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I'm not sure if this is a myth, but is it bad for a pianist to work out (e.g. lift weights)? I've heard that building strength this way will reduce fine muscle control.

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I highly doubt it, as long as you're keeping up with your practice and not damaging your body or bulking to the point that you can't move your arms properly :P –  Matthew Read Sep 17 '13 at 16:38
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If this was the case, other occupations that require fine and precise hand motor skills (like surgery) would have recommendations against working out. I cannot google any advice to surgeons to avoid gym, and, if this was the case and/or had some evidence, there would be at least some discussion on this topic on surgery forums and in articles describing technique, because precise and error-free surgery is much more important than precise musical performance. –  Mischa Arefiev Sep 18 '13 at 12:23
    
Keep in mind that, of course, working out incorrectly can cause bad things to happen that may affect piano playing capabilities, like correct posture. –  Richard Sep 15 at 0:39

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

This is a myth. An untrained person with large muscles will be just as clumsy as an untrained person with wimpy muscles. Fine motor control is a skill learned independent from the rest of the muscles in your body - if it were related, all brass players would have gi-normous lips and pianists would have gi-normous hands, and as well all know, this is simply not the case.

Physique only becomes a factor when a given body type will not allow a person to play an instrument with correct technique. For example, someone with a severe underbite who wants to learn to play clarinet. Other examples would be a person with fantastically large hands who is interested in oboe or a person with a weak jaw that wants to play tuba.

With respect to piano, it usually comes down to hand size - the larger the hands the easier it is to play. Certainly if you're of the muscular persuasion, piano will not hinder in the slightest as playing to the extremes of the instrument may be thought of like doing "flys."

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Taking this to an illogical extreme: youtube.com/watch?v=r7Jb_4Y5A-4 :P –  NReilingh Sep 18 '13 at 18:15
    
@nreilingh: ....what the hell? –  Babu Sep 21 '13 at 19:13
    
Couldn't (literal) fat fingers be an issue when trying to hit individual keys? Not that fat fingers are caused by excercise... –  Jan Dvorak Sep 14 at 10:14
    
@JanDVorak - The largest issue with that would be pressing more than 1 key simultaneously, though I've never heard of this being an issue. A larger and more prominent issue are fingers that are too short. Pianists with short fingers can still be virtuosic, but they need to alter their technique a bit. –  jjmusicnotes Sep 14 at 16:03

Let me add some perspective here from a completely different angle: climbing.

Climbing is obviously a sport where people train a lot, and people "working out" in the sense of "sculpting an impressive body" tend to be amusingly bad (from the perspective of climbers not overly impressive to chicks while they keep their shirt on) at it.

That's because "working out" is generally geared towards gaining muscle mass. In order to achieve that, repetitions in training sets are geared towards the 7-15 rep range. Decidedly fewer reps (often as "excentric" loads somewhat akin to controlled yielding) only exercise maximum activation of muscle fibers, decidedly more reps are geared towards endurance, creating additional capillars and veins and circulation over time.

But the middle range used for body building profits from encouraging local buildup of storage space for nutrients and electrolytes around the muscle fibers doing the work but affects the actual available momentous maximum strength at best secondarily.

Since weight is a number one concern for climbers, and since the difficulties in a hard climb are either isolated (requiring quite brief peak bursts of power) or continuous for a longer passage (overhangs etc requiring endurance), the impressive "work out" musculature is dead weight not helpful for carrying you across larger passages.

For most music instruments you have a similar problem: of course you need bodily fitness and endurance and can profit from it. But what you don't need is having to move bulky muscle pads along with your fingers that have more than desirable inertia, compete for room to move with other bulky muscles, and that tire easily nevertheless.

So you should really first figure out just what you mean by "working out" and what goals your working out is supposed to achieve, and then figure out whether the goals in itself are incompatible in some manner with doing music fast and effortlessly and/or whether some particular manner of pursuing those goals might interfere more with your musical interests than necessary.

If you are aiming to turn your body into a coherent sculpture, spindly underarms make for a somewhat incoherent picture. But bulging underarms will interfere with what you can achieve in piano play.

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