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I'm prepping for my RCM Level 8 piano exam this Thursday, and I have been practicing for an hour every day since last week, with a few exceptions, so I would have thought I would have been more prepared...

However, this is my problem: My hands are getting tired. Today is Monday, my test is Thursday, and when I do the simplest stuff like arpeggios I trip up. (I had it in the bag last week). I'm pretty sure my hands are tired, even though I took a full-day break on Sunday. What should I do? How do I practice without ruining my chances on the exam? Are my hands really tired or do I need more practice? Is it because it's winter? Sorry if this is a noob question but I never had this problem before, somehow.

Please help and thanks!

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    Unless the intensity of your practice is really crazy, it would be concerning to me if an hour a day was fatiguing. In some contexts, an hour a day is just minimal maintenance... What would have been your "usual" daily/weekly practice? (Even when I was young, my back was the typical limiting factor.) Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 22:38
  • I used to practice 30 mins a week and got by fine (music is not my life, but since the exam is coming up I have doubled the practice time and mh hands do not seem happy about that)
    – Thunder
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 23:34
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    Wow, really, 30 min/week? Did you mean 30 min/day? One thing about "modern times" is that if one finds themself doing a lot of typing on a computer keyboard, it does keep one's fingers relatively limber. But, still, some pianistic stuff is more athletically demanding than typing! :) Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 0:10
  • Yeah, sorry, I meant 30 mins/day. And I do type a LOT, but it was probably still a shock toy hands, especially with the stretches needed for the arpeggios…
    – Thunder
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 1:29
  • My test is tomorrow and my hands are okay again, I try to relax and have the right mentality and gave my hands a break
    – Thunder
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 1:30

3 Answers 3

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I'll answer about general ways for anyone to avoid fatigue before a performance, since only you know your own body and what you're experiencing.

First, consider the possibility that "I used to be able to do this fine last week" has a psychological component. We're all familiar with "I did it fine at home, why can't I do it right in a lesson"; that's usually because we unconsciously ignore mistakes when the stakes are low (practice) and notice them when we play for someone or are approaching a performance. It's also possible that the upcoming performance is "getting in your head"; sports professionals are familiar with "the yips." Consider preparing for the performance not only physically but mentally; come to terms with how it's making you feel and deal with those feelings.

But yes, it's definitely possible to tire—or injure!—your body when you make a big increase in practice time. When you're coming up to a performance you're in an unfortunate position because the best advice is "increase more gradually, starting a month or two ago," but you don't have a time machine. So the first advice is to trust your body and don't push it. How much benefit will you get from a few days of practice? How much damage can you do? You'll know the balance best for yourself. But "practice smart"; a few hours of practice on an unfamiliar piece can have high benefit, but on a piece you already know inside and out, all you need is "maintenance practice." Don't put in practice time that isn't actually bringing you benefit. And, benefit or not, don't go beyond your own physical limits. At some point, you might get more benefit from rest than from practice.

There are things you can do to help your body. First of all, sleep well. Your body repairs muscles and connective tissues while you sleep. It helps your cognitive functioning too, building memories out of all those things you learned while practicing, specifically or unconsciously! It makes sense to keep a good diet too. You can try specific therapeutic things too to help speed healing, like soaking your arms in warm water or therapeutic massage from someone who knows what they're doing. Some words of warning about this kind of thing, though. First, no therapeutic measure can work miracles. If you're trying to do more than you can in the time you have, there's no "trick" to help. And beware of received wisdom; some practices might actually hurt rather than help. Trust medical professionals more than friends who swear by what works for them.

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  • Thank you so much!
    – Thunder
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 23:32
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  1. If there is soreness, stop.
  2. If there is persistent or consistent soreness, see a doctor.
  3. Break up the hour into smaller chunks.
  4. Try ice and/or heat. Which works most effectively might require some trial and error. In addition to your hands, also try applying ice/heat to your forearms, shoulders, and back. Fatigue in any of those areas can cause extra stress on your hands.
  5. Get a massage. A hand massage might be enough, but the actual source of fatigue could lie elsewhere, such as in your arms or back.
  6. In addition to your hands and body, mental fatigue is a source of unaccustomed mistakes. In my experience, it's by far the more common source. So sleep well, take naps, take some quiet-time breaks.
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Simple answer is - don't! If you need to practise an hour each day at this late stage, it's, well, too late.

Sounds like your hands need a rest, not more practice. So, if you need to concentrate for that exam, use time to go over the pieces (and scales/arps) mentally, but for a lot less time than the hour. 15mins at a session will do, maybe 3-5 times a day.

Talking about mentally, it may well be that you're far too screwed up that way, and it's manifesting itself in stress and tension in the part that needs to actually be most relaxed when you play - your hands/wrists/arms. So, by continuing, all you're doing is exacerbating the problem!

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  • You’re right. I’ll give my hands a break
    – Thunder
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 23:33

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