I know this piece is mostly meant as a technical exercise for the left hand, but every time I practice it my arm gets too tired to continue after the first page. I've been practicing it regularly (30 minutes every day or every other day) for two weeks, and took a break for 3 days after the initial soreness, but it never went away. Now every time I play I start to feel pain in my left forearm after the intro. Does anyone have any tips for maybe a good technique to use on this song that causes less arm pain? Or ways to help with strengthening arm muscles?
Ellen, if you are getting sore then you are going about it wrong, and you need to stop before you get a more long-term injury. You are trying to force a tempo that you aren't able to play yet.
First and foremost, have a precise idea of what you want it to sound like. If you haven't worked out your ideas with precision, your body will reflect that. Where the mind leads, the body follows. Conflicts in the body are the result of conflicts in the mind.
Play it as if it were a slow piece. Take a piece of it at a time. Play each note with deliberation, and with an idea of exactly how you want it to sound. Play each phrase in the same manner. Above all, play with as little tension as possible. Tension is a good indicator that you don't understand (yet) how to move through a passage. Go back and work on it at a slower tempo.
Stop expecting results. When your actual results don't meet your expectations, that's when you try to push things in ways that your body won't accept. Don't ignore those messages and try to force things. This is just an unwillingness to work things out fully in your mind.
That said, even if you do work things out fully in your mind, don't expect your body to immediately have the music under its fingers. It needs time and repetition to get there; you have to build your muscle memory in much the same way that you did when you first learned to drive a car. That's much easier, of course, but that automatic feeling is built on the same principle.
I learned this piece 25 years ago to the point that I could get through it pretty well. But there were things that I couldn't do. Now that I'm old and wise, I'm taking my own advice, and I find that things that I couldn't do at the time I can do now. So persevere.
Pain, fatigue and cramps mean you are using the wrong muscles to play. Know that your fingers don't have any muscles and it is the weight of the arms, the pronator, supinator and elbow which are predominant and aid the flexors in playing.
Each muscle is designed to move one bone in one direction. For instance, your quads extend the leg, the hamstrings flex it. Your biceps lift the arm, your triceps lower. Flexors flex, extensors extend. Notice that all your up muscles are much stronger than your down. That is because the the up muscles battle gravity and the down go with gravity. Gravity does all the work.
Notice that the piano keys are down, under your hands. That means you don't need strength to play, only control of up and gravity.
So I mentioned that each muscle is designed to move one bone in one direction. One muscle moves one bone one way and another muscle moves it back. Within our hands there are muscles which move them up, down, left and right. There are also ancillary muscles which can move them in any degree between those directions. We are a work of genius. Any time you use two muscles to move one bone in two directions simultaneously, you will strain the muscles and worse, the tendons. That is where fatigue, strain and cramps come from. Not repetition, not lack of talent, not lack of skill, but, using two muscles at the same time and they are essentially playing tug of war with a bone. Tendons often bear the brunt of this internal battle which results in uneven playing, missed notes, pain and frustration.
Once proper movement is in your body, you don't need to practice it anymore. Do you need to practice walking, riding a bike or brushing your teeth? No, all the proper movements are there and often are ergonomically balanced. For instance, you probably brush your teeth with your shoulder and elbow. That is where the foundation of piano playing comes from, too. BUT don't try that at home.
You need to find a piano teacher knowledgeable of physics and biology to fix what you are doing wrong. This is not something you should do on your own. You can have nine correct movements but one wrong one and that is the one that is causing problems and it can be as seemingly innocuous as improper bench height. Even then, of the ten or so movements that actually go into piano playing, if you try to fix one without knowing about the others, you can do more harm. You must work with a teacher on this.
Sad to say, improper movement of some sort is already hardwired into your brain's muscle memory and bad habits are very difficult to eradicate, but, not impossible.
It took me several years to eradicate abduction from my fingers but in doing it alone, it caused radial deviation which I then eradicated. I should have heeded my own advice. If you are serious about piano playing, I suggest closing the lid and finding a teacher to start your technique from scratch. Then, never perform your old repertoire because your brain already knows how to do it incorrectly. Bad habits can come back with a vengeance.
Some of us are lucky and we move properly just out of instinct. The rest of us, not so much. That doesn't mean we need strength, endurance, exercises or lack talent, it means we need adjustments.
If our car is out of alignment, driving it more won't fix the alignment. Why do piano teachers think that works with our anatomy? Walking knock-kneed will hurt your knees. Building strength and endurance won't necessarily fix that. Walking properly will. Building "finger strength," remember, they have no muscles, only strengthens the muscles we should not be using in the first place. That is why we get rusty because the muscles were were not designed to use will quickly atrophy when we take time off. Challenge the laws of physics and you will lose.