should be entirely loose and ‘elastic’.

          Great pianists never play with tight wrists. They are very relaxed – but you can’t always see it, because they don’t perform special ‘relaxing’ movements when they play in a fast tempo – they are simply NOT tensed.

          Also, don’t lean forward too much! Make sure that your elbows are not aligned with your sides (or, even worse, pointing backwards)! Your elbows should be positioned slightly in front of your body – this way you will avoid sharp angles in your joints and the resulting tension and pain.

          It’s difficult to describe this position in words. On the Private Members Forum at PianoCareerAcademy.com you can find many detailed video tutorials where I demonstrate how and when we should lean forward and how to keep our arms when we do it! 😉

          Have a wonderful weekend, enjoy your practice and don’t forget to play with relaxed wrists, from the entire weight of your arms! 😉
          Ilinca

          P.S. One more thing: if you keep a higher wrist position, make sure that your knuckles do not ‘collapse’ below the level of the fingers and that you maintain a rounded hand dome!!! You can check out my article The Piano Posture and The Energy of the Sound to understand better what hand and elbow positions you have to avoid!

          • Alexis says:

            Hi Ilinca!

            Thanks for the advice; it really is helping 🙂

            At the beginning, I had a tough time relaxing my wrists because it’s a stretch for me to open my hands wide for a long time to reach the octaves, but I learned that the only way to surmount that problem was to play extremely slow, so that my wrists were relaxed, until I was very familiar with the notes. Once I was familiar with the notes, I could focus on speed and reaching octaves that were near the ends of the keyboard.

            The tip you gave me about raising my wrists really helped! Raising my wrists allows me to go faster than if I had my wrists leveled.

            Thanks again and have a nice day! 🙂
            Alexis

            • Ilinca says:

              You’re welcome, Alexis! 😉

              Yes, slow relaxed practice is always the first step – no matter what type of piano technique we want to improve (octaves and not only).

              In a slow tempo we have enough time to be mindful of our arm/wrist relaxation, wrist position, finger accuracy, comfort and so on.

              Also, don’t forget: always keep a rounded hand shape! Your knuckles have to form a rounded dome even when you play octaves or chords!

              Good luck and enjoy your practice!
              Ilinca

  39. Valentina says:

    Hello Ilinca!
    I wanted to thank you for sharing this information. Actually I play the keyboard, not the piano. But I had some pain in my right hand, so I decided to read this article although it’s for another instrument. I’ll definitely take your recommendations.
    All the best,
    Valentina.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Valentina!

      Thank you for your comment! 😉

      Even if most keyboards have lighter keys than the acoustic piano – the basic playing principles are still the same!

      I’m a classically-trained pianist, but I’ve played the keyboard a lot during my collaboration with our country’s Radio Orchestra – and my piano experience has helped me tremendously!

      So my tutorials are not for classical pianists only :).

      Good luck and I hope that your hand pain will go away soon!
      Ilinca

  40. Marina Guerra says:

    Dear teacher Ilinca, I just want to say thank you so much and I hope you know how thankful I am for everything that I’ve read, listened and learned in your website.

    Kisses,
    Marina 🙂

  41. I have severe basal joint disease from piano playing. If I have surgery with complete removal of the trapezium bone with tendon replacement, will I be able to play piano as well as I play now with severe basal joint arthritis? Or will I lose my ability to play and earn a living as I do as a church organist/pianist? I’m not confident that my Dr. understands that piano is not just my career, it’s my passion

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Donna!

      It’s very nice to meet you – and welcome to PianoCareer.com!

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re suffering from basal joint disease! Are you sure that your problem is caused by piano playing? If it is, then you could probably get rid of it gradually, naturally, without surgery – by learning how to play correctly, in a relaxed manner.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know how the surgery will affect your playing skills (because I am not a doctor).

      But I can certainly help you to learn more about correct practice, relaxation and whole-arm action (the technical pianistic foundation used in the Russian piano school that allows us to play with ease, without any tension or pain). You can find hundreds of video and written tutorials on these topics on my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com!

