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Relaxing shoulders (Read 13949 times)

Offline chauncey

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Relaxing shoulders
« on: December 16, 2012, 07:58:23 AM »
Hey everyone. Like it says in the title, I have a problem with relaxing my shoulders when I play. It isn't too obvious that I do not relax my shoulders, but it is obvious enough for my piano teacher (and myself) to catch me with my shoulders tensed or raised up a bit.

Anyone have any tips or few pointers on how to keep shoulders relaxed when playing?

Thanks!

Offline outin

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #1 on: December 16, 2012, 08:09:23 AM »
Hey everyone. Like it says in the title, I have a problem with relaxing my shoulders when I play. It isn't too obvious that I do not relax my shoulders, but it is obvious enough for my piano teacher (and myself) to catch me with my shoulders tensed or raised up a bit.

Anyone have any tips or few pointers on how to keep shoulders relaxed when playing?

Thanks!

I think you should first know whether your shoulders are stiff in general or if the problem is that you tense them when you play.
If it's the former then exercise is the answer, you cannot correct it by simply practicing or concentraing on your posture on the piano. I tried for a long time and trying to follow my teachers advice only made them more tense because I was trying by force to make them stay where they should. Only after really working away from the piano on getting them flexible did I see improvement.

Offline lianaxana

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #2 on: December 20, 2012, 05:06:19 AM »
Before you start at the piano, try shrugging your shoulders as high as you can (bring them up to your ears)- hold for a couple of seconds, feel the high tension- then completely release and drop them as if it was only gravity bringing them down back to position (as opposed to bringing them down muscularly). They should return to very relaxed position which is where they should be when you're playing. If you feel a difference between this new neutral state vs. your old neutral state- then you're most likely stiff in general.

I try to shake out my shoulders mid-playing just to check if there is tension in my shoulders.
Maybe try yoga if you're stiff. It tends to stretch out your shoulders and arms, and you should feel more relaxed afterwards.

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #3 on: December 20, 2012, 06:02:32 PM »
Try this:

http://pianoscience.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/hunched-shoulders-why-do-they-really.html

The problem with a lot of approaches is that they fail to teach you how to differentiate between a whole different numbers of levels of balance. Slumping the arm's dead weight does not work if the shoulder does not support to some degree. Unless you feel how to support weight better, many people are trapped between either stiffly held up or dysfunctionally slumped altogether. The end of that post has an exercise that shows you how to support weight without instantly resorting to the stiffly fixed position.

Shaking yourself loose before playing is good- but makes no difference if you then go straight into a fixed position to play. You need to learn sensitive discrimination between different levels of support- rather than merely slump your shoulders or fixate them. By learning how to employ useful activities with less effort, you can free yourself up from such limited options.

Offline clavile

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #4 on: December 20, 2012, 06:15:03 PM »
I have a problem with relaxing my shoulders also. Really, it's my right shoulder. I noticed it whilst preparing for a recital one day; that it was stiff, and I was holding it up. So when practicing, at times, I will make sure BOTH shoulders hang like a hanger, my back is straight, my arms are relaxed, and my elbows aren't sticking out. If I feel I'm rather tense, I jiggle my shoulders, arms, and wrists, and focus on relaxing ALL my muscles. This often helps!

But since you said your shoulders are raised, Make sure you let them hang like a hanger, and that your elbows are by your side, NOT sticking out!!!

This is what I focus on when I feel tension, and that my shoulders are raised, and it helps! It's a very large part of my technique. I hope it helps you as it has helped me!

Joy,
Student/Teacher

Student of 4 years

Currently Practicing:
Pirates Of the Carribean- Jarrod Radnich
Mozart Concerto, 2 Piano
Bach Invention
Mozart Rondo

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #5 on: December 20, 2012, 06:22:49 PM »
But since you said your shoulders are raised, Make sure you let them hang like a hanger, and that your elbows are by your side, NOT sticking out!!!

I can't agree with this simplification. It could work for some but hinder others. Trying to fix the elbows in an inward position (rather than feeling a tiny trace remainder of drifting them out- which might be so small as to be invisible to a bystander) could make a shoulder problem even worse. In my own case, what I discovered was that I had become too intent on dead relaxation of the arms. That much might sound fine, but it's too heavy on the hand most of the time. When I NEEDED to support weight, I would switch to the locked up "held" position. I hadn't learned the means to lighten with sensitivity- which is simply indispensable. Neither extreme is any use. You need to feel the balances in the middle of the range.

