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I am a beginner, started taking classed with this teacher about 3 weeks now. The reason I wanted to take classes is for the teacher to help me get rid of the pain in my upper back and shoulder blades when playing piano. When asked about my posture and how to move arms and hands, the teacher just says « play however is confortable to you » I dont even know what that means. When asked about piano techniques, he says: it is all gimmicks. I am still having pains when playing piano. Should I drop this teacher and found another one? He has been recommended from a big piano company I dont dare name it.

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    What worked for me when I had the same problem was doing web searches and finding that body builders/weight lifters know all about posture. You don’t fix posture by having good posture. You fix it over time by stretching some muscles and strengthening others. Piano teachers don’t know this. Body builders do. Commented Jul 11 at 4:02
  • @ToddWilcox That sounds more like an answer than a comment.
    – Divizna
    Commented Jul 11 at 8:50
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    Just to check - you do have an adjustable stool, right? (Or, in case your piano is actually an electric keyboard, it came with an adjustable stand?) In any case, you can set the height difference between seat and keyboard to fit your needs? (Sorry if this is too basic a question.)
    – Divizna
    Commented Jul 11 at 9:35

2 Answers 2

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Handling pain

Stop playing when you feel discomfort. Never let it reach the level of pain.

Evaluating your teacher

Tell your teacher what you're experiencing. If you haven't already done that, then do it at your next lesson.

Once your teacher knows, if they still give the same answers about posture and technique, then absolutely find a different teacher.

General best practices:

Posture

  1. Sit close to the front edge of the piano bench. This might mean moving the bench further away from the piano.
  2. Have both feet firmly on the ground or a raised, sturdy surface of some kind if your feet don't reach. Your feet should be slightly apart and support the weight of your legs.
  3. Some people like to sit straight. I like to lean forward slightly. Either way, don't lean back away from the piano. If you find yourself leaning back, you're probably sitting too close.
  4. Position the center of your body somewhere close to middle C. You might be slightly to the right or left, but you want to be roughly in the middle of the keyboard, and middle C makes a convenient landmark.
  5. Make sure you're sitting at an appropriate height. Your elbows should be even with, slightly above, or slightly below the level of the keyboard. This requires some experimentation on your part to find your comfort zone.
  6. Stand in front of a mirror with your shoulders, arms, and hands relaxed at your sides. Your shoulders should slope slightly downwards, your elbows and wrists should be fairly neutral, and your hands should have a soft curve (i.e., not like you're holding a ball). This is how you want to be at the piano, except with bend elbows: upper arms relaxed at your sides (not held away from or against your body), wrists relaxed in a neutral line from your forearms to your knuckles, hands gently curved so that the area between the tips and pads of your fingers is in contact with the keys.

Technique

  1. Allow the weight of your arms to sink into the keys as you play them. Don't push the keys. Your whole arm, at least from the elbow to your fingertips should follow the keys down (and up). That means your elbows will unbend and bend slightly, gently as your play. Your wrists should stay relaxed and mostly neutral, but might also have some slight movement to them.
  2. Don't twist. Your forearms should generally stay perpendicular to the keyboard, and your torso parallel to it. If you need to reach across your body, then lean to the side to maintain the same overall body position as much as possible. Be very careful with thumb turns: move your hands laterally without twisting. Twisting at the wrist is a very, very common source of pain and even injury.

Upper back stiffness

One of the more common causes is raised or hunched shoulders. Make sure your upper arms are hanging loosely at your sides. It's also a good idea to do some gentle stretching before, during, and after you play — emphasis on gentle.

Another common cause is pulling your head back — tightening your neck. A starting place for this is to check your bench height and distance from the keyboard. If you're reading music, make sure it's at an appropriate height. Also consider having your eyes tested. Glasses for music-reading can be very helpful.

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    Yes, seat height (relative to keyboard), and distance of seat from keyboard ... and suitable glasses ... can make a huge difference. Commented Jul 11 at 16:13
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There will be no single posture that works for playing the piano. How can there be, when humans are not all a standard size and physiology!!?

However, it's obvious that whatever posture you are assuming, it's not a good one.

Several factors come into play (literally!) so let's go through them.

Height of seat in comparison to height of piano keys.

Distance of player from said keys.

Height of music looked at compared with player's position.

The 1st will affect whether you hunch forward, or have to lean back to play comfortably, but a basic premise is your elbows slightly higher than the keys themselves.

2nd - too close and again, you'll be moving your whole body to get to a comfortable position, too far away, and the stretch will cause back strain. It seems obvious that a good position will be found naturally.

3rd - where the sheet music is will affect the angle of your back, so ideally, it needs to be directly in front of your eyes.

At the stage you're at, arm weight will not be important, as you'll be struggling to translate the dots into notes, and using hands, and fingers more than gravity!

Basically, back strain will be caused by slouching, so get to a position where you're sitting with a smart, upright torso, and your arms can move freely, without stretch or squash. As said earlier, right now, they won't be moving a whole lot, anyway.

As far as help from teacher is concerned - that's part of their job, and if they can't deliver, it's time for a change.

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  • “There will be no single posture that works for playing the piano.” — That's true even for a single person!  For example, I have an electronic piano with a couple of keyboards mounted vertically above, and I find it very comfortable to play them all while standing.  (My forearms tilt very slightly upward to play the middle keyboard, nearly 45° downward for the piano — but it feels natural to play either or both for longish periods.  So for me, a fair range of height works.  Though I suspect standing makes it easier for some reason; it may also depend on the type of music you're playing.)
    – gidds
    Commented Jul 11 at 18:42

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