      The registration is closed now – but it will open again in a day or two. You can subscribe to receive a notification by filling the form on the home page of PianoCareerAcademy.com – and you’ll also receive a special discount coupon code 😉

      As a member of my Piano Coaching Program, besides having instant access to hundreds of exclusive videos/articles that share the secrets of the Russian piano school, you’ll also be able to ask questions and receive personalized answers, post your own recordings, share your progress and enjoy the support of an awesome community of piano enthusiasts! 😉

      Good luck and I hope that everything will be great no matter if you choose to have the surgery or not :).

      Best wishes,
      Ilinca

  42. NickGeo says:

    Hi Ilinca!!!

    I am 20 years old last year I started playing the piano. I already have learn Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Bach not Bussoni) and some simple piano pieces, this year I spent 3-5 hours per day practising toccata and fugue and never felt a pain. I am not practising Hanon although I know it is extremely important. On September I began The Pathetique Sonata 1st movement. I am on the third page and I can’t play the tr. ( don’t now how they called in English) I can’t play the 3-4-3 fingers on them I don’t know why. Last month I started moonlight 1st movement and I finished it in 2 weeks. I have big hands so I can play at once the 10 notes A-B distance simply by stretching a little bit ( I can also play 11 notes C-E distance). My issue is that the last 2 weeks I’m can’t rest my hands. What ever I do I feel like a burning even writing on the iPhone, my physiotherapist said that its nothing and I need to take a brake and use ice. I took a break and still nothing, still both of my hand burn. I even changed the way I sleep because I don’t want to push them. I play 10-20 minutes every day and some days I don’t play at all. I always try to maintain my body and hands position the way my teacher showed me. I am also going to the gym but I’m doing only aerobic exercises, feet and main body. I don’t lift any weight because my teacher said I shouldn’t work out my hands. I study scales and I play 3 scales at 4 octaves. I have done all the 1st part of Hanon in the past. I’m seeking an other opinion because I ‘ve tried what my teacher said. What am I doing wrong??? (Except from choosing difficult pieces)

    Yours faithfully
    Nick

  43. NickGeo says:

    Ps sorry for the miscalculation of the notes in the distances. It’s 9 and 10 notes. I can also catch distance C-F but with difficulty. And sorry for my English.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Nick!

      It’s very nice to meet you! 😉

      I’m writing this short reply to let you know that your question is on my to-do list and I’ll try to write a reply as soon as possible – hopefully next week :). I dedicate 99% of my time to my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com – and in the remaining time I do my best to reply to all the emails and questions I receive in chronological order.

      Have a wonderful weekend and talk soon,
      Ilinca

  44. NickGeo says:

    Thank you very much!!! 🙂

  45. Priya says:

    Dear Ilinca,

    This is an extremely useful article, the most interesting I have ever read on the subject.

    I have been troubled with the same issue for a long time: intense aches up my forearm to my elbow.

    It started because my piano teacher also told me to play with heavy, relaxed arms; however, I interpreted that to mean I should only play with my fingers, which like you said, is incorrect.

    I stopped doing that, but still find my arms ache, particularly after I play arpeggios. I’m still not sure what I’m doing wrong, but I wanted to ask you: how do I play with heavy arms, making sure I’m not just playing with my fingers?

    I’m not sure which muscles I should be relaxing or which I should be using.

    My piano teacher once told me to completely relax my arm, so it flops downwards, and he said that’s how heavy it should be, but I don’t understand how I can use any muscles except my fingers if I do this.

    Please help!

    Thank you.

    Best regards,

    Priya

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Priya!

      Thank you – I’m glad you enjoyed my article! 😉

      Mastering the whole-arm action principle (playing from the entire relaxed weight of our arms, not from the separate movement of our fingers) is a complex process and unfortunately it’s impossible to describe it in detail in one short reply.

