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So I am learning a piano piece - All of Me by Jon Schmidt - and can play the whole thing fluently except for certain sections. When I get up to the 7th page (bar 79), my right-hand starts to go stiff, and by the next page it often cramps and I am unable to play it properly, especially parts with repeating notes or chords in the right hand. I finished learning the piece a few months ago, but am still having this problem which is hindering me getting any better at it. I have also tried slowing down and going over the troublesome parts, but as soon as I get it up to speed again I have the same problem. Has someone else had this problem, an could you give me some advice? Thanks in advance.

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Heather is correct. We would need to see you play and/or see the music. The three causes of tension and cramps are using the wrong muscles, using two muscles at the same time or pressing too hard into the keybed.

It is actually the weight of the arm that depresses the keys with subtle flexion of the fingers. There are a lot of other muscles which are also subtle such as the pronator and supinator. Your fingers don't have muscles. They are moved by your muscles in your forearm. When you combine ergonomic movement of the arm, the fingers feel effortless and your cramps will disappear. This is not something for you to work on on your own. You have already hardwired the improper movement into your brain (where your technique actually is) and you have to undo it. This can take time and now, only with a knowledgeable teacher.

The dual muscular issue is probably what your problem is. Obviously you can only move one bone in one direction at a time. For instance, you can kick forward or backward but not both at the same time. One direction uses your quads and the other your hammies. Each muscle in your arm moves one finger bone in one direction, too. Then there is an opposing muscle which moves it back. When you use two or four muscles simultaneously they pull on one another fighting for control of the bone and often the muscles or tendons will strain, fatigue or cramp from these multiple pulls. Again, this is already hardwired into your brain and can't be undone. It can be overwritten though but, it will always be there waiting for you to get nervous or cold and lapse into old habits.

The most common vector force is using your abductors and flexors at the same time. With all five fingers together, wave bye bye. Effortless? Now abduct them (spread them out) and wave bye bye. Feel the pulls and strains? That is using two muscles simultaneously.

Essentially you need to work with a knowledgeable teacher and learn how to move properly. There are about ten movements that go into playing and another ten you should never do. An unwise teacher may tell you that you need strength and endurance or to relax but, relax what? And, if you relax a muscle, what do you replace it with? That is what most teachers don't know because rarely are pianists taught physics and biology and how it pertains to an effortless technique.

This is something you should not work on alone. If you have all the proper movements but one improper one, it can wreak havoc and cause more problems. And, you can't just learn the ten movements because when they combine, they create other "shapes" for your fingers, hand, wrist and most importantly, your arm. For instance, you can do a lot of things correctly but have an ulnar or radial deviation (twist) to your wrist which will create tension, uneven playing, and rob you of the power of your fulcrum.

So, just go find a good teacher. That is the biggest challenge. Ask them what a pronator is. Ask them for an example of a dual muscular pull. Ask them where a trill comes from (pronator and supinator (elbow)). Ask them what a forward shift is. If they can't answer, move on. It doesn't mean they are a bad teacher but what a teacher doesn't know will hurt you. Maybe not today but eventually. Strain injuries are cumulative, predominately from micro tears to the long flexor tendons.

I was paralyzed for two years because I studied with the best teachers. None of them knew what they were doing regarding anatomy nor physics. You know, the HS courses you don't use in real life. It turns out they are vital for us musical athletes. That is what we are, athletes.

  • Can you suggest any practice techniques to improve my technique for now as I am not able to get a teacher for a little while? – J.Ryan Sep 7 at 11:55
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Without seeing the sheet music or watch you play, it is hard to know exactly what is contributing to the problem. In general, though, cramping is an indication that the muscles are too tight. You need to figure out why.

Are you keeping your hand stretched out too much or are you using bad fingering? Are your shoulders tense, which causes a cascade of tension all the way down the arm into the hands? Are you balanced properly on the bench, or are you tensing up to make up for not sitting properly? Are you breathing improperly, and the lack of oxygen is tightening things up? Are you seizing up with anxiety when the piece gets hard/fast?

None of these questions can be answered without watching you play. I suggest asking a teacher in real life who can observe you.

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