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Overall history

I have noticed over the years that complicated Beethoven pieces, especially those with sudden dynamic changes, pieces with lots of octaves, and super fast pieces tense up my hands, sometimes to the point that my wrist hurts and I have to stop in the middle of a piece. On the other hand, Mozart is very easy on the hands, even at a fast tempo and with lots of octaves.

Now that to me seems odd. With composers other than Bach or Mozart, I get tension when there are lots of octaves and especially if the piece is fast. With Bach and Mozart, my hands, wrists, and arms naturally relax. Even just looking at a piece by Mozart, I can feel the relaxation. Is this the Mozart effect that's making me relax my muscles when I see a piece by Mozart or is this just a side effect of having played Mozart more frequently more often through my 9 years of piano playing than I played Beethoven or Chopin?

Recent history

For the past 2 weeks I have been playing mostly Beethoven and Chopin with a little bit of Bach and no Mozart whatsoever. Wrist pain has been occurring more frequently. Today I had a pinched nerve of which the pain lasted 4 hours. Glad it was just a pinched nerve and no actual injury(I was scared for a while that I developed Carpal Tunnel or had a dislocation but when the pain went away on its own, I realized that the tingling fingers and pain in the wrist and arm was all from a pinched nerve). I asked on other message boards whether playing Mozart would prevent pinched nerves and I got a unanimous Yes.

Proposed strategy for piano practice

  1. Warm up with a Mozart piece before I play anything else(K 545 1st movement for example)
  2. Practice the pieces I want to learn
  3. If I develop tension, before it gets painful, stop, relax for a few minutes and play more Mozart
  4. If I don't develop tension, continue until I finish the piece and play a Mozart piece as a cool down(Piano Concerto no. 21 as an example)
  5. Stop practice after playing Mozart to relax my hands

I'm thinking that this would be a good strategy for avoiding pinched nerves as well as learning not to tense up just because there are lots of octaves or the tempo is fast or the dynamic change is sudden, using Mozart pieces as studies for relaxation, like how you would use Hanon to study fingering or Czerny to study technique.

But is this a good strategy, getting Mozart pieces into my practice to help not get tense in pieces from other composers and thus not get pinched nerves?

  • 4
    “I asked on other message boards whether playing Mozart would prevent pinched nerves and I got a unanimous Yes.” I certainly wouldn’t take such advice from internet message boards. If you really want to make sure you can play piano for your whole life, you should find a competent teacher who knows about repetitive motion issues. – Todd Wilcox Aug 1 '18 at 2:59
  • I don't see how playing Mozart pieces would help you relieve tension more than just relaxing away from the piano – abernard Aug 1 '18 at 11:52
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I'll take a guess at the reason - also based on some of your earlier, similar, questions about specific technical problems.

Your "piano technique" isn't piano technique at all. You are trying to play the piano the same way as you would play a harpsichord - and you aren't the first (self-taught?) beginner to fall into that trap, based on "what seems like common sense" (for example "you play the piano with your fingers" - WRONG!!) plus obsolete teaching material (Czerny, and even worse, Hanon).

That technique is just about good enough to get through Bach and Mozart on the piano (though it barely works even for Bach because of the mechanical differences between piano and harpsichord), but not for music which uses the full capability of the piano in its own right, and not just as a "generic keyboard instrument" - i.e. almost everything from Beethoven to the present day.

  • Seriously, I'm curious to know what you play the piano with if not your fingers? Is there some deeper meaning? Please explain. – Brian THOMAS Aug 1 '18 at 11:47
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    You can also play with the wrist and the arm, try hitting a note only with finger movement, then only with wrist movement and finaly with the arm. Piano playing is the combination these three movements. – abernard Aug 1 '18 at 12:02
  • On a deeper level, movements of the fingers and arm and wrist is only a consequence of what's happening elsewhere in the body, in the brain and in the guts. You don't play the piano with your fingers if you intend to make music, you play it with your heart ;) – abernard Aug 1 '18 at 12:04
  • @BrianTHOMAS The meaning might be clearer if the wrong ides is described as "you play the piano only using your fingers to press the keys down". The point is that the the muscular effort should not be coming only from your "finger muscles" (which are actually in your forearm, not in your hand or fingers!) but from the bigger muscles that move your arm, shoulder, and even your whole upper body. The number of untaught players who discover that by instinct is very small, compared with the number who get to a certain point using their fingers only, but never progress beyond that point. – user19146 Aug 1 '18 at 18:57
  • I actually had a piano teacher for 2 years, long enough to learn a few Mozart pieces but not much Beethoven. I tried learning Chopin in my second year but it turned against me. My piano teacher got rude at me in my second year of lessons(possibly due to me wanting to learn past my level(wanting to learn advanced when I was in late beginner-early intermediate)). So I stopped learning from that teacher. My Momma initially tried to find another piano teacher but later she thought "Forget it, that's too expensive for me" So for the 7 years after that, all the learning was by myself. – Caters Aug 2 '18 at 3:34
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Alephzero (which really should be "Aleph-Null" to comply with standard math notation, but whatever :-) ) pretty much covered it.

I'll just add the important warning: get some lessons before you do two irreversible things. 1) damage your nerves or tendons from bad mechanics 2) ingrain really bad habits (see "bad mechanics") that can take years to unlearn.

  • We called it "aleph naught" in college even though it was in the USA. It was also 21 years ago, so maybe that's part of it. – Todd Wilcox Aug 1 '18 at 13:47
  • @ToddWilcox I'm USA-taught as well. Also, get offa my lawn you youngster! – Carl Witthoft Aug 1 '18 at 14:49
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    Spelling and pronunciation are irrelevant when the "best" nicknames have already been taken by someone else! (And both you young kids should show some proper respect to a guy who got his math degree back in the 1970s!!) – user19146 Aug 1 '18 at 19:01
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Just practice what you want to practice.

To me, spending all this time playing mozart pieces just to warm up and cool down seems like a huge waste of time.

I would suggest another strategy:

  1. No warm up, just play what you want to play, at a speed which is confortable. You will warm up naturaly from there.

  2. When you notice tension, do not wait until it is painful ! Stop immediatly.

  3. Relax

  4. Figure out why there was tension. Maybe it has to do with nerve. Perhaps your movements where wrong. For instance not enough wrist or arm movement, too much finger legato, bad sitting position, elbows pointing up, etc.

  5. Figure out a way to move wich doesn't hurt you.

  6. Repeat these correct movements until they are ingrained in your muscular memory.

  7. Move on to an other part of your piece you want to practice, back to point 1.

If you practice correctly, there is absolutly no reason to feel any tension, no matter how fast or difficult a passage is.

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