Using the exercise I detail in the post linked above, I can stick my elbow wherever I like now. It can be in very close, or even held out to the side outrageously far. Because I've learned the general balancing action that keeps the effort level down, there's no position where I have to "fix" my shoulder in order to sustain balance. It's much more useful to improve the whole range of possibilities (and perceive the activity that makes them possible with little effort) than to fix a specific position in mind as being desirable. Anything that locks you into the idea of keeping a specific position will tend to trigger "holding" rather than a sensitive balance with gravity.

The specific reason I disagree is that thinking of keeping the elbows in will make most people actively draw them in. What they actually need is to be more sensitive about the action that takes them out- and to learn refine it exactly how much is needed to balance gravity. If you overdo the elbow out, you'll only be fighting against yourself if you merely try to force it to stay in near the body. The easier solution is to perceive how much outward action is actually useful and to condense it to that tiny remainder of going out.

Offline brogers70

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #6 on: December 20, 2012, 06:24:28 PM »
When my shoulders are tense my teacher tells me to sit up straight and elevate my rib cage. That seems to help in my case.

Offline clavile

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #7 on: December 21, 2012, 05:04:08 AM »
I can't agree with this simplification. It could work for some but hinder others. Trying to fix the elbows in an inward position (rather than feeling a tiny trace remainder of drifting them out- which might be so small as to be invisible to a bystander) could make a shoulder problem even worse. In my own case, what I discovered was that I had become too intent on dead relaxation of the arms. That much might sound fine, but it's too heavy on the hand most of the time. When I NEEDED to support weight, I would switch to the locked up "held" position. I hadn't learned the means to lighten with sensitivity- which is simply indispensable. Neither extreme is any use. You need to feel the balances in the middle of the range.

Using the exercise I detail in the post linked above, I can stick my elbow wherever I like now. It can be in very close, or even held out to the side outrageously far. Because I've learned the general balancing action that keeps the effort level down, there's no position where I have to "fix" my shoulder in order to sustain balance. It's much more useful to improve the whole range of possibilities (and perceive the activity that makes them possible with little effort) than to fix a specific position in mind as being desirable. Anything that locks you into the idea of keeping a specific position will tend to trigger "holding" rather than a sensitive balance with gravity.

The specific reason I disagree is that thinking of keeping the elbows in will make most people actively draw them in. What they actually need is to be more sensitive about the action that takes them out- and to learn refine it exactly how much is needed to balance gravity. If you overdo the elbow out, you'll only be fighting against yourself if you merely try to force it to stay in near the body. The easier solution is to perceive how much outward action is actually useful and to condense it to that tiny remainder of going out.

It's a given you need to "balance" it. I'm not telling him to clamp his elbows to his side. That would just be stupid. His whole posture should be relaxed; he should be experiencing nothing uncomfortable, or something is wrong. If he is sticking his elbows out far, then that could be a problem. I know if I stick my elbows out, it tenses my shoulders, arms, AND fingers, and then it will eventually cause my arms to cramp. I know if I keep my shoulders down, let my arm hang straight down, bent at the elbow, wrists even with knuckles, this keeps my elbows in close, and my whole posture relaxed. It's a given you will have to move your elbow out to a CERTAIN DEGREE. I'm not saying you HAVE to lock it into place and ALWAYS keep it there.

Not to mention, I disagree with the sticking out of the elbow. I think it looks very choppy, and terribly sloppy. I was taught a specific, and specially designed technique to help me perform smoothly, in a relaxed manner, and avoid injury.
Joy,
Student/Teacher

Student of 4 years

Currently Practicing:
Pirates Of the Carribean- Jarrod Radnich
Mozart Concerto, 2 Piano
Bach Invention
Mozart Rondo

Offline j_menz

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #8 on: December 21, 2012, 05:18:05 AM »
It's a given you need to "balance" it. I'm not telling him to clamp his elbows to his side. That would just be stupid. His whole posture should be relaxed; he should be experiencing nothing uncomfortable, or something is wrong. If he is sticking his elbows out far, then that could be a problem. I know if I stick my elbows out, it tenses my shoulders, arms, AND fingers, and then it will eventually cause my arms to cramp. I know if I keep my shoulders down, let my arm hang straight down, bent at the elbow, wrists even with knuckles, this keeps my elbows in close, and my whole posture relaxed. It's a given you will have to move your elbow out to a CERTAIN DEGREE. I'm not saying you HAVE to lock it into place and ALWAYS keep it there.

