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I have started recently and want to become good at piano, but what is hindering me is the pain that follows up, when I play piano. I think it's frustrating. I don't know if it is technique or posture.

I have tried to sit lower and higher on my seat. I have both my feet firmly on the ground. My fingers are curved. Hand relaxed. I try to use my arm weight when pressing the keys. I also try not to isolate the fingers, because I heard it is bad technique.

The pain is in my forearms. It is like at the middle of my forearms. I think it is the extensors, because when I extend my fingers it feels cramped and painful . There is also pain near the elbow. I think it is "tennis elbow". there is another culprit at the thumb side. Where pain shoots through at the back of my forearm.

Should I post a video of myself playing? Any advice would be helpful. Thanks.

Heng

  • Posting a comment since this fails to address technique. I won't endorse a specific product here, but as a programmer and guitarist: it helps to use a forearm massage tool. Mine has two rollers that you can adjust to work out tension yourself. Pretty affordable ($30-$60) – JacobIRR Jan 22 at 18:42
  • Curved fingers, firm fingertips, think rounded “C” shape or like holding a tennis ball. Wrists parallel with floor. Elbows roughly 90 degrees and relaxed at sides. Shoulders tall and relaxed. Push through the keyboard toward the floor with strong fingers. You are doing more than you need to. Talk with an experienced pianist in real life. – jjmusicnotes Jan 23 at 4:29
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Height of seat in comparison to height of keys. If it's an electronic keyboard, it's easy to change the height. If it's an acoustic piano, not so! Elbows need to be slightly higher than hands, so the forearms are slightly dipping downwards from horizontal. This way, your fingers can be bent so the tips play the keys, more than the pads. Having said that, some players prefer to play with flatter fingers and use their pads. Personally, I find it's not as good.

It may be that the keys are stiff, and hard to press down. It could be that you're tensed up, as a beginner you need to relax more. It could be that your back is slouching, making the elbows too low. Since we're all different in body dimensions . posture, physiology, etc., we need to try out different playing positions. One sure thing, your body doesn't like how it's being used at the piano!

  • Hi, yeah I think my Keyboards hammer action is pretty diff and hard compared to acoustic pianos. I can feel the difference from pressing the keys. Maybe I need a new Keyboard? It is some years old. – Ze Heng Lai Jan 23 at 5:52
  • Also doesn't the forearms need to be parallel to the ground? You describe that the elbows need to be slightly raised higher, then the forearms need to follow suit too. – Ze Heng Lai Jan 23 at 6:07
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    Sit with the forearms parallel to the ground (horizontal), then either raise the seat or lower the keyboard slightly. It could be with an old piano that the action isn't that good. Having said that, one piano keyboard I use frequently is now twelve years old, and still has a great action. It's a Roland. But if yours is 20+, yes, maybe time for a change. Is it touch sensitive, and a hammer action like an acoustic? Or more like an organ feel. If so, definitely change it. – Tim Jan 23 at 8:22
  • It has Hammer-Action as a acoustic I think, but it is definitely harder, than some acoustic I have played. I'm not so experienced with pianos, so I can't say. – Ze Heng Lai Jan 23 at 21:45
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Tension, possibly made worse by bad seat height and posture. Can be difficult to sort out by yourself. Do you have a teacher? We MAY be able to help from seeing a video of you playing. YOU may be able to help yourself from seeing a video of you playing. Good idea, make one.

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Describe "Pain". Sharp shooting pain? Dull ache? In the muscle, the meat closer to the elbow? Or near the wrist?

This is very important as pain in the muscle could be the muscles developing to accommodate the new activity while pain closer to the wrist could be carpel tunnel syndrome and a sign that your hand posture is causing nerve damage.

I would refrain from taking (or giving) any advice on this until you the OP post more detailed information. So, please answer some of these questions by editing your post:

  1. How long have you been playing? (months, years)

  2. Are you taking lessons?

  3. Describe the "pain" in more detail. Is it high in the arm or close to the hand? Is it burning, tingling, numb, dull ache?

