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At first I thought it was normal since I'm unused to playing chords this way and I'm playing the song below to challenge myself some more. But after trying to look up about it, I'm not so sure. Before when I played it, the chords only made my forearm a little sore after practicing it for 5~10 minutes. Then I tried practicing that this morning and my forearm started hurting a lot more after only 3~5 minutes of practice. I'm not sure if I'm playing wrong, something's going wrong with my wrists, or if it's nothing at all.

If it helps to know, I tense up my fingers when I play it and mostly move my arm. I also haven't done any finger stretches or excercises before it. I also recently went to the gym and working out might've made my arm more easily tired.

The part I was playing was at measures 9-14.

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    Pain is never normal. – Neil Meyer Nov 23 '17 at 6:45
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First, all notes must be played from the weight of the arm or from gravity. That eliminates the tension of playing down and gives you microseconds of relaxation on the up.

Secondly, when you abduct your fingers (stretch/spread them out), they pull (vector force) on the flexor muscles in the forearm. Then when you flex your fingers, the tendon between the bone and muscle gets strained, giving you the SYMPTOM of cramps. Playing with gravity will partially eliminate this.

Don't do this but, with all five fingers together, wave "bye bye." Effortless, right? Now abduct (ab=away, duct=lead) them and wave bye bye. Feel the tension? That is because you are using two muscles to move one bone at the same time: Vector forces. It is imperative for pianist to learn how to use the correct muscles and only one muscle at a time.

Octaves are challenging but by using gravity, the pronator muscles, the bicep, and most importantly, not using muscles you don't need, is the key. Every motion should have an equal and opposite (though minimized) motion. Just watch the grace of a skilled fly fisherman. Slap a face, throw a ball, swing a bat, a tennis racquet, a fishing pole, kick a ball - they all start with opposite motions. In order for a pianist to play down, they must first play up. A pianist who first tries to play relaxed or with a still quiet hand is looking for trouble. Exaggerate, then minimize. There is no such thing as relaxation at the piano. Most of us just relax the wrong muscles and use the wrong ones. If you use the incorrect muscle AND try to relax it, you're not going to get anywhere. Just relax the incorrect muscles and use the correct ones. The incorrect muscles are the abductors and flexors - the ones we are all trained to play from.

Maybe this video will give you an idea:

The fingers don't have any muscles on them. They are moved by our forearm muscles and are opened and closed by a "pulley system" with the tendons. A pianist who focuses on playing from the fingers and hand will hurt themselves by straining the long flexor tendons causing them to inflame and press on the median nerve.

You can blame technique books such as Hanon for the rash of injuries pianists have suffered the past hundred years. Actually, you can blame teachers who didn't study biology and physics in HS. You know, those courses you don't use in real life.

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You are no doubt aware that your fingers are really just 'puppets' operated by the muscles in your forearm. Unless you spend most of your waking hours photocopying your palms, performing hand stands or working as a mime artist, you are unlikely to be used to stretching your hands out flat and spreading your fingers wide. Notice how when you're walking around with your hands relaxed the fingers naturally curve in? When you reach for a wide chord you are asking the muscles on the top (outside) of your forearm to contract more than they are accustomed to doing. Your gym workouts are likely to involve all sorts of gripping, the very opposite of stretching for a chord, so it is not surprising that your forearms hurt when/after you are playing. Try making a point of taking every opportunity to relax those outside forearm muscles while you are playing. Allow your hands to curl in when you don't need to stretch for a chord. In short,you've got to get your hands (and the outside forearm muscles that move them) used to stretching, but you need to take every opportunity while playing to rest them. When you are away from the piano you could always try photocopying your palms, executing the odd handstand, doing a spot of 'mime trapped in a glass cube' or perhaps a goose step parody...

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I'm not pianist, I'm a bass player, but bass is another instrument that can inflict serious wear and tear on your hands, wrists and arms if you're not careful.


Some Points:

  • Working out in ways that stress your hands, wrists and arms can definitely impact your playing ability/pain, etc. You may simply stretch things in ways that make playing using those same parts increase the stress even further, resulting in new discomfort. Working out might also change the dynamics of your hands and wrists in ways that impact your playing.

    Because of such issues, I stick to things like walking, running, certain types of aerobic exercises. You won't find too many body builders among virtuoso musicians.

  • Besides that, there are sometimes random/unknown variables that come into play. Maybe you slept in an odd position, or did something else that caused stress you're not aware of. And sometimes, for whatever reason, we just have days that don't work so well - maybe it's the weather or sunspots...

I'm not a pianist or a piano teacher - perhaps someone like that could give your more specifics.

Meanwhile you haven't made clear if this was a one time incident or it's regular now. If it's just one time, wait and see if it happens again and if you can find some pattern of your behavior or habits that might be contributing to the problem.

Perhaps a change in schedule or sleeping habits comes into play? Getting enough sleep is very important for allowing your body to recover from the stress and strain that playing an instrument can involve. Even a new pillow or mattress might have an impact.

You've probably heard of Glenn Gould's obsession with his special chair. Granted, that is extreme and it's not clear why he refused to play without his special chair, but it does seem to illustrate that sometimes apparently irrelevant environmental factors can affect your playing.

If you have a teacher and it persists, discuss it with your teacher - maybe something has crept into your technique that's causing the problem in certain passages, unbeknown to you.

Again, given the information you've provided, working out is your #1 suspect.

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