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How to Prepare for a Piano Competition – an Interview with Mariam Batsashvili

Soon after the 10th International Franz Liszt Competition Utrecht, Piano Street’s guest writer Alexander Buskermolen spoke to its most recent winner: the Georgian 21 year old pianist Mariam Batsashvili. The main theme for this interview with the first female winner of this particular competition in The Netherlands: how to prepare for a competition and what happens if you win? Mariam Batsashvili should know. Read more >>

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Author Topic: Student drops wrists while playing  (Read 1181 times)
psykopili
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« on: September 21, 2016, 08:44:00 AM »

One of my students has a bad habit of dropping his wrists below the keyboard while playing. Pointing this out to him keeps them up for about 15 seconds, until they drop again. How do I address this chronic problem?
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outin
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« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2016, 09:08:32 AM »

Sometimes (as is my issue) this is due to tension problems in the shoulders and neck that make it very hard work to keep the arms in a proper playing position. Also sitting at the wrong height contributes to the problem. You need to figure out the cause before you can solve the problem.
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classicalinquisition
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« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2016, 09:24:35 PM »

if he's short, this is a common tendency. otherwise, have him stand tall and stick to the original basics of the palm position holding an imaginary ball (old school teaching). if all else fails, give him some books to sit on to raise his height assuming this is the issue with the temptation to drop his wrists
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jpahmad
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« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2016, 07:43:36 PM »

Have him sit farther back from the piano so he has to reach a little more.
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debussychopin
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« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2016, 09:27:15 PM »

Get a metal ruler and slap him hard on the wrist.

That is the tried and proven old-school method.
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« Reply #5 on: October 20, 2016, 12:08:32 AM »

lol.  I use the ole quarter trick.  Have them try to keep it on the back or their hand while they're playing.  It's usually a hit.  I also show them some youtube videos of pianists to watch their hand positions.

I had a student just today who is seven really do a great job on his lesson.  Played perfect position with his right hand and stick straight fingers with his left.  When I pointed out they needed to match.

I think it's important to remember that a student is thinking about a whole bunch of things and the position of the hands is best dealt with when it's a piece already known.
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timothy42b
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« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2016, 02:07:11 PM »

lol.  I use the ole quarter trick.  Have them try to keep it on the back or their hand while they're playing.  It's usually a hit. 

Yup.  That teaches them to crawl their little fingers back and forth, and avoid using arm weight at all costs. 

Good plan, they'll never play loud enough to annoy the neighbors. 
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Tim
sitbon09
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2017, 10:51:42 AM »

He may be dropping his wrists to compensate in the body elsewhere.  Have u checked he is sitting at a comfortable playing height so that the elbow is level with the keybed when playing?  Advise him to give himself the direction that the hand and arm work as a unit: the forearm supports the hand which supports the fingers.  Ensure his elbows are free.
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lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2017, 01:06:09 PM »

There are many reasons why it happens, some beginners have it in their mind that every single note played must be done with isolated finger movement, rather if you point out to them that they can lift their hands and strike the note with the whole hands weight supporting the finger it can correct their tendency to drop their wrist.
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dogperson
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« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2017, 01:13:31 PM »

There are many reasons why it happens, some beginners have it in their mind that every single note played must be done with isolated finger movement, rather if you point out to them that they can lift their hands and strike the note with the whole hands weight supporting the finger it can correct their tendency to drop their wrist.

I have never been taught to drop my wrists while playing..... however, I took a lesson from a concert pianist last week who teaches technique to drop the wrist on long notes.  I hope I can explain well so that this can be discussed:
- Play the long note
- Relax wrist
- Raise wrist
- Next note

Are we discussing the same thing.... and is this technique you teach?
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timothy42b
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« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2017, 05:28:57 PM »

One of my students has a bad habit of dropping his wrists below the keyboard while playing. Pointing this out to him keeps them up for about 15 seconds, until they drop again. How do I address this chronic problem?

It's very hard to not do something especially if you don't know what causes it.

