My piano is stuck in London waiting to be delivered but due to the current lockdown it is unlikely to arrive home soon. Can anyone suggest exercises that can be carried out to maintain suppleness, strength, flexibility and general well-being of the hands.
A student of mine was in exactly the same position. I lent him an old keyboard of mine, but the keys worked more like an organ than a piano. It helped a bit.
However, I asked the head of the local music college if he could help out, and he found an electronic piano with good action to lend out until the war's over. Result!
Someone's bound to say this doesn't answer the question! It does - all the normal exercises can be carried out as normal.
- You might have another instrument lying around, like a guitar, or be able to borrow one. Learning to play another instrument can be fun and enhance your general music skills, while keeping your hands/fingers in shape.
- If you have a flat surface, you can use it to play as if it were a real piano; scales, but even entire pieces.
I don't know your location, but if you're in a city under lockdown, then there are bars which are not open for business which have pianos. Maybe a friendly owner would give/rent you the keys. Also, even if churches are holding some services, the building is probably not occupied most of the time. One might let you have access to a piano. Also private schools might have pianos and be vacant at the moment.
What you can’t practice is the dynamic of the attack of the keys and you won’t have the feed back of the sound, right or wrong.
But many other exercises like stretching, finding the keys, recognize the chord patterns and training the imagination - even the feeling of the keys - you can practice without sitting in front of a piano.
2 dimensional on a painted keyboard on cartons
3 dimensional on an imitation of a keyboard (built by little pieces of wood representing the piano keyboard.
Look up for finger gym for pianists:
Not only does building finger strength and dexterity have a positive effect on piano playing abilities, but also, according to a study done by Helge Ritter and Robert "Haschke Hands, Dexterity and the Brain", improving finger dexterity also has a positive effect on cognitive ability and many daily activities. “It becomes obvious that any deep understanding of human dexterity will almost inevitably lead us into elucidating much of the essence of cognitive interaction from the “physical” sensorimotor level straight up to the highest levels of thinking, language, social, and even emotional interaction.”
Technique is literally all in your head. Your brain hardwires the movement in what many call "muscle memory" and it is there forever. The reason we feel rusty after missing a day or seven is because we learn improper movements and the body compensates by building muscle we wouldn't normally need. If you don't use those muscles, they atrophy so the next time you play the muscles you built up are no longer there.
Proper technique is all ergonomic, weight, gravity, in/out, up/down, fulcrums and rotational movements. Once it is there, it too is there forever and it doesn't require additional muscle. If you take days or weeks off, you lose nothing. For instance, I can place my butt on the trunk of a car and use only my quads to push it where a muscle bound gym rat may place his hands on it in dorsiflexion and struggle to push it with his calves. I will win any day because of physics.
You wouldn't feel "rusty" if you haven't ridden a bike, swam, jumped rope or walked up stairs if you miss a day or year or decade. That is because you've learned to do them properly and you brain can pull up the hardwired balance and control on demand. Your muscles may have changed but your brain's control of them hasn't.
"Strength and endurance" is a fallacy perpetuated by people who don't have a basic understanding of physics or learned to apply them. Likewise, once you learn an improper movement from the first day you touch a piano, it is there forever.
That is also why when we are cold or nervous, we can make mistakes in performance that we don't make during practice in our living rooms. When the brain shuts down, it allows improper hardwired movement to creep in and we will miss notes. Once old technique reasserts itself, a downward spiral ensues. If you can't play that pesky arpeggio perfectly most every time, it doesn't mean you need more practice or more muscle, you have an improper movement getting in the way. Reasserting old improper technqique can also happen when we play old repertoire we learned improperly. Unless we relearn and apply new technique to old repertoire, we should never play those pieces.
Having a dual technique, proper and a latent improper one, is very dangerous. If you learned to play improperly and built up "strength and endurance," then learned to play properly and the "strength and endurance" atrophied, and you get nervous and the old technique creeps back in, you won't have the "strength and endurance" anymore and that is when you can injure yourself.
So if you ever do feel rusty, know it is because you are doing something wrong. An excellent way to find out if you do have any improper movements is to find and play a tracker organ. If you can't play it, you will know your technique is muscle based and not physics. A tracker won't let you get away with browbeating the keys for long. NEVER challenge the laws of physics, you will eventually lose.
If you have a repertoire you can certainly practice it, hearing it in your inner ear. Practice it on a surface, on your thighs, in the air. You could even work out technical issues one hand at a time, or work on fingering.
If you don't have a repertoire...you could either work on technical exercises (sans keyboard) or read/follow music on youtube until you can "hear" the piece, then work on learning it (on a surface, on your thighs, in the air).
TLDR: You shouldn't even try: there's nothing to gain and plenty to lose.
- When practicing piano, you should never exercise for general strength or general flexibility - instead you need to build technique, work on precision of movements.
- Tendons that move fingers run the whole length of an arm - even small changes in position of hands and arms result in huge changes in how you move. Practicing with anything other than a keyboard will not make you better with a keyboard.
- Hand is complex and very easy to injure. When practicing, you need to make sure that the hand is not becoming physically tired.
Actually, abstaining from playing piano for a month or so IS good for the well-being of hands. It happened to me a couple of times in my life, and actually my playing has improved each time (and this is something I heard from other pianists as well).