Whenever I watch a good piano player, I notice their arms and hands move a lot and it looks very smooth and emotional. Then when I record myself playing, I notice my hands often look stiff and they don't move very much at all. I know playing the piano is about music but when I have an audience, I would like for it to look pretty as well. The sound I produce does often sound very emotional and not "stiff" at all.

I know most movements should be done with the arm instead of the fingers. I often spin my hand to the sides with my forearm muscles to use my thumb and pinkyfinger for example. I try to lift up my forearm more and let it fall down to let gravity do the work, especially when a song gets loud and powerful. Yet my hands still seem so stiff... I make sure my fingering is correct so it's not due to wrong tension in my hands either.

I don't know what else to do, let my hands move even further up? This feels very unnatural...

  • 5
    Maybe your brain is still having to concentrate on playing the music right, and it's not second nature yet? So there's no think power left to consider the theatricals?
    – Tim
    Mar 16, 2019 at 13:53
  • As for the emotional aspect, different pianists have different styles of playing. Some of the greatest pianists don't move their hands, arms, and/or due to emotion.
    – Xcoder
    Jun 21, 2019 at 1:24

2 Answers 2


You don't need to move your arms much to play the piano well. Just watch a video of Vladimir Horowitz to see that. He hardly moved his hands up at all most of the time, but he had phenomenal control over the keyboard. Not only that, he was famous for having great rapport with his audiences.

It is generally good to have relaxed and free motion with your whole body when playing any instrument. When I was beginning at the piano, one teacher gave me an exercise for freeing up my motion:

  • Raise your hand up to shoulder level or higher. Let your hand fall onto a C major triad (just C, E, G, no octave C). Don't let your fingers or wrist collapse, but allow them to be flexible and absorb some of the energy from the impact.
  • Once your hand lands on the chord, move your wrist in little circles. Allow your fingertips to roll around on the keys, but make sure the chord sustains (without pedal).

I found the second part of this exercise to be more helpful than the first.

Note: this is not how you should play loudly. When you want to play a chord very loudly, you should play "up", as other people have commented. Consider the recording of Horowitz playing Chopin's A flat major Polonaise. Starting at 1:11, consider how he plays that top chord (around 1:18). He doesn't drop his hand down, he starts with his hand on the key, raises it up a tiiiny bit before he plays, and it shoots up after he plays. This is very typical of piano playing.

Another idea for practice: play a one-hand piece/exercise. Use your other hand to conduct or just gesture with the music. Even something as mechanical as a Hanon exercise will have something to gesture about if you listen for it.

Another idea for practice: BREATHE!!! Music is attached to your breath. When you're playing with both hands, show the musical gestures with your breath. Inhale before playing a big note, especially if it isn't on the beat.

That's all I can think of for now, I hope this helps.


You need to get in touch with gravity. The gracefulness you see in other players is simply the feeling, control and adjustment to gravity.

Remember in HS physics that every motion has an equal and opposite motion? The grace you see is them harnessing the opposite motion in order to let the arm play down. In essence, they are playing up.

Slowly pet your dog and notice the arc, gentleness and gravity you allow onto the beast. You are not pressing down but, resting up as you pet. In order to play to the point of sound to get that pearly light tone on the piano, you need to control gravity so that you are not pushing down into the keybed. If you are pressing down into the key, you can't play up to harness the weight of your arm.

Like walking up stairs, you have to lift your foot higher than the target step then come straight down on it.

Have you ever watched a skier ski in parallel? They make it look effortless and graceful but it isn't graceful because they are skiing down, they are unweighing themselves and what you see is the up, which is indeed effortless. It is just like those zero gravity parabolic flights which defy gravity.

  • In essence, they are playing up. Heard this more than once from experienced players: "imagine you're pulling up the keys, as if you had suckers on your fingers". Mar 17, 2019 at 9:48
  • 1
    Keep in mind that some improper movements can hinder effortless or graceful playing. If there is ulnar or radial deviation of the wrist, that locks up the whole forearm and the fingers. Abducting, crossing the thumb under, not leading with the elbow . . . Mar 18, 2019 at 12:05

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