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Author Topic: My forearms, wrists, and fingers hurt and burn.....what am I doing wrong?  (Read 5951 times)
NDPitch
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« on: November 01, 2004, 11:19:09 PM »

When I practice Chopin's Ocean Etude, I can never get through the whole thing at a moderate tempo without having a burning pain in my hands and forearms.  I try to play as loosely as possible, but it seems my muscles are tense no matter what.  Are there any specific things I should be doing to improve or correct this problem?  Thanks for any advice.
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xvimbi
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« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2004, 11:44:07 PM »

Wow, that sounds pretty drastic. Obviously, you are not playing "as loosely as possible". There is just too much that could be going on, and it can't be resolved over the Internet anyway. The best would be if you found a teacher who is knowledgebale about those things.

Does this happen with other pieces as well? If not, there may be something in this particular piece that causes your problems.
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NDPitch
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« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2004, 11:52:51 PM »

It's pretty much only this piece.  This is one of the only pieces I play that is constantly moving without any breaks or slower sections.  Once I'm about a minute into the song I start to feel that burning sensation.  It hurts the most in my forearms, between my wrists and elbows.  It must be some problem I have with my form, or something along those lines.  I just don't really know what it is, and I'm not in lessons or anything right now so it's hard to have a teacher show me what's going on.
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faulty_damper
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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2004, 12:40:57 AM »

From your description, the cause is simple: you are using too much fingers, not enough wrist, forearm, upper arm, and torso.  That burning sensation is caused by lactic acid buildup when you are exerting your muscles (in this case the muscles in the forearm that control the contraction and extension of the fingers) beyond what they have been conditioned to do; it cannot remove it faster than it builds up hence the burning.

In a nutshell, you are using poor technique.  It is not the fingers that do most of the work; the fingers are just the apparatus that actually contacts the keys.  It is very difficult to describe how to correct your current technique.  For that, you most likely need to try something different, request the advice of a teacher, or just continue at your current pace which may or may not help you build anaerobic fitness with the possibility of injury.

My advice: you need to use a more effective technique.
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xvimbi
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« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2004, 01:30:19 AM »

From your description, the cause is simple: you are using too much fingers, not enough wrist, forearm, upper arm, and torso.  That burning sensation is caused by lactic acid buildup when you are exerting your muscles (in this case the muscles in the forearm that control the contraction and extension of the fingers) beyond what they have been conditioned to do; it cannot remove it faster than it builds up hence the burning.

Lactic acid build-up is really only a problem when muscles are contracted intensely for a relatively long time, such as in highly repetitive movements, e.g. piano playing. You are using too much force, probably because of co-contraction, which then causes all that tension. Before you lift a finger, you must relax the muscles that depress the finger and the other way around. If you don't do this, you have to overcome the force still provided by the antagonistic muscles, in addition to the force you need to exert for the task. This happens particularly often with poor finger independence. You need to learn to relax all muscles that are not involved in a particular task. In order to learn this, you must understand what muscles, tendons, joints, etc. are involved in the task at hand.
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chopinsetude
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« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2004, 05:43:03 AM »

When I practice Chopin's Ocean Etude, I can never get through the whole thing at a moderate tempo without having a burning pain in my hands and forearms.  I try to play as loosely as possible, but it seems my muscles are tense no matter what.  Are there any specific things I should be doing to improve or correct this problem?  Thanks for any advice.

As long as the pain is actually "buning" then you are ok.  It's a natural response by the body.  Lactic acid is a by-product of the muscular ATP process- using creatinine to synthesize energy leaves lactic acid behind.  Within a few seconds MOST of this acid is shuttled away naturally- and you feel no more burning.

If you had said "it hurts in my bones" or "shooting pain in my forarms" then we'd suggest taking a break from this piece.  But burning is good!!!
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Brian Healey
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« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2004, 06:12:51 AM »

Burning can be good or bad. If the feeling is a wave of warmth, as if you just put Ben-Gay on your forearms, then it is good. That means that you really are relaxed, and you're getting a soothing sensation. However, if your muscles are burning from fatigue, and you feel like you can't play more, then it's obviously bad. If it was the good kind of burn, then you would feel energized, not hindered.

I would agree in part with faulty damper in that you may be using too much of your fingers. After all, your fingers have no muscles, they are actually moved by the muscles in your forearms. Therefore, if you are using your fingers too much, the first place you would feel it is in your forearms.

