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I'm an 18 year old adult beginner pianist and I've just started playing this month of May. I go to piano lessons but it's just from a local music shop. I've been having this muscle pain with both of my hands for about 4 days now, but my piano teacher did not really correct my "technique". I don't really have joint or wrist pain, but the pain is throughout my hand's muscles, my elbow, and my bicep/tricep muscles. I find it that when I do fisting exercises my hands kind of feel numb. Am I doing something wrong? Or is this the "purging" part of being a beginner and just starting to play?

What should be the proper technique in playing the piano?

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    You might need to add some detail: how long do you practice, what are you playing? The typical beginner stuff is 5 finger exercises, simple chords, etc. – Michael Curtis May 9 at 15:38
  • The lessons I take are 1 hour, and so far I've taken just 2 hours in the 4 days. I play very beginner stuff like you said, 5 finger exercises like scaling and skip note and 1-3-5s... but after the sessions I do lots of practicing up to 2 hours and after some rest another 1-2 hours. The pain started on the first day of lesson and it so painful... – Stephanie May 9 at 16:33
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    Hands should never feel numb. I’d consider getting a better teacher. Or seeing a dr. Or both. – b3ko May 9 at 18:19
  • Your teacher should've told you the same mine told me: practising 2 times for 25 minutes each day has the same effect as practising for hours (it has to do with how our memory retention works). You are wasting time and unnecessarily jeopardising your health in the process. It is a very bad idea to practise in such large chunks and so rarely, especially at the beginning, before your bones and muscles get used to the instrument. You should see a chiropractor immediately. My left pinkie was going numb from playing sax, and 3 sessions with the chiropractor were enough to "cure" it. – Pyromonk May 20 at 9:10
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If I understand, you do about 2-4 hours each day. That's a lot at the beginning.

I think you should carefully gauge the level of pain/fatigue. The general idea is that you should not feel pain. Fatigue is different. Give yourself enough rest to recover from fatigue. If you feel actual pain, I think you should stop and assess what is going on.

A while back I started practicing lots of chords with a full octave stretch in both hands. At first my forearms were really fatigued. My strength built up over a month or two and then it became comfortable.

You probably will go through a similar progression of building up strength. Give yourself time to develop. I don't think you can speed up the process by packing in extra hours of practice. Consider shorter practice sessions and gauge your development at months 1, 2, & 3. Then lengthen the sessions after you have established your endurance.

The teacher said it was fine, I just needed to release some more tension among my fingers

In the beginning, when you're finger dexterity and independence is weak, your hands strain to coordinate movements. Things feel awkward and your hands will be tense. Your hand is not yet trained and coordinate so all the muscles fight against each other.

Work on finger independence. When you can't do something correctly, slow down and do it right so you train good movements. As those movements become natural and automatic, the tension eventually disappears.

If you are doing a one hour session, throw in a few 5 minute breaks, enough to really recover from fatigue and release tension.

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  1. Don't play the piano too long in the beginning. It's a process of building muscles just like in the fitness studio. You don't go there and start with 60kg on the first day just because you can, you have to go up step by step... In the beginning just start with 2 or 3 x 15 minutes a day, after you get used to it you can increase the time.

  2. Don't put 'too much effort' into it. Many beginners do the mistake that they put too much pressure on their hands and fingers. Just let the weight of your hand work. You don't have to put much pressure or tense your fingers/hands.

  3. Stretch and warm up your fingers before you play the piano, just like you warm up yourself before you do sports...

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Pain is a sign that something is wrong. Probably you are overloading yourself with so much practicing. Please slow down and find a way to play without pain, you'll play more in the long run if you don't hurt yourself. "No pain no gain" does not apply to instrumental technique!

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What did the teacher say when you discussed the problem?

Sit at a height so that your forearms are horizontal. Identify and tension in back, arms, hands, and do something about it.

Are you practicing obsessively for several hours each day? Your hands may be (forgive the technical term) 'tired'. But we're only 9 days into May. I doubt you've had time do do yourself any serious damage.