  4. Does it go away when you are not playing or do other things aggravate it, like being on the computer?

If you are not taking lessons my first piece of advice would be take lessons. An experienced instructor/performer would likely be able to correct you posture and technique. If that's all it is it will get better quick.

  • i'm quite sure in the case of piano you should never feel pain, not even in the muscles – coconochao Jan 22 at 16:53
  • @coconochao, I'm not sure I agree. Any new activity done too much will cause the muscles to feel some pain. Maybe fatigue is a better word but we often use these these term as synonymous, which is why I'm asking the OP for a better description. – ggcg Jan 22 at 18:50
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what is helping against a systremma (charley horse): stand with all the weight on the feet.

In analogy to the arms and shoulder:

stem your body with your arms on the floor (press-up)

However a tendinitis would be a sign that you did practice too hard, then you should rest your arms and your hands, and consider all advises given respecting your seat position, level of your chair, posture. take care!

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Whilst body and hand posture are very important, I'd like to suggest a different reason for your discomfort.

When you practise the piano there's a correspondence between the physical effort you put in and the sound volume that comes out. If you're playing an electronic piano you might have the volume knob set too low, and you're compensating by physically playing harder.

I've been in this exact situation - my piano level in the foldback wedge was too low. I couldn't communicate with the sound man and the volume slider on the piano was set at max. I played harder to try and play louder and ended up with hand pain.

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I'll add more to the already existing answers! There are some aspects that might be causing your pain:

Firstly, in terms of posture, as widely said, the elbow height. I think it's a bit flexible, but it should be always close to the height of your hands.

Secondly, in terms technique, your forearm should never do any work, that's why it's not reasonable to feel pain. While playing, your arm must be mostly loose, so that if you poke it, it must swing a little. All work must be done by your fingers and hand, that sustain you arm while it hangs loose. But, you should never use your finger's force to press down the notes, only to sustain your arm. What presses the note is your arm's weight.

Another technical aspect can be your hand's posture. It's position should be a subtle arch. If it's too low or too high, the movement is less optimal and you end up doing unnecessary work.

Last but not least, you fingers must always be relaxed while not playing. It is very common to strain your middle fingers while doing an octave, or your last fingers while doing something fast with the first 3 or 4 ones. This ends up just creating extra tension.

So, as said, the best would be to have a teacher, at least temporarily, because he will be the best person to correct your posture.

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I'd have to see you play but even then, what you are doing wrong might be invisible. You should find a teacher who works with injured pianists and fix what may be wrong with your technique. I am just going to ramble some repetitive thoughts for you to ponder BUT, If I were you I personally wouldn't change anything about my technique without working with a knowledgeable teacher because you could make things worse.

It is the weight of the arm which is the dominant force in depressing keys. Many people play from what they think are their finger muscles (which don't exist). Our flexor muscles in the forearm are what move our fingers. However, when we use those muscles we often strain the long flexor tendons between the bone and muscle. It becomes a tug of war between bone and muscle and the tendon is caught between. The fulcrum of the elbow is a very important first step in providing up/down to facilitate gravity. Notice if you play a chord from the elbow using up/down, there is very little effort coming from the fingers because you are using your flexors minimally. Also, the flexors fatigue quickly and easily. As you learned in HS physics, every motion has an equal and opposite motion. Kick a ball, swing a bat, slap a face, poke an eye, swat a fly, throw a rock, swing an axe . . . Why not the piano? It is because we try to play like people who look effortless but in reality, there is a lot of invisible movement going on. Plus, we tend to look at their hands and not their elbows where all the real work is going on.

The second thing you may be doing wrong is pressing into the key bed. Once you play to the point of sound (that little bump you feel if you depress the key very slowly) there is no reason to go any further. Pressing into the key bed produces no more tone so why press? It only strains the long flexor tendons.