Without being able to see you play it, this is what I would suggest:
Play the piece slowly at a speed where you can comfortably play the piece with complete accuracy, control, and relaxation. Then practice breathing. It may sound ridiculous, but breathing is a problem that many pianists don't even think about. Lack of oxygen leads to much quicker muscle fatique, and practicing regular breathing when you're playing will always aid your relaxtion tenfold. Like I said, just play the piece at a comfortable speed, and practice breathing deep breaths at regular intervals through your nose (breathing through your mouth excites the heart and counteracts the relaxation aspect). You may find at first that concentrating on breathing will screw up your playing a little bit, and that's probably your first sign that you aren't breathing enough. It's definitely possible that you may be having another problem, but I promise you that if you practice breathing you will notice a difference in your playing. It will make you much more fluid and relaxed.
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xvimbi
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« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2004, 12:39:31 PM »

Without being able to see you play it, this is what I would suggest:
Play the piece slowly at a speed where you can comfortably play the piece with complete accuracy, control, and relaxation. Then practice breathing. It may sound ridiculous, but breathing is a problem that many pianists don't even think about. Lack of oxygen leads to much quicker muscle fatique, and practicing regular breathing when you're playing will always aid your relaxtion tenfold. Like I said, just play the piece at a comfortable speed, and practice breathing deep breaths at regular intervals through your nose (breathing through your mouth excites the heart and counteracts the relaxation aspect). You may find at first that concentrating on breathing will screw up your playing a little bit, and that's probably your first sign that you aren't breathing enough. It's definitely possible that you may be having another problem, but I promise you that if you practice breathing you will notice a difference in your playing. It will make you much more fluid and relaxed.

Excellent advice!
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goansongo
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« Reply #8 on: November 04, 2004, 10:17:28 PM »

Man lactic acid?  ATP process?  synthesize?  You guys know so much about this stuff.  Good stuff.
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Sketchee
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« Reply #9 on: November 04, 2004, 11:35:57 PM »

The lactic acid episode was a very good episode of Magic School Bus!!  Grin (Anyone else see that one)

This piece in particular should involved playing with most of the movement in the upper arm.  When you strike a note with a lot of force, concentrate on your shoulders and upper arms.  Your shoulders should be down, not raised in tension.  Practice this piece as chords in order to concentrate on the arm movement instead of finger movement.
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Sketchee
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krenske
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« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2004, 03:35:19 AM »

as i was taught in moscow.. no pain no gain
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Bob
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« Reply #11 on: November 07, 2004, 04:13:23 AM »

Back off on your playing until things heal up.  Play soft.  Play slow.  Don't push it -- It sounds like you already have.  It might take 2+ weeks to heal up.  That gives you lots of time for studying the score without playing, listening to recorders -- ie doing the brain work.
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nick
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« Reply #12 on: November 07, 2004, 10:12:26 AM »

When I practice Chopin's Ocean Etude, I can never get through the whole thing at a moderate tempo without having a burning pain in my hands and forearms.  I try to play as loosely as possible, but it seems my muscles are tense no matter what.  Are there any specific things I should be doing to improve or correct this problem?  Thanks for any advice.

I think mostly like Brian, and would add this: Make sure that you have a slight wrist movement as you play, with the wrist dropping on the main beats and rising on the off beats. This eleviates natural tension that piano playing creates. I would play at a speed that you can play perfectly accurate without pain, which may be very slow. Once you can do this, gradually increase the speed and find a speed that you feel the pain again, then back up just a bit where you can repeat the piece over and over without pain. Stay there and let that be your practice speed for a day or so, then see if you can increase a little etc. I don't agree that pain in piano practicing is a good thing. When lactic acid is observed, continued playing results in no playing.