Not to mention, I disagree with the sticking out of the elbow. I think it looks very choppy, and terribly sloppy. I was taught a specific, and specially designed technique to help me perform smoothly, in a relaxed manner, and avoid injury.

Surely how far out your elbow should move is a function of where on the keyboard you are playing. I don't like these things expressed as hard and fast rules- I don't know that you mean it like that; I also don't know that the pieces you play call for much movement out; they occur more and more frequently as pieces become more advanced, though - but expressed in this manner they are just as likely to cause bad habits as prevent them.

Another factor, surely, is simple muscle strength of the shoulders. People with more of it need worry less, and people with less of it need to take greater care.
"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant

Offline outin

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #9 on: December 21, 2012, 05:27:03 AM »
Another factor, surely, is simple muscle strength of the shoulders. People with more of it need worry less, and people with less of it need to take greater care.

Strength and balance. One can have both strong and weak muscles in the upper body at the same time.

But the torso needs to get balanced first. Often the hunching is caused by missing support to the rib cage. I have always had this problem, I don't like to sit straight. If I try to keep my shoulders back while my back is hunching I develope a lot of tension. I know this perfectly well, but still it happens...

Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #10 on: December 21, 2012, 07:38:52 AM »
Sit higher.  As in, raise the bench.

Offline p2u_

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #11 on: December 21, 2012, 07:58:57 AM »
Sit higher.  As in, raise the bench.
I was thinking the same. Another option is that the source of the problem is located in the neck and just SPREADS to the shoulders. Consulting a physician would be wise, just in case.

Paul
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Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #12 on: December 21, 2012, 08:07:43 AM »
I came up with that solution when I realized that my own shoulders were hunched up so that I could type easier.  I then realized that my chair was too low so I simply raised it and my shoulders simply relaxed.  It's funny how I didn't even notice that it was too low until I read this thread.  Thanks!

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #13 on: December 21, 2012, 02:05:06 PM »
Quote
It's a given you need to "balance" it. I'm not telling him to clamp his elbows to his side. That would just be stupid.

It's a given that you need to balance. It's not a given HOW to balance it in a low effort fashion. You may not have said that, but if a person feels that they are not allowed to move the elbows out, such things may very well ensue. Rather than stop drifting out, they may actively tighten themself inwards.

Quote
If he is sticking his elbows out far, then that could be a problem. I know if I stick my elbows out, it tenses my shoulders, arms, AND fingers, and then it will eventually cause my arms to cramp.

I know that I can stick mine out as far as I like. As long as my hand can access the keys properly and take some support from them, I'll be absolutely fine. Did you try the exercise I linked? I have no doubt that you could learn to retain comfort in a wider variety of positions, if you practised it. If anything, it's when I allow the elbow to hang too far inwards that I get issues. My habits are still excessively geared towards keeping my right shoulder too tightly inwards- rather than opening out space in the armpit, to free shoulder blade. I have to be very careful to keep the space open when my right hand needs to reach across my body to play- rather than close it up. Similarly, in things like op. 10 no. 1 that span the whole keyboard my habit is always to close the upper arm too fast when descending. I need to focus on keeping it open more- even in places where it's necessary to close in to the body.

If a person doesn't know how to achieve lightening by a subtle drift of the elbow to the outside (which may sometimes be as little as a couple of millimeters- and I'm not exaggerating) they will instead have to lighten by pulling the shoulder directly upwards- at which point you have to work exceedingly hard not to fall back down. In other words, if the elbow stays hanging inwards you can end up with the most strenuous tensions of all!!!!!!

Quote
It's a given you will have to move your elbow out to a CERTAIN DEGREE.

