Proper posture and body mechanics are essential to avoiding back, neck and shoulder pain. For piano players, these two essentials make the difference between suffering through your music and fully enjoying the experience.
A musician studies both his instrument and himself when developing his musical style. Part of this study for pianists should involve how you hold your body and how you interact with the piano. Proper form and ease of movement will reduce pain and improve your playing.
Posture is one of the main determinants of muscle tension. Posture is poor when muscles are held at abnormal lengths. The following tips will help you maintain correct posture at the piano, thereby reducing muscle tension.
1. Don’t hunch over so that your face is parallel to the keys. Some do this simply because it makes it easier to see the keys; other may do so unconsciously due to the stress of concentration. Sit upright and use your eyes rather than your neck to look down.
2. Keep your shoulders low and loose. Tensing and raising the shoulders is one of the most common postural mistakes people make when they concentrate, particularly when using their arms.
3. Your forearms should be about parallel to the floor. Your elbows should be a little in front of your midline. As your move your arms up and down the keyboard, strive to keep the elbow and hand in line with each other. These postural tips will help reduce strain on the arms and shoulders.
4. When you need to reach beyond the keys in front of you, move from your hips rather than your back. This is easier to do if you sit on the front part of your bench, which frees up the hip joints since less thigh area is anchored by the bench.
5. Feet should be flat on the floor. If the feet aren’t supporting the legs, the hips and lower back will have to.
Your piano station should be set up with following ergonomic capacities to facilitate correct posture.
1. You must be seated high enough to allow your elbows to be positioned above the keys with the forearm almost parallel to the floor. You may choose an adjustable bench or use props such as phone books to raise your seat if needed.
2. If your feet can’t reach the floor to be resting flat on it, you can use a footrest and or similar prop beneath your feet for support. Dangling feet put extra strain on the hips and lower back since they fail to support the legs.
The above tips will help set you up for reduced muscle tension while playing the piano. It is always a good idea to stretch the body, particularly muscles subjected to the most stress. Stretching will also help you be aware of your body and give you a break form sitting. Do the following stretches before and after practices, and at 30-45 minute intervals during sessions.
1. Raise the arms above the head and slowly lower them to your sides. This helps elongate the spine.
2. Roll the shoulders backwards.
3. Clasp your hands behind your back and pull backward, opening up the chest.
4. Clasp your hands in front of your chest with palms facing outward and push out. This stretches the upper back.
5. Get down on one knee with the both knees at 90 degree angles. Lean forward. This partial lunge stretches the hip flexors, which are commonly tight in people who sit for prolonged periods of time.
If you need extra instruction, consider the Alexander Technique. This program was designed to help musicians and performers obtain ideal posture and movement patterns. You may choose to train with an instructor or pursue self-study. Information on the Alexander Technique can be found at http://www.alexandertechnique.com/.
Movement therapies like yoga and Pilates help to increase body awareness and strengthen the core, a muscle group that plays a major role in maintaining proper posture. You may choose to participate in a class or study at home using online videos or DVDs for instruction.
You can avoid back pain when playing the piano by using your body correctly. The above tips will help keep the music in your life without the pain.