Nick
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Derek
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« Reply #13 on: November 09, 2004, 11:09:14 PM »

My reccommendation would be simply to practice the piece at a very slow pace until you can play it with no tension at a slow tempo. Then gradually work up to speed.  Or, leave it at a moderate tempo.  I think some pieces sound better a bit slower anyway. Like solgegietto by CPE Bach, an easy, short piece. It is supposed to be played at "prestissimo" speed, or around 200 or more on the metronome.  I like to play it a lot slower than that...sounds better I think.  Same goes for Fantasy Impromptu.  Seems like everyone I've interacted with about the piano either friends on the internet or teachers have all advised me that speed is not as important as musicality and accuracy.
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fowler
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« Reply #14 on: November 22, 2004, 12:58:15 PM »

 Grin I don't think anyone has mentioned the fact that this is very difficult to play at full speed, its difficult not to slip up on any of the notes whilest playing. It requires titanic power to play, and is similar to the first etude he wrote, because obviously of the arpeggio's and related key. I too feel the same pain when playing it at full speed, not moderately though. No pain no game though like someone else said, its true.

Its a tough piece that requires lots of practice to nail it, I can't find enough time to do so, I have only got half way at the proper tempo, and my hands and arms begin to hurt. I don't think its down to technique of playing, its just to play it takes ages to land on the correct notes so quickly, and you need strong hands, thats just a matter of time and practice. Someone said its not in your fingers where the strength is and that they are nothing much in playing pieces like this, I don't agree with that, my technique is fine and the burning wont stop if you play differently anyway, because the reason is simple, you are not capable of mastering the piece yet... have to strengthen your hands and fingers more, so that the burning dies away gradually over time. My hands hurted playing the black key study a while ago, but now its easier to play.

Its just practice and patience. Remember this piece is very challenging and needs a perfomer with the upmost power and strength to master it. Its not for the faint hearted.
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shasta
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« Reply #15 on: November 22, 2004, 06:45:41 PM »

Grin ...It requires titanic power to play...  ...I too feel the same pain when playing it at full speed...  ...my technique is fine and the burning wont stop if you play differently anyway, because the reason is simple, you are not capable of mastering the piece yet... have to strengthen your hands and fingers more, so that the burning dies away gradually over time. My hands hurted playing the black key study a while ago, but now its easier to play....
...this piece is very challenging and needs a perfomer with the upmost power and strength to master it. Its not for the faint hearted.


Fowler, I completely disagree with you.  You should not be experiencing burning in your arms/hands.  If you are experiencing burning while playing the piano, your technique is incorrect.  You are playing the piano, not bench-pressing it.

You are playing with tension.  Bad.  Burning is caused by your muscles running on anaerobic respiration as opposed to normal, happy aerobic respiration due to an imbalance of oxygen (O2) supply-demand to your tissues. 

Tense muscles restrict blood flow and O2 delivery.  O2 supply is down.

Tense muscles also use up more O2 and energy (ATP) than the tissues can generate.  Anaerobic respiration, while "cheap" for short-term use, produces toxic by-products over time and per gram of muscle is much more inefficient (hence why sprinters have to be bulkier than marathoners --- they need the extra muscle mass to crank out those precious O2 and ATP molecules during brief but intense anaerobic conditions).  O2 demand is up.

It is those toxic by-products, such as lactic acid and pyruvate, which cause the burning sensation in your arms/hands.

Playing the Ocean Etude or any piece requires the pianist to be able to relax very quickly during those brief moments when you are not actively striking a key.  Your entire body, neck, shoulders... needs to be relaxed and supple, with your shoulders in a fall fall fall peacefulness.  Dropped, relaxed, soft.  Relaxed and soft shoulders will relax and soften your arms and hands, creating freedom for swiftness.

"Titanic power" and "utmost power" and "strength" are not necessary for achieving swiftness and volume and intensity in your music.  They are in fact contraindicated.  This is why you are experiencing burning.

I am a cardiovascular physiologist and a pianist.  I have studied piano for 24 years and have performed the Ocean.  Feel free to PM me if you would like further clarifications on muscle physiology, biochemistry, and oxygen consumption.
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xvimbi
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« Reply #16 on: November 22, 2004, 06:59:32 PM »

Grin ...It requires titanic power to play...  ...I too feel the same pain when playing it at full speed...  ...my technique is fine and the burning wont stop if you play differently anyway, because the reason is simple, you are not capable of mastering the piece yet... have to strengthen your hands and fingers more, so that the burning dies away gradually over time. My hands hurted playing the black key study a while ago, but now its easier to play....
...this piece is very challenging and needs a perfomer with the upmost power and strength to master it. Its not for the faint hearted.


Fowler, I completely disagree with you. 