Not in my experience of teaching it isn't. I've seen students droop their elbows inward extremely lazily. For all we know, the poster might be an example of this and his tensions may be caused by the type of directly vertical lifting and then holding I described in the last paragraph. You can't make blanket assumptions unless you have observed the actual problem. However, if a student explores the full range of the outward action and learns to perceive the level that is actually useful (as opposed to the level that throws you out of balance and causes you to lock there, or the level that leaves the whole arm falling in too heavily against the torso) they can fix problems from either side of the scale.


Quote
Not to mention, I disagree with the sticking out of the elbow.

It's purely about the extent. If you simplify it to do X or don't do X, there's very little of any use. It's about understanding the quality of the action and understanding what purpose it is being fitted to- whether it's about sensitively applying the bare minimum of force to stop gravity dragging the arm in to the torso, or feeling how far you need to move to align well for the fifth finger. Simplistic assertions that completely ignore the specific purposes for activities are not productive.

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #14 on: December 21, 2012, 02:19:58 PM »
I was thinking the same. Another option is that the source of the problem is located in the neck and just SPREADS to the shoulders. Consulting a physician would be wise, just in case.

Paul

I don't think we should assume this about the stool. Sitting too high and with a hunched bank can wreak havoc on the shoulders too. A lot of people sit very high, lean in over the top of the keys and try to get even more vertically over the top of them to press down with the arms. This sends the shoulder straight up. In my blog post I describe the background mentality as well as objective reasons why both people sitting high and low can end up with hunched shoulders.

A physician may be worth a check, but personally, I'd download some free feldenkenrais podcasts from itunes. They have done more to sort out previous physical problems than any doctor, chiropractor, acupuncturist or physiotherapist managed.

Offline clavile

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #15 on: December 21, 2012, 03:21:28 PM »
Surely how far out your elbow should move is a function of where on the keyboard you are playing. I don't like these things expressed as hard and fast rules- I don't know that you mean it like that; I also don't know that the pieces you play call for much movement out; they occur more and more frequently as pieces become more advanced, though - but expressed in this manner they are just as likely to cause bad habits as prevent them.

Another factor, surely, is simple muscle strength of the shoulders. People with more of it need worry less, and people with less of it need to take greater care.

I've played pretty advanced pieces, and been able to play them without cranking my elbow out like I see many people do. Like I said "to a certain degree".

Some pianists constantly play with their elbows jutting out, and ifthis particular person is doing that it could cause him problems.

And just to clarify-- Yes, if you're playing high OR low, your elbow will have move out with the rest of your arm! I'm not saying to glue it to your side, while bouncing up and down the bench on your rump to play certain notes in a piece.

What I've been referring to is when pianists JUT their elbow out constantlynot MOVE it out. No pianist's elbow should ever be jutted, or raised above the wrist/knuckles, just as they should never pin it to their side.

When I move my arms out, I move everything as a unit, including my torso. I can play in all positions very comfortably, and in a relaxed and smooth manner. --Now I'm not trying to say that my technique is the only way. There are SO many different techniques out there, and people all use them, and choose the one that's best for their usage!


 
Joy,
Student/Teacher

Student of 4 years

Currently Practicing:
Pirates Of the Carribean- Jarrod Radnich
Mozart Concerto, 2 Piano
Bach Invention
Mozart Rondo

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #16 on: December 21, 2012, 04:24:46 PM »
While practising just now, I discovered that it isn't even possible for my elbow to go too far out UNLESS the whole arm also goes forwards. It's not that you should never go forwards, but once you've done so you're going to get stuck if there are plenty of notes to play before you can come back again. I think conscious attention would be much better directed towards observing whether there is a habit of going forwards AND UP than towards being careful not to go too far out with the elbow. Learning to distinguish the fundamental difference between a healthy drift out the side to support weight and going both out and forwards strikes me as far more useful than deciding that it's important to avoid sticking the elbow out. Going out alone never causes me a problem. It's getting stuck in a bunched up forward position (rather than feeling a sense of length from shoulder to knuckle, that balances the wrist in alignment) that leads to problems.

Quote
What I've been referring to is when pianists JUT their elbow out constantlynot MOVE it out. No pianist's elbow should ever be jutted, or raised above the wrist/knuckles, just as they should never pin it to their side.

