Take the 2-minute tour ×
Music: Practice & Theory Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for musicians, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

So I'm a decently experienced pianist, but I never had formal training. And now I've got this absolutely amazing arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody, and it's killing me.

The first two parts were so easy, but as soon as that third part explodes onto the scene, it's pure octaves scales for the left hand at top speed...I'm not sure of the exact tempo, but it's quite fast. See here, around 3:55:

(This is not me....this is the arranger.)

I've been practicing these slow and fast, but whenever I try to play them at top speed, even though it really only carries on for about 7 seconds, my wrist catches fire. I can barely do it before my hand about gives out.

I have no hand or wrist injuries, nor any unusual weaknesses/disabilities. This tends to happen to me while playing Joplin pieces as well, if I play them at anything more than a medium tempo (Please no comments about never playing Joplin fast =P...it's just for fun.) It never happens at any other time.

Is there any reason this is happening, or any way I can build up endurance in my wrist so that it doesn't?

share|improve this question

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I'm unsure what to make of the pain you're describing. I've encountered a similar problem attempting to play a piece with a similar technical challenge, but I never felt pain in the wrist joint; rather, the muscles in my forearm were very fatigued. I assume that's what you were describing. That fire is lactic acid building up in your forearm muscles, which is the same thing that causes the "burn" you get from an intense workout. Essentially, you're doing the equivalent of one hell of a stair-stepper marathon with your forearms. All you need to do is build up the musculature of your forearm to support that sort of a workout.

The technique I was taught to approach repeated octaves is to isolate the striking motion of the hands from their lateral motion. Essentially, flex your wrists (like knocking on a door) to strike the keys, and use your arms to aim your hands. This has the benefit of limiting any fatigue to your forearm; if you're using your whole arm to strike the keys, then you also need to worry about your upper arm and shoulders becoming fatigued. Since they're also moving your hand around, this could impact your accuracy. You'll probably find that since you're moving more of the striking responsibility to your forearms, you will tire faster and your speed may drop. You'll also need to learn how to aim with your arms without having your hands as an anchor. Over time, it becomes second nature.

Now for the fun part. If you have any intention of avoiding repetitive strain injuries (like carpal tunnel syndrome), you want to avoid retaining any tension in your forearm and wrist. Playing quickly is easy; playing quickly without tension is hard. The solution is to build up your forearm endurance gradually. Practice for a while at a challenging speed (not necessarily top speed), and when you feel yourself tense up, stop. Stretch. Take a walk. Do not play more until your forearm is more relaxed, and then start again. It takes time to build up speed and endurance, but you'll notice an improvement within a week if you practice daily.

Because it's so important, I want to reiterate: DO NOT TENSE YOUR FOREARMS OR YOUR HANDS. It can improve your hand speed, but keeping tension is a bad habit. It will take decades to feel the consequences of it. By then, you will have to un-learn your technique....trust me, you do not want to go through that mess. Nip it in the bud, and take your time in developing speed and endurance.

share|improve this answer

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest a relatively simple psychological approach:

Write a "piano" dynamic marking under those notes.

To my ear they really only sound like eighth notes at about q=140. I think the idea of playing those notes loudly might be causing your tension problem. Thinking of them as piano isn't really going to change the music very much (they are octave-doubled bass notes, after all), but it may change your approach to playing them. The idea should be to think of them with a very soft dynamic marking, and just lightly bounce from one note to the next.

share|improve this answer

Sounds like the sort of issue that would be best solved by having a teacher watch you play and offer suggestions.

But here are some general tips.

  1. Strike downward to play, perhaps with a grasping/gripping feeling in the palm, hard enough to bounce off the key so you don't have to use much effort to lift the hand and arm afterwards. Have the hand rounded and arm relaxed between strikes.
  2. Do not lift the fingers or stiffen the back of the hand in order to reach the octave. Tension limits range of motion. Add pauses between notes while practicing if you need extra time to relax your muscles.
  3. Keep the wrist no higher than the first knuckle (the joint where your fingers attach to your hand).
  4. Add octave scales to your regular scale regimen to build strength and coordination.
  5. Practice in brief and frequent sessions instead of long and infrequent sessions.
share|improve this answer

I'd like to second the first commenter's thoughts. If you're experiencing pain, it's more than likely related to tension. To rephrase the line from Dune about "fear being the mind killer", I tell my students that "tension is the music killer".

You should always strive to play from the shoulder, as that is the only joint in your arm designed for the kind of movements required in music. Try playing with something holding your wrists nice and flat -- any form of angle will give you RSI or something.

That being said, work it up slowly! You'll get there. :-P

share|improve this answer
    
+1 and not just for the Dune reference. This is spot-on. –  luser droog Nov 10 '12 at 7:41

Your playing is both wonderful and beautiful. I enjoyed your YouTube presentation. I am not a pianist but do use the keys and the guitar as part of my composing tools. I did however study with an exceptional classical pianist many years ago.

By observing your playing three things come to mind that might help.

1) try removing the big watch on your left arm, and any jewelry.

2) be sure to do stretches before starting your practice to loosen up your upper body, shoulders, arms, and wrists.

3) ask yourself where is the tension in your body when you reach the difficult physical parts. I am betting that you will find a lot in your wrists. I suggest that for the octave playing that you consider putting your whole body into it as to spread the tension out. That is, have the energy flow from your torso through your shoulders down your arms and out your fingers as opposed to coming only from the forearm or wrist.

share|improve this answer
1  
Oh my God, I wish that video was of me. That's the person who made the arrangement; she's a professional concert pianist. I'm pretty good, but I'm not NEARLY that good. But thanks for the complement anyway, haha. –  Aerovistae Oct 10 '12 at 23:10
    
Wow, whoever she is, she really did a great job. You might video yourself playing the hard octave part as it would be a good way to see how you are holding your body, arms, etc and might assist in trying help you find the answer. –  filzilla Oct 11 '12 at 17:57
    
@filzilla: Remarkable video girl is "Vika" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktoriya_Yermolyeva –  Ulf Åkerstedt Oct 11 '12 at 19:32

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.