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I've been playing piano for a year now (I used to play in a conservatory when I was a child, maybe 2 years total). I've already learned Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement), Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 and Für Elise. Nothing too complicated, but I know I'm definitely a starter...

Just when I started learning Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1, I figured that the left hand moves rather wildly--I just love all the jumps and the horizontal "scanning"--, but I realized that I started feeling some tiredness in my wrist, maybe even some pressure, so I went and checked my posture and tried relaxing and playing softly and slowly and everything but by then this pain developed in the back of my hand, almost in the middle of the wrist, to the point that it's been two weeks of Zero playing and the pain still hasn't left on its own--I just bought a wrist support.

So my question is: Do you think this pain is part of my habituation into the piano ('cause of all those years of not playing), or is it that I'm definitely having a bad posture?

Thanks a lot.

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You only played for two years when you were young? Methinks this is not enough for such pieces. Your technique is unlikely to be good enough. –  Noldorin Nov 22 '11 at 16:30
    
I agree. I'll soon get some lessons again, but until then, there's this.. –  Dynamo Nov 22 '11 at 16:36
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I have to agree with @Noldorin. Until you start lessons again you should go back to Anna Magdalena's notebook, or Heller opus 45 (might be a stretch)... I don't know, but stick with something simple. For sure, your pain is not about habit. 99% of the piano related injuries are due to bad technique. Maybe, your pain is due to technical errors. You're not moving your fingers efficiently enough for such hard pieces. –  Victor Nov 22 '11 at 17:40
    
@Dynamo: Yes, probably a good idea if you can. (Finding a decent piano teacher outside of schools is so hard though, as I know.) They ought to teach you how to hold the tension in the wrist and relax the fingers and arms. Maybe some relatively simple Clementi/Mozart sonatas would be a goods place to start? –  Noldorin Nov 22 '11 at 18:03
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You should see a health professional. That said, I suspect that you've gone too far too fast and haven't built up enough strength to deal with the amount/difficulty of your recent playing. The point about technique may be correct as well. –  Matthew Read Nov 22 '11 at 19:36
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3 Answers

Don't hover over the keys when you play.

In your situation, you're telling me you just picked up this hard piece. So, I think you should not visualize your technique as just "I'm hitting the right keys," but feeling the keys and music.

That said, when your hands push against the keys, use the weight of your hands PLUS the greater of your forearms. Your elbows, in my opinion, are also playing music.

Correct: slightly pushing the keyboard and leaning in, Incorrect: Hands like dangling monkeys trying to hit right notes.

I am slightly inferring that your performance can show "over-ambition" in this way. Short answer, do my suggestion and start slow, again.

Yay, for relapsing musicians.

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Think of practicing a musical instrument as a form of exercise. Like any exercise, you want to warm up. You want to not over-extend yourself. You want to approach it in a structured way and build in plenty of times in-between exercises to take breaks.

The way I approach practicing is to use a metronome, a timer, and a checklist. I create a checklist of tasks I want to accomplish. I'll break these tasks up into little chunks - say measures 33-67 of that Hindemith sonata for 10 minutes. I'll then set the metronome to a tempo where I can play the piece absolutely flawlessly: Phrasing, articulation, dynamics, pitch, and everything else is in place. But most of all, I'm playing at a tempo where my technique is perfect. Finger, hand, wrist, arm, and body position are all relaxed and in perfect form. I use a mirror to make sure my posture and contour are correct.

The tempo might be ridiculously slow for all this perfection, but it has to be played perfectly at a slow tempo before it can be played perfectly at the faster ones. I'll then move up the metronome incrementally, challenging myself to maintain that level of perfection at the faster tempos. If I start to make mistakes, it's time to stop and decide if I'm playing too fast or if it's time to give the body a rest. I refuse to practice something wrong at a faster tempo, because if you practice through your mistakes then you're just practicing making mistakes.

All this is to say that correct technique and posture prevents repetitive stress injuries, and one should practice technique and posture just as much as learning the notes and playing with feeling.

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Hmmm, I'd be willing to bet that you're getting wrist pain because you're moving your left hand wrist "two dimensionally." If you're only moving it laterally, it's going to cause problems. Try to take on the figuration by moving your wrist in a circle. Start practicing large, and then smaller. If I remember the nocturne correctly, you should play to the bottom note of the left hand figure, so the circle should be clock-wise.

When you play the bottom note, you should be coming in with your wrist at 9' and when you leave to make the jump your wrist should be at 12' with your hand hanging in a relaxed position.

Also, think about going "to" the bottom note. So instead of jumping from the bottom note to the top, you jump from the top to the bottom. You can practice this by regrouping the left hand notes and practicing them this way. Play the second note of each figure to the first note of the following figure and hold the last note. Continue practicing this way.

Also, as an aside, saying that playing the piano is like exercise is semi-idiotic. The implication is that you can build up strength, speed and endurance. While this is true to some extent, you generally can't get ripped hands. The muscles simply weren't designed to acquire bulk. With the exception of the muscle that contracts the thumb and the muscle on the side of the hand that supports the pinky, the muscles in your hands will not be substantially change by playing the piano.

Your gains in endurance and speed mostly come from acquiring a better understanding of piano technique and working for a balance of relaxation and economy of motion in your playing.

To relax, you cannot simply "play relaxed," though it certainly helps. You have to incorporate releases into your playing. You do this by lifting your wrist and letting your hand relax.

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