I don't know what generally causes the dropped wrist.  In my case it was tension (and I didn't know I was doing it until I saw a video of myself.)  L-I-w may have some ideas.

In the brass world it is common for a student to ask for help correcting a faulty habit.  Most of the time that habit is not actually the fault.  They do that wrong thing because they don't do some other fundamental thing correctly, so they have to compensate.  Fixing that wrong thing usually doesn't improve anything.  I could give some examples but unless you play trombone or trumpet they might not mean anything.

AT any rate, long story short too late, I think you need to find the true root cause of the dropped wrist.  If he just hadn't been taught the right position, your correction should have worked.  The fact that the fault continually recurs is evidence you haven't figured out the real problem yet. 
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Tim
lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2017, 11:38:38 PM »

I have never been taught to drop my wrists while playing..... however, I took a lesson from a concert pianist last week who teaches technique to drop the wrist on long notes.  I hope I can explain well so that this can be discussed:
- Play the long note
- Relax wrist
- Raise wrist
- Next note

Are we discussing the same thing.... and is this technique you teach?
I am not discussing technique as such rather the idea of using the weight of the hand to play a finger, however you do that I rather not discuss in words Smiley Many beginners get it in their mind that no weight of the hand can be used and all notes played need be done with isolated finger movement, this can push their wrist down. Of course there are many reasons why their wrist might collapse so we can only speculate, but with many beginners I have found this to be an issue.
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keypeg
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« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2017, 12:05:23 AM »

We have not heard anything from the OP since he posted his question.  It could be anything - like for example low seating.  Shouldn't we wait until hearing back from the asker?
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psykopili
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« Reply #13 on: May 11, 2017, 03:37:15 PM »

We have not heard anything from the OP since he posted his question.  It could be anything - like for example low seating.  Shouldn't we wait until hearing back from the asker?

OP here. Thanks for the advice. We had a break for few months with this pupil and we've just resumed. Things haven't improved. I can't figure out what the problem is. We've tried all kinds of chair heights.

He's a 14-year-old boy, and he also has trouble with his feet: they are all over the place. One is under the chair and the other is under the keys (it's an electric piano). When I point this out and it improves for a while. Same thing with the wrist. It's just that he can't seem to keep his playing position in an ideal state for very long and I don't know what's causing this. Someone here recommended keeping a coin on his hand while playing, seems worth a try to at least fix this thing with the wrist.

I only have a few years of experience of teaching, and being mostly a self-taught player, I find it difficult to notice bad playing postures. I can tell if something is really off, but not necessarily very minute bad habits. I wonder if there's some source (books, videos) where I could study this?
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c_minor
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« Reply #14 on: May 12, 2017, 01:33:07 AM »

my last teacher shared to me a story about another teacher who placed thumbtacks below the keys to prevent wrist dropping  Shocked might be too much though..
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keypeg
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« Reply #15 on: May 12, 2017, 02:34:08 AM »

my last teacher shared to me a story about another teacher who placed thumbtacks below the keys to prevent wrist dropping  Shocked might be too much though..
I wonder if that teacher had a mysterious problem of many students playing with tension that seemed oddly related to anxiety of some sort.  (shudder)
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timothy42b
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« Reply #16 on: May 12, 2017, 12:05:08 PM »

Someone here recommended keeping a coin on his hand while playing, seems worth a try to at least fix this thing with the wrist.

I think that would be a mistake and lead to some unintended consequences.

This does not seem to be just a matter of a position not yet learned.  It seems to be part of a larger picture of posture and movement.  Something is causing the dropped wrists, and I think you will need to address that something, rather than focusing on the downstream symptom.  My guess is he is compensating for something else he is not doing, or doing wrong. 