Another thing could be you are not using your shoulder and elbow to place the hand where it needs to be. Not doing so can cause ulnar and radial deviation or, a twist in the wrist. This hinders technique and any time technique doesn't work, we often employ more of the wrong muscles to compensate and a downward spiral ensues.

Along with the above is aligning the forearm behind the finger being used. Your two and three fingers feel strong because the forearm is right behind those fingers, they are a straight line. The four and five are at angles and many teachers tell the student they need strength and endurance or more practice but what they really need is to learn how to make subtle adjustments to the alignment of the forearm behind those fingers and the four and five will feel just as strong and coordinate as the others.

In/out may be missing. Many pianists curl their fingers in an attempt to equalize them. This curling, you guessed it, strains the tendons. Tendons are pulleys and rubber bands designed to move bones, not do the work of the muscles. When teachers tell students to relax their cramping muscles, they do but then strain the tendons. The solution is . . well, the first step is to get gravity into your playing. Gravity is effortless. Your up muscles are much MUCH stronger than your down muscles because we spend our lives fighting gravity (bicep/tricep, quads/hammies). Use the up to harness gravity to do the work. Some pianists think some pianos are stiff, that is because they are trying to use brute force to play rather than physics.

You may be using two muscles to move one bone in two directions at the same time even though you are trying to do only one thing. The most common example of these vector forces is using the abductors and flexors simultaneously. Or, isolating a thumb or pinky. Abductors are very weak and sluggish. To engage them creates instant tension. Go ahead, spread your fingers out. You can immediately feel them want to adduct. Too many of us begin our playing with this tension before we even touch the keys. Have you ever spread out your fingers over the keys then miss the first note? It is because your abductors are pulling the hand in several directions at the same time when we really want to play straight down.

As for the thumb, most of us are taught to cross it under the palm. This locks up the extensor tendons and also grinds with the forefinger tendon as they intersect. It would be better to play the thumb from the pronator muscle which is effortless. Combine the pronator with gravity, playing to the point of sound and you won't feel your hands at all. The pronator and supinator muscle, BTW, are indefatigable. They can go on and on and on with little fatigue. The thumb's weakest muscle is its abductor, remember, abductors tense immediately. Guess which muscle most pianists use to play the thumb down? The abductor.

I would urge you NOT TO TRY ANY OF THIS AT HOME. You need a teacher. Trying to apply any of this could make you worse. There are about ten proper movements needed for playing and about ten we should never do. If you correct one and not another, you could create new problems. The art of effortless playing is a combination of several proper movements which work with one another at the same time. Like one of those crane type lamps. You move the lamp head and several levers or arms move from the original movement. Nothing can exist in isolation.

Lay your arm on the table and pretend you are casting a fishing pole from your wrist. You might feel tension but the point is, you won't cast very far. Now cast from the elbow. You'll go further and it will be more effortless but still not optimum. Now cast from the shoulder. Much better but still . . . Now stand up and cast from you calves, hips, abs, shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers . . . Everything works together for optimum efficiency and power. Playing the piano is the same.

Any time you feel pain, fatigue, cramps or tension, it only means you are doing something wrong or something is missing. You need to have a teacher do some detective work to find out what it is.

Again, this is not a jump off point for you. Find that teacher. Start over. Bad habits are very difficult to eradicate once hard wired into our brain. Technique is all in the brain, BTW. It is knowledge, physics and biology. Not some hocus pocus, practice makes perfect, brute force or talent myth.

Everything I know comes from being paralyzed for two years then working closely with a teacher to fix all my bad habits. I am still working on it. Sometimes you just have to hit rock bottom. I was "lucky." I was in so much pain the only movement I COULD do was proper movement. I couldn't even pick up a piece of paper but my teacher hand me playing single notes in seconds. I was pain free in less than an hour BUT it took me several months to heal. I actually don't beleive I am healed but, I no longer use the wrong muscles. Much.

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