I utterly agree to completely disagree. There is just so much wrong with Fowler's post, I don't have the energy anymore to respond. We have gone over all this so many times on this forum, but there seems to be always somebody who reiterates these old myths, it's not funny anymore. "Utmost power and strength", are words that should be banned from piano playing. Poor misguided souls...
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Floristan
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« Reply #17 on: November 22, 2004, 08:18:59 PM »

Thanks, Shasta, for your excellent post!  xvimbi, I know your point of view and couldn't agree more.  I'm not at a point where I can play this piece yet, but it's not because I lack muscle.  I probably have 10 times as much muscle as I need to play anything...in fact, I have too much damned muscle!  It's all about relaxation, exactly as Shasta describes.  My teacher has said from the beginning, "You need to give your instrument a chance to recover all the time, at every opportunity." 
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fowler
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« Reply #18 on: November 24, 2004, 12:59:18 PM »

O.k I have taken all that science in and you are most likely correct, however what you fail to get across to the person trying this piece is that it is very difficult to play, why has no one mentioned that crucial point. What you are saying is that you can play this if you just relax your body, shoulders etc.. I am sorry to say this again but you do need a certain amount of power at your disposal, its not just me who came up with that fact, I have read numerous accounts on this etude along with the others he wrote. I mean you cant turn round and say all you need to do is relax whan playing his even harder first study in C major can you? You obviously need a strong right hand, thus logic suggests the similar C minor 'ocean' study requires strength in both hands also.

So overall lets just relax and play this piece everyone you wont have any problem with the piece, its easy when you just relax. No sweat, I will try this profound technique when I get home. I totally disagree with you not mentioning to the person who posted originally, that you need strong capable hands to play this piece.

Anyway if you have the fabulous murray perahia recording of the etudes you find inside the writings on them by a proffesional who clearly states you need huge power to pull off the C major and minor etudes by Chopin.
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shasta
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« Reply #19 on: November 24, 2004, 01:38:22 PM »

When I practice Chopin's Ocean Etude, I can never get through the whole thing at a moderate tempo without having a burning pain in my hands and forearms...

NDPitch's original post said that he cannot get thru the Ocean at a moderate tempo due to the burning pain, NOT due to the difficulty of the piece, too many notes Smiley, lack of effort...

The burning is NDPitch's limiting issue right now.  As I and several others explained in the posts above, the burning is due to tension.  Minimize or eliminate tension by relaxing the entire body, neck, back, shoulders, arms... to create freedom and swiftness downstream in the arms, hands, and fingers, and I'm confident that NDPitch will be fine. 

One easy way to reduce tension during a piece is to simply relax your shoulders.  Just let them drop.  Think "fall, fall, fall."  Do this while you're playing.  You'll be surprised at how often you find that your shoulders are scrunched as you are playing and that they have a lot of room to "fall."

Hopefully if NDPitch is studying with a teacher/professor, they will help to point out the sources of tension (i.e. rigidity, poor technique, cold hands, bad day at work...) and suggest ways of countering them.  Smiley

Good luck NDPitch!  We'd love to hear your Ocean when you're ready!  Smiley
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nick
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« Reply #20 on: November 24, 2004, 10:50:27 PM »

When I practice Chopin's Ocean Etude, I can never get through the whole thing at a moderate tempo without having a burning pain in my hands and forearms...

NDPitch's original post said that he cannot get thru the Ocean at a moderate tempo due to the burning pain, NOT due to the difficulty of the piece, too many notes Smiley, lack of effort...

The burning is NDPitch's limiting issue right now.  As I and several others explained in the posts above, the burning is due to tension.  Minimize or eliminate tension by relaxing the entire body, neck, back, shoulders, arms... to create freedom and swiftness downstream in the arms, hands, and fingers, and I'm confident that NDPitch will be fine. 

One easy way to reduce tension during a piece is to simply relax your shoulders.  Just let them drop.  Think "fall, fall, fall."  Do this while you're playing.  You'll be surprised at how often you find that your shoulders are scrunched as you are playing and that they have a lot of room to "fall."

Hopefully if NDPitch is studying with a teacher/professor, they will help to point out the sources of tension (i.e. rigidity, poor technique, cold hands, bad day at work...) and suggest ways of countering them.  Smiley

Good luck NDPitch!  We'd love to hear your Ocean when you're ready!  Smiley

I think no matter how much you relax, there is a speed at which tension will increase, and the only way to be free of it is to slow down.

Nick
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