      However, I have good news! The answer to your question is already available on PianoCareerAcademy.com (my Holistic Piano Coaching Program). There you can find many detailed video and written tutorials on this subject (including a step-by-step breakdown of the whole-arm action principle) – and this way you’ll have the possibility to understand all its elements properly.

      Feel free to register anytime – you’ll get instant access to an enormous database of video and written tutorials and you’ll be welcomed by a wonderful community of piano enthusiasts! 😉

      Cheers,
      Ilinca

  46. Kanon says:

    Hello 🙂 well im a new pianist although i play piano and cello by ear (i also play violin) and ive noticed that my little finger looks kind of crooked or misplayced?Im not sure if it is real or if im imagining it but could you tell me if this is a problem or anything related to it?thank you

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Kanon!

      It’s difficult for me to decide if your hand position is correct or not (including the position of your little finger) without seeing you play :).

      However, I will mention that the main cause of weird/uncomfortable finger positioning is an incorrect tensed playing habit.

      Therefore, since you mentioned that you’re playing piano by ear, I strongly recommend learning the basics correctly (including musical notation) – by following the professional principles of the Russian piano school that I recommend in all my tutorials.

      You can start by watching/reading these tutorials:

      The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture
      The Secrets of a Correct Piano Key Attack
      The Piano Intoning Technique and the Illusion of Legato

      Also, I recently launched a special project for beginners: a step-by-step Video Practice Guide based on Nikolaev’s Russian School of Piano Playing (the most fundamental method book for beginners we use in the Russian piano school).

      This practice guide will help you learn now to play correctly from scratch and how to develop your expressive/technical skills harmoniously, also discovering all the information that any beginner should know for setting a stable, comfortable, enjoyable piano playing foundation.

      Lesson No.1 is free – you can find it here: Nikolaev’s Russian School of Piano Playing. Detailed Practice Guide.

      All the other Lessons are available for the members of my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com ;).

      Good luck and enjoy your practice,
      Ilinca

  47. Oskar says:

    Dear Ilinca,

    This is a really interesting blog and I would like to ask you a couple of questions about an injury I have.

    I’m a 21 year old piano student at the Royal Conservatoire in Den Haag, Netherlands. I’ve been studying 2-3 hours a day over the past few years. Since one month I’ve got this strange injury on both index fingers, though much more on the right side. I know from the many sports I’ve done in my life, it feels a bit like just overtraining, but I don’t know a single pianist in my surroundings, nor from any website, that has pain in only his or her index fingers.

    The doctor and my teacher recommended me to totally quit playing until the pain stops (probably a few weeks) and the doctor said the tendons were a little swollen and inflammated. Thus he adviced rest and gave ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation. Now, after more than 10 days without playing, I don’t feel any improvement. It is really hard to avoid moving your index fingers, because you use them with almost anything in daily life, for example with the typing of this text.

    Do you have any advices for me? Do I worry too much and do I have to just rest a little longer? Do I have to visit a certain specialist? Do I have to give you some more details in order to be more clear?

    I would be really thankful if you considered these questions.

    Kind regards,
    Oskar

  48. Veronica says:

    Dear llinea
    I am a pianist and piano teacher; your advice about heavy relaxed shoulders and arms is making such a difference. I am a busy 54 year old house-wife and mum, with a time consuming teaching schedule, and therefore, limited practicing time. From now on I am concentrating on regular, however short a time,relaxed hand/arm, non-rushed, using the practicing time available properly and comfortably (working on various solo and cello/piano sonata parts). I have “always”played, well since 6 years old, but only in recent years become passionate about it, largely following my Mum’s death from cancer; piano playing became my sollace and emotional outlet;and I now feel I know how to proceed so that I fulfill my potential as a pianist, thanks to your helpful advice. I also want to pass this on to my pupils, once term resumes.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Veronica!

