Picture Perfect Piano Posture
Updated: Oct 13, 2019
Learning to play the piano is not easy! Muscles that have never been used before are suddenly expected to jump into action and not only that, just be naturally strong, too! But it is not so easy. It’s all about balance and alignment to help the body be able to move naturally and healthfully as we gradually practise and become small muscle athletes.
Feet: Foot support is important. If the feet do not sit firmly on the floor, then a supporting foot rest is needed. This stabilizes the back and returns balance to the spine. If one’s feet are able to swing, the balance is unstable and thrusts the body forward, causing tension in the upper back and stiff arms and hands. The legs also compensate and are tense to bring the body into balance.
“Sit bones”: The bottom of the pelvic bones are rounded and are great “rockers” for reaching the opposite ends of the piano, low or high. These need to be in balance, both sides taking equal weight- no sideways sitting! This allows for freedom of movement for both the upper body and for stability when using a pedal or pedals; or when sitting naturally on the bench, for lack of tension in the lower body. The body weight needs to be centred over the hip joints.
The spine: There is an awful lot that could be said about the spine. In short- tall and relaxed is the ideal. The small of the back needs to be in and not rounded and the rest of the spine tall but not rigid. As new muscles are used, often children will compensate by slumping further and further down as they concentrate on the task at hand. Remedy this by gently and firmly placing your hand on their lower back and pressing in as they are playing- no words needed to interrupt their concentration!
The shoulders: A very typical response in the student especially when trying to get things up to speed, is hiking the shoulders upward. They need to stay relaxed and in alignment- not hunching upwards or forwards. A great thing to do to become aware of shoulder hunching is to squeeze them up as close and tightly to the ears as possible, then drop suddenly. I have students do this and will even interrupt them to do this if necessary. Tight shoulders inhibit the arms and hands.
The arms: The arm actually is often misunderstood. In our minds, we put the end of our arms up at the top of them where we rotate from (we think). The truth is, our shoulder blade and collar bones are the attaching points and these are “floating”! If a person is only thinking of the arms as a long tube, tension results in the shoulders and torso. If you were to put one hand on the opposite collar bone and rotate your arm, you would see that this is the case. So a relaxed arm involves a relaxed back and front as well. From a sitting position on the bench, in a small child I look for an “L” shape between the shoulder, elbow and hand; in an older child or adult, this is more elongated. In order to get that “L” shape, distance from the piano is important, as well as the height of the bench. An adjustable bench is necessary if the arm is not level with or slightly more elevated than the level of the piano keyboard. Distance for a taller person is determined by how close one is to the keyboard. A good rule of thumb is to push the bench back away from the piano until you are sitting with good balance on the front half of the bench, then stretch out your arms and check to see that your fists touch the fallboard.
Hands: The natural shape of the hand is rounded, joints not buckling, knuckles up and wrists level. If you were to stand and let your arms hang by your sides, this is the position they would be in. Therefore, this is the position we want to play the piano. Much easier said than done! Wrists need to be level to avoid tendonitis; elbows slightly away from the body to avoid tennis elbow; knuckles up and not buckling; and all finger joints firm and not buckling. There are many exercises one can do to aid in hand strength- I’ll save that for another time!
Our picture-perfect piano position is, in a nutshell, as close to the natural way your body works as possible. However, most students who start piano will invariably have issues with one or more aspects of this. Not to worry- with consistency and practise, the small muscles will develop, the core will strengthen and technique will rapidly develop. It all starts with balance and alignment.