I'm currently learning play piano by myself. Since I'm a beginner and I don't have any tutor, I'm very careful about learning proper technique. Here it looks like Mr. Hoffman has no problem with wrist that goes low. His idea is about using the help of gravity as you can see here

Another idea is keeping the wrist always on same level and avoid the movement of wrist that goes low. Check here.

Since both ideas are told by those people I don't want to separate them as this is wrong or this is right

What I want to learn is advantages and disadvantages of both techniques and what is the best for a beginner to continue with?

  • 2
    'Movement' of wrists isn't exactly what this is about. 'Height' of wrists may be more apposite.
    – Tim
    Nov 6 '19 at 10:36

What's really bad technique is having a wrist that stays low below the level of the keys, while you are playing with your fingers. This is a very common beginner mistake that can result in painful wrists and eventually RSI. Don't do this.

That's why in the beginning many tutors try to keep the wrists level above the keys. It's a good starting point, but this is not a very hard rule. On the contrary don't try to make your wrists too stiff, as if your forearm and your hand are fused together in a single concrete block. This can create problems too.

In practice, it is clear from watching many professional pianist that the wrists don't have to stay level, but are used dynamically and can move a lot, above and below the level of the keys.


Probably a more important factor is your whole body level compared with the height of the keyboard itself. If you sit too low, it will inevitably cause your wrists to be low, as gravity works on your forearms.

I encourage sitting so that the elbows are about an inch higher than the top of the white keys. That way, my students can let gravity help with their playing. There's no point in fighting gravity when it can be used instead!

Having said all that, each person works out what's best for them, but hopefully my idea is a good start point. Low wrists (lower than the keys) is probably not a good position - certainly not all the playing time.


Your wrist is a fulcrum whose main purpose is to let the energy of your arm pass through the wrist, through the fingers and into the keys. Much like if your alignment is off while walking. If your knee or ankle is not properly aligned and you misstep, all your weight will stop in the joint that is not aligned thus, we sprain our knees or ankles. Instead of our weight going into the ground, it goes into the joint that is misaligned. Like electricity passing from point A to point B. All is fine unless you get in its way and disrupt its path by touching the wire it is traveling on.

Wrists can take on various flexion shapes and those are okay as long as the shaping is a result of the arm and not originating in the wrist. Does that make sense? Like, if you hold your arm out, gravity will naturally flex your wrist. YOU are not flexing it, gravity is. When playing, the various shapes of the arm and elbow will shape your wrist, you will not. I beleive this is the foundation of the Russian style of playing (I'm Polish). There is a video called "Freeing the Caged Bird" where the author uses floor exercise to teach gravitational alignment of the fingers and wrist. They may be on Youtube.

Two shapes you never want to do are ulnar and radial deviation, that is twisting your wrist left or right to grab a key. Remember, the arm places the finger, the finger and wrist don't contort to reach a key. The second is extending your wrist (dorsiflexion or bending it up). This can happen if you sit too low.

To find your proper bench height, adjust your stool so that the bottom of your forearm is a little bit higher than the keys so that you can rest up. If you sit too high you may slouch or slump resulting in hyperextension of your wrists. If you sit too low you may raise your shoulders to make your wrists higher. An improper bench height will literally give you a pain in the neck, or back, or wrists. It will definitely affect even playing.

Go write on a chalk board, gently wash a window of wipe down a table, gently. Notice that it is your shoulder, elbow and arm doing all the work. Your wrist, hands and fingers just go where they are needed and your moving arm places them. That is how you should approach piano playing. The fingers don't drag the arm behind them. If you play from any of your fulcrums, which include the fingers and each phalanx, that is where your gravitational energy will stop, where there is a break.

If you misstep while walking and all your gravitational energy goes into your ankle and not the floor, you sprain your ankle. At the piano, the damage is often cumulative and insidious. We often ignore tension thinking that we need more practice, strength, endurance or exercises. In actuality, we need adjustments to our alignments. Some teachers don't know this and they just tell you to practice more resulting in cumulative damage, poor technique or the illusion that you have no talent.

If you don't have tension, try this. With your arm at a right angle in front of your chest, with all five fingers relaxed and together, thumb facing upward, rotate your forearm from your elbow as if you were playing a slow tremolo (like turning a screwdriver or turning a doorknob). The rotation or left/right movement comes from your pronator and supinator muscles surrounding your elbow. The wrist nor fingers should move by themselves, it is the elbow which is moving them. If you already hardwired tension into your fingers and wrist (really your brain), you will have to eradicate it. Rotation should be effortless and the P&S muscles are indefatigable. Unlike your flexors which are designed for gripping, not speed. Also, if there is the slightest ulnar or radial deviation, your wrist will bear the brunt of the rotational force instead of it dissipating into the air. That ain't good.

Of course, when you then move your arm to the keys and static load pronation on the keyboard, you will feel tension unless you've already acclimated to it or have brow beaten it into submission with silly exercises. There are ways around static loading pronated tension but you should work on these with a teacher who hopefully knows anatomy and physics.

Piano playing isn't some mystical hocus pocus thing called talent. It is mechanical and everything that moves must obey the laws of physics. Pianists are not exempt. Ignore those laws of ergonomics and there will be a price to pay. I should probably close with something diabolical such as "Bwahahahahaha..."

But seriously, find a teacher who knows the basic Newtonian laws. Physics isn't just a class in HS that you don't use in the real world. You use physics with every move you make.

  • I know that we have to avoid comments like “thanks” etc. but I would like to give you very special thanks for this detailed, logical explanation. “Freeing the Caged Bird” is a gem also.
    – patoglu
    Nov 7 '19 at 22:06

There are exceptions to every rule, as I guess you're finding out. If you look at Horowitz, you'll find that his wrists often dip below the key level, especially when he's doing finger passages. (Check out some of his Mozart performances.) Gould's wrists would go even lower. But most top pianists keep their wrists above the keyboard level.

If you look at pianists performing, you'll see that a lot of where the wrists are in relation to the keys has to do with how high they sit. Gould was famous for bringing his own stool to sit on, presumably because standard piano benches wouldn't go low enough for him.

At the other extreme, Rubinstein sat very high at the piano, and his forearms were usually angled downward towards the keyboard. Other examples of pianists who sit high are Angela Hewitt and Daniel Barenboim.

The important thing, the most important thing in my opinion, is to avoid playing with too much tension in particular areas of your body. This is what causes injury most often. When I was a freshman in college as a piano major, I often got a great deal of tension in my forearms, mainly because I wasn't aware enough of all the different movements my fingers had to make to do certain things. I had to learn to get rid of that. Many years later, I realized that I was in the habit of clenching my jaw when I was doing something difficult. Obviously, this wasn't so good for my jaw, but it also had a way of interfering with movement in the upper body.

In the end, it's what works for you. I would start with the position that Mr. Kogut suggests, but would also experiment with different seat heights. I did a lot of that, and I never injured myself. Just be careful not to push yourself too hard in the wrong way. Push your mind, not your body, to find the music you want to make.

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