      Thank you so much for your comment – a colleague’s feedback means a lot to me! 😉

      I’m really happy that my tutorial helped you to acquire a better relaxation and to play by using the weight of your entire arm. A correct playing habit is not only comfortable and tension-free – it is also the shortest (and most enjoyable) road to wonderful technical and expressive achievements!

      Good luck! 😉

      Warmest,
      Ilinca

  49. El says:

    Dear Ilinca,

    First I’d like to say that I find all of your writings and videos extremely interesting and informative. Secondly I must make the guilty admission that I suffer from Lazy Student Syndrome. I had an exam coming up and felt that my practice throughout the year had been completely inadequate, so in the weeks running up to the exam, I practiced for many hours until my hands were just too fatigued to keep going. On the day of the exam (as I was holding a cup, incidentally) I really felt the result of my misguided labours – a pretty intense and spasmodic ache right along my thumb and forearm.

    I moaned about it to some of my friends, and one of them – another pianist – told me “you’ve got Mother’s Thumb” (a colloquial name for De Quervain syndrome). She was right. Being around other musicians who’d all given themselves injuries at some point, I was advised to rest my hands as much as possible, and this I did (and discovered just how much I took the use of my hands for granted in everyday life!). I stopped playing altogether for a few weeks.

    It’s now a month and a half later and rest has certainly helped. But I still have a problem. When I sit down at the piano, I can never know how long I’ll be able to practice before the inflammation comes back, but it’s never any longer than an hour. I try to relax when I play, but don’t always remember. My hands feel weaker than they were. I’m wondering if there’s a better way I can organise my practice sessions. Should I be building up more gradually to longer sessions, or should I just not play at all for a while?

    Best wishes and many thanks for your time,
    El

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi El!

      Thank you for your comment! 😉

      I would love to give you detailed advice – but since I am not a doctor, I cannot assess the gravity of your problem (especially if it’s not piano-related).

      If it IS piano related, then just follow the recommendations in the article above! Start with rest (1-2 weeks), and then gradually increase the duration of your practice.

      However, don’t forget that the most important thing is not how MUCH you practice – it’s HOW you practice!

      If your posture is incorrect, if you play in a tensed manner, only from your fingers (instead of using the relaxed weight of your entire arm), if your practice is not regular (you mentioned the Lazy Student Syndrome LOL) – then, naturally, your injury will only get worse.

      You can find detailed video tutorials on all these topics on my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com! 😉

      Good luck,
      Ilinca

  50. Amanda says:

    First of all, i want to THANK YOU for this site. its amazing and i can not wait to watch the tutorials.

    Im a little embarrassed by my question because i didnt come from a disciplined piano background. I come from a rock background and actually play a piano keyboard standing up in a band. I know this is not common, but i have met other women in bands that do this too.
    Do you think posture and hand and wrist positions would be very different as if i were sitting down? i definitely have to try to stand up straighter but feel like the tops of my hands are getting strained when i play very fast and ive been feeling some wrist pain (but i also work with computers so my hands are always on a mouse or keypad which doesnt help.)
    Any ideas? I completely understand if you dont answer my unconventional style question though! <3

    Thank you again for the site. 🙂

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Amanda!

      I’m really happy that you’re enjoying my site! 😉

      Naturally, there are some differences between a classical playing habit and a modern (rock, pop, jazz) one (especially in the key attack and the character of the sound).

      However, the basic idea is the same: as long as you’re not tensing your joints (elbows and wrists), as long as you play by using arm weight (instead of straining your fingers alone) and you have a natural, ergonomic arm-forearm-wrist-hand alignment – then you should feel no pain.

      In standing up while playing, the most important thing is to adjust the height of your keyboard properly – so that your elbows will be aligned with the keys (or slightly higher). In rest – everything is the same!

      Don’t forget to read/watch these tutorials:
      The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture
      The Piano Posture and The Energy of the Sound

      You can also find many super-detailed video and written tutorials on this topic (correct posture and key attack, the difference between the classical and the modern playing habit etc.) on my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com. Feel free to join anytime! 😉

      Cheers,
      Ilinca

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