  • Yes, a total of 4 hours of practice and 1 hour of piano class session. It was quite a lot of pain, and is still painful, so I was worried that I might be using wrong hand positions and what not. The teacher said it was fine, I just needed to release some more tension among my fingers... but the pain is still lingering so I asked here... I guess it might be the tired hands~ No pain no gain I guess? – Stephanie May 9 at 16:39
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Your fingers don't have muscles so your teacher should be teaching you how to use your arm to play. If a teacher tells you to "release tension" ask him/her what you should replace it with. Something needs to depress the keys if not the fingers, what could it be . . . ?

Don't press into the key bed. Once you depress a key using the weight of the arm, leave just enough weight to "rest up" while leaving the keys down. Pressing down strains the long flexor tendons in your forearm.

Ask your teacher about the height of your bench. If you sit too low or too high you will create tension in the wrist, neck, shoulders or back.

Again, the arm places the fingers and if there is no arm movement you may twist the wrist. This is called ulnar or radial deviation and can cause problems with both playing and fatigue.

Ask your teacher the importance of in/out and up/down. Also ask how the pronator and supinator is used in playing. If they don't know or don't have an anatomical answer. . . find another teacher.

It is my and only my opinion that 90% of teachers should not be teaching. Just because they took lessons doesn't qualify them to teach others. They only know what they know and not what they don't. You wouldn't go to a doctor who doesn't know anatomy. You wouldn't bring your car to a mechanic who doesn't know how combustion engines work. You wouldn't take ballet from a teacher with only cheer leading experience. You wouldn't vote for a reality star to be president. You wouldn't take flying lessons from someone who only plays video games. All these people may be good at what they do but a piano teacher needs to know anatomy, physics and ergonomics. Not just music.

Here is a question for you: If every time you bend over to pick up a box, you throw your back out. Which teacher has the best answer:

A: You need to do exercises for strength and endurance

B: Take a break, you're lifting too much

C: You need to lift more

D: Lift from the knees

So if you have fatigue and pain from practicing the piano:

A: You need to do exercises for strength and endurance

B: Take a break, you're practicing too much

C: You need to run scales and finger exercises

D: Play from the arm

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In addition to the advice given above: do lots of hands separate practice and swap hands at the first sign of discomfort. Shake arms to relax all muscles from upper back to fingertips very often. Then let your arm hang limply by your side for a few seconds. Lift it slowly to the keys while trying to feel which muscles have to contract to get it there.

But it's not just your muscles that are developing - your brain has a lot of new connections to make, too! If you practice even just for 15 minutes, your brain will be munching at the new experience in the background for many hours and even while you sleep. That's why short but slow, deliberate, concentrated practice is much more beneficial than hours of mindless playing. Experiment with changing your hand, arm, shoulder, pelvis and even foot position a little bit, try to relax as many muscles as you can, lookup videos on wrist rotation and arm weight technique and let your brain slowly figure out the most efficient way for each movement.

If you have extra time because you cut down on the number of hours you practice at the piano, start studying some basic music theory - how scales and chords are built. Find apps that teach it theoretically but also teach you to hear the different kinds of musical phenomena (this is called "ear training"). This will give you a huge head start in a couple of months' time no matter what style of music you play.

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Avoid pain and do not strain. Don't play through pain. Don't force your fingers apart you will loosen ligaments that can takes months to recover.

Ask your piano teacher to recommend a reputable book on piano technique. Some modern books start with an in-depth understanding of one's hand anatomy. The book I use starts with posture then "gripping" the keyboard, arm-wrist alignment, then finger independence exercises, touches and hand orientation wrt the keyboard as you play..

The carpel tunnel carries the tendons that move your fingers. The muscles are in your arm. Make sure your hand and arm are aligned.

You will come across phrases like "drop and flop" to help you imagine what you are aiming to do to release tension. I find true finger independence is hard to achieve without eliminating tension in arms and shoulders, and that this can be caused by tension in one's neck and back. Tension comes back without you being aware. Reducing tension is something you can practice away from the piano too.

If your teacher is getting you to do Hanon exercises, avoid the high finger lift before playing as that is recognised now as a good way to cause pain.

Finally there are alternative playing techniques players that have injured themselves or who stop playing the piano because of pain. So all is not lost if you have hurt yourself.

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