You might want to watch some films of Gilels. I wouldn't personally recommend it as much as he does it, but it goes to show that you don't need to casually exclude something as a rule, just because it has helped you when coming from a certain place. The important thing is that you have options that ensure that you don't get lost in that type of thing- not to decide that it's absolutely wrong. I have countless occasions where I discovered that something I had excluded as a "bad habit" proved to be a very useful element to deliberately reinstate, with a new understanding.

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #17 on: December 21, 2012, 04:44:58 PM »
This is a good example:



There are times where he stays in close, but uses the slow subtle outward drift of the elbow to lighten the weight of his arm perfectly without holding it up. However, there are also times when his elbow goes massively out, sometimes just momentarily and sometimes to remain there for a while. While I'd focus mostly on the first of those elements, there's no need to make rules about how it's supposedly bad to have the elbow out.

Offline chauncey

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #18 on: December 22, 2012, 01:23:59 AM »
Very great info and tips, thanks guys! I think one of the problems is that I don't sit properly at the piano and perhaps that my bench is a bit to low. I never really thought about the position of my elbows so I'll look into that as well! And, I'll definitely do some shoulder lifts or what not before I play so my shoulders aren't so tense..

Offline clavile

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #19 on: December 22, 2012, 04:10:10 PM »
This is a good example:



There are times where he stays in close, but uses the slow subtle outward drift of the elbow to lighten the weight of his arm perfectly without holding it up. However, there are also times when his elbow goes massively out, sometimes just momentarily and sometimes to remain there for a while. While I'd focus mostly on the first of those elements, there's no need to make rules about how it's supposedly bad to have the elbow out.

Here are the two reasons I think it's bad for ME:

1. It will eventually cause my shoulder to become sore.
2. It doesn't look nice when you play.

A large part of my focus in my playing is to make it appear smooth, so as a rule, for ME, it's bad. For some one else, they may not care! And for Chauncey, if it makes my shoulders sore, it could possibly make his sore as well. When I  play that way, I feel  large a strain on my arms.

Joy,
Student/Teacher

Student of 4 years

Currently Practicing:
Pirates Of the Carribean- Jarrod Radnich
Mozart Concerto, 2 Piano
Bach Invention
Mozart Rondo

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #20 on: December 23, 2012, 06:16:16 AM »
Here are the two reasons I think it's bad for ME:

1. It will eventually cause my shoulder to become sore.
2. It doesn't look nice when you play.

A large part of my focus in my playing is to make it appear smooth, so as a rule, for ME, it's bad. For some one else, they may not care! And for Chauncey, if it makes my shoulders sore, it could possibly make his sore as well. When I  play that way, I feel  large a strain on my arms.



You may feel it doesn't look nice, but it works perfectly for me- distracting not one iota from what is among the greatest inherent "sounds" in piano history. Even if the poster is overdoing that action, deciding to repress elbow movement will not make for anything better. To improve you need to better perceive the nature of what goes into a low effort balance (preferably in a range of different,  equally valid positions).

If such movement as that visible in Gilels makes your shoulders sore, I'd try the exercise I linked and sort out the balance problems that are leading to strain. Chances are that you're locking your shoulder straight up with various needless efforts, rather than finding a more sensitive equilbrium between the minimum action required to not to fall back in and gravity.  For a healthy shoulder that is balanced by efficient actions, those positions should not cause the slightest problem. If you merely keep your elbow in close at all times, to counter the issue, there's a very real danger that you might be ducking away from a deeper problem instead of dealing with it. If you avoid Gilels' positions merely out of choice that's fine, but if you can't get into them without feeling major strain it suggests there are issues that warrant attention. A rounded mechanism should generate comfort whether you are in close or opened out. If the most fundamental action for weight regulation cannot be performed in both subtle and more pronounced ways without problems, something about how you are creating balance is not all there.

Rather than write off what one of the greatest pianistic masters in history does, why not try to understand what he does differently- to eliminate the strains that you experience when attempting the same thing (whilst obviously doing something greatly different to his perfectly healthy movements)?

Offline jennyanderson2009

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Re: Relaxing shoulders
«Reply #21 on: February 09, 2020, 01:34:34 AM »
I learned to relax my shoulders by putting little weights on them to help them relax down.  For example, a small bag of rice or a stuffed animal.  It works because as you start to stiffen you feel the weight and remember to relax, then it becomes more automatic.