Announcements, Technique

Tension and Piano Playing

Just recently, I’ve realized that when I play piano, I hold a “knot” of tension in my back, in the space between my shoulder blades.  Upon this realization, I have begun making a conscious effort to release this tension while I am practicing – which I have to do constantly.  It’s obviously a bad habit that I’ve been unaware for a long time!

Interestingly enough, it seems to be related to another issue which I’ve been aware of since my freshman year of college: I tend to raise my right shoulder when I play, especially in anticipation of difficult passages in a piece.  Raising my shoulder, however, actually hinders my arms/fingers in those difficult passages rather than helping.  I have to remind myself not to “freak out” in anticipation of those upcoming passages so that I keep my shoulder comfortably in place.

Now that I am focusing on releasing the newly-discovered tension in my back, however, I have found that the shoulder problem is occurring less.  It seems that I may have found the root of the issue!  My back feels better, which means my shoulders are feeling better, which in turn means my arms and wrists are feeling better.  And difficult passages are going much better than ever before, which is amazing to me!

Do you deal with tension when you play?  Have you been able to identify the root of the problem?  I am very interested in hearing more about how to prevent/deal with tension!

Photo Credit: Phineas H | CC 2.0

improving as a teacher, Technique

Bench Height: Try Little Pillows for Little Students

Just thought I’d share my recent find.  One again, I’ll admit, I found another treasure at the dollar store.  (Does anyone else love dollar stores as much as I do?)

It might not seem like much, but I see great potential in these little blue travel sized pillows.  My little student won’t have to sit on a stack of piano books any longer in order to attain the correct height at the piano!

When I first picked up the pillow, I expected the stuffing to be cheap and light stuffing which would do nothing for the student’s height once they’d sit on it, but actually it is stuffed pretty well with some kind of heavier material.  And for a dollar, the price can’t be beat.

If you aren’t convinced on the importance of playing with the proper bench height at the piano, check out the revealing pictures at the Well-Balanced Pianist website.

My hand is awkwardly sticking out in this picture to give you a better idea of the size of the pillow.  It’s just the right size for students under age 8 or so.

If you are interested in getting one of these pillows, check if there is a Dollar Tree store in your area.  I looked for the listing of this pillow on the Dollar Tree website, but was unable to find it (if anyone finds it, please let me know).  The tag on the pillow just said “Decorative Pillow.”  The pillow also comes in green.

I’ve heard of some teachers using those interlocking foam square pieces for getting students to the right height.  The nice thing about using those foam squares is that you can choose how many of them to stack on top of each other in order to reach just the perfect height.

What have you found to work well for attaining proper height at the piano?

improving as a teacher, Teaching Piano

Play forte – but NOT accented…

You know, learning to play an instrument is all about making breakthroughs.  There are so many things to consider and train yourself to do.  It’s a complicated process!  You are never done learning.  There’s always room for improvement.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been realizing that when I play forte on the piano — whether I’m playing my solo pieces or when I am accompanying a vocalist/instrumentalist — it sounds rather “poundy.”  Forte should not necessarily mean accented, however.  Forte can be a big, full sound without the accented front edge of the note.  But how on earth do I achieve this elusive sound?

This week I made a little breakthrough.  Rather than lifting and reattacking quite so much between chords, I need to keep my arm weight the same as I make the chord changes, more with my fingers than my hands (making sure the wrists remain loose and tension-free!).  It’s difficult to explain, but after a few weeks of pondering this issue in my daily practicing, I think I’m beginning to understand how to create this elusive sound.

You know, piano really is all about creating different sounds, colors, tone qualities – whatever you want to call them.  As my teacher used to say, “Music is not a democracy; not all notes are created equal.”  Now I know that this statement does not just apply to balance between melody and accompaniment, but also to various sections of a piece.  Not all forte notes are equal.  🙂

Photo credit: / CC BY-SA 2.0

Resources, Technique

Photos demonstrating Proper Posture at the Piano

Picture 4Over at The Well-Balanced Pianist website, Dr. Tereasa Dybvig has some wonderful before-and-after pictures of students demonstrating posture at the piano.  Let me tell you, a picture truly tells a thousand words!  I’ve never before seen such a clear demonstration of the effects of incorrect posture.  Bench height, distance from the piano, and having feet flat on the ground really do matter.  Take a look!  (Scroll down about halfway to get to the pictures.)