I have a friend who walks unsteadily with knees too close together, the familiar valgus fault.  It is not a bad habit, it is the only way she can compensate for her hip structure and maintain mobility.  If you put an object, maybe a soccer ball, between her knees to force them into a "correct" position, she couldn't walk at all.  In her case this is not fixable.  But someone else with the same symptom might be able to return hip mobility through stretching or surgery, and then could change the knee position. 
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Tim
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« Reply #17 on: May 12, 2017, 12:28:58 PM »

Agree with the previous poster...Sometimes there is indeed an anatomical anomaly, such as hypermobility, that makes it really difficult or even impossible to maintain "correct" body positions without extreme tension. Attempts to quick fix may cause permanent tension or injury. Very few people do things "wrong" consistently just because they want to, you do need to look into the reason behind the wrist dropping. If indeed it is just a habit, to break it requires exercises easy enough to execute and done regularly enough to gradually form new better habits. In my experience the  way to get rid of bad habits is to create new ones.
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anamnesis
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« Reply #18 on: May 12, 2017, 11:34:56 PM »

OP here. Thanks for the advice. We had a break for few months with this pupil and we've just resumed. Things haven't improved. I can't figure out what the problem is. We've tried all kinds of chair heights.

He's a 14-year-old boy, and he also has trouble with his feet: they are all over the place. One is under the chair and the other is under the keys (it's an electric piano). When I point this out and it improves for a while. Same thing with the wrist. It's just that he can't seem to keep his playing position in an ideal state for very long and I don't know what's causing this. Someone here recommended keeping a coin on his hand while playing, seems worth a try to at least fix this thing with the wrist.

I only have a few years of experience of teaching, and being mostly a self-taught player, I find it difficult to notice bad playing postures. I can tell if something is really off, but not necessarily very minute bad habits. I wonder if there's some source (books, videos) where I could study this?

There's a net forward balance that has to be maintained when at the piano that is felt from the forearm, that you need to help feel balanced and connected to the piano at all times.   Note, that I said this is felt from the forearm and not the wrist.   From that net forward balance, we can still adjust back and forth relative to it to help us move closer to or away from the fallboard as well as gradually adjust the height of the wrist as needed.  In speed situations with trills or repeating chords, we can use that back and forth movement like a see-saw to help us out as well.  More importantly, it helps us learn how to coordinate the fingers with the rest of the arm rather than getting ahead of it.

It's not a piano video, and exaggerated for effect (and also because she is standing) but it makes this easier to see:
https://youtu.be/hCSBZH2vT78?list=PLJiVuuRJrCuu8IPUfvBod2mkZcMEc4hg4&t=73

In terms of his legs and posture, one should check if he knows how to balance on his sitz bones at all times on the seat and use that as a fulcrum for his torso.  Feeling the resistance of the seat against the sitz bones and connecting it with coordinated, rhythmic, musical motion shouldn't be ignored or assumed. 
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keypeg
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« Reply #19 on: May 13, 2017, 05:24:37 AM »

A couple of things bother me.  The feet "being all over the place", with the description of one under the keyboard (forward) and one under the bench (backward) - it sort of reminds of a classical position of pianists.  The other is "position" period for both the hands and the feet, in the sense of a static position that must be maintained, rather than dynamic.  The wrist does not have one height and one position - it is (should be) in motion.  The feet, ditto.  In fact, is it possible that these "all over the place" feet are actually doing something good?
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outin
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« Reply #20 on: May 13, 2017, 07:07:07 AM »

A couple of things bother me.  The feet "being all over the place", with the description of one under the keyboard (forward) and one under the bench (backward) - it sort of reminds of a classical position of pianists.  The other is "position" period for both the hands and the feet, in the sense of a static position that must be maintained, rather than dynamic.  The wrist does not have one height and one position - it is (should be) in motion.  The feet, ditto.  In fact, is it possible that these "all over the place" feet are actually doing something good?

Possible, but I can also imagine someone with a very restless sitting posture. If the student is uncomfortable sitting balanced (I have this issue due to my back defect and joint problems) there can be too much movement to the level of interfering with the playing. I also have this tendency to "twist" my legs to unnatural positions when I am sitting and these habits are hard to break. I don't do it anymore when actually playing, but when I sit at the piano studying scores this can happen without me even noticing.

When I started playing I had trouble sitting in a good way. Now I notice that I sit differently on the piano bench than on any other seating. I have learned a better seating habit by the piano, but it is just connected to that...
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