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Topic: What really is correct posture?  (Read 3901 times)

Offline pianoamatuer

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What really is correct posture?
on: February 09, 2017, 04:08:30 AM
Actually, I was going to dedicate this entire subject to the hands, but I figured, two birds with one stone, right? Sorry, animal lovers.

Over the last two weeks, I've been more serious about how I practice. How long should I practice? When? How? Continuing onward, this week I've became a little more practical. Am I practicing right? If not, that still doesn't explain why I get off track every time I practice. [ In fact, this question popped up in my head WHILE I was practicing! I dived right onto the computer to file this important question, pausing my practice. ]

Credit to my concerned attitude, I began to do some research. I came across this video called 'Curving Vs Curling' which immediately turned down what I thought was right. I always curled my hands forcibly, they were tense and slow. I've began to attempt to fix this. It's going.. alright. [would like suggestions..] My teacher taught me to play it like holding a little rubber ball. I know this is incorrect, now. You're trying to curve your fingers on demand and.. well 'ya know. Your hands should simply go on the keyboard, in its relaxed, genuine position. Fingers should automatically do its own job. I hope someone can confirm this..

Now, because of this amazing discovery, I need to know if I'm practicing wrong posture with everything else. I've come to not trust my teacher as much now. Always considering getting a new teacher now... not too bright with that.
I try to relax my shoulders whenever I catch myself raising them. I need to stop that habit. I just found out about that today... I always accidentally commit unforced errors, but that's because I need to practice more.. So.. what is correct posture? The body has to be straight, right? My teacher told me my arms shouldn't be at my side and there needs to be a slightly small gap between my arm and torso. Head should be erect, with the hands straight with the forearms. Whenever I play my fingers have to follow my arm.
Also, whenever I have to play really loud, do I use my whole arm? Won't that make me tense up?
It's been 20 minutes since I typed this and I NEED to PRACTICE. Hope I get some kind fellows to help me out!!!
I'm just a amateur taking a unconventional approach on the graceful, amazing piano.

Offline Bob

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #1 on: February 09, 2017, 05:27:11 AM
I've notice in general I need to pull my shoulders back and more together.


Sitting up straight and tall on the bench, but not rigid.  Staying more relaxed.  Letting the skeleton hold everything up.  Belly button to spine.

Sitting in a way where you can stand up easily, and you keep the same posture.  Essentially the upper body is still in the same position whether you're sitting or standing.

Relaxed where you can still breath and move freely.

Relaxed but still firm.  Not relax-limp, but relaxed-ready.

More piano-specific -- Able to let the arms drop on the keys.  Able to lean the torso forward to put more weight in the keys.  Able use gravity and body weight to hit the keys, not just a finger movement.

Piano and bench at the right height for you, except you have to adjust the to piano unfortunately so you're legs might not be the most ideal position.  Then adjusting the music to you as much as possible too.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline hardy_practice

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #2 on: February 09, 2017, 05:42:45 AM

Also, whenever I have to play really loud, do I use my whole arm? Won't that make me tense up?

Yes, but only for the moment of tone production.  Playing the piano involves a constant tension/release.  That way you neither tire nor injure yourself.
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline keypeg

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #3 on: February 09, 2017, 12:37:26 PM
I've had to chase after this myself since I was originally self-taught decades before, and in my case, the repertoire that was handed on to me ended up creating the "perpetually curved" hands and rest.  I've been working my teacher in unraveling and reshaping this for a few years.  Since we're in different countries so there is no hands-on it's been tricky - I've also used additional resources with his approval.  Anyway:

Hands: Your default starting point is the relaxed hand as it is when you're arm is hanging down when you stand.  The watchword when you're playing piano is that everything works together and interrelates, even your feet are involved in a sense, and secondly that everything moves and changes.  So staying with the hands for a second and this "ball-holding shape" idea:  If you play a fifth or a fourth with thumb and pinky on the outer keys, your fingers will naturally be quite curved, because how else can they be.  If you stretch out to play an octave or 9th or 10th, depending on how big and stretchy your hand is, your fingers will be quite straight because they have to be, to stretch out to those notes.  In these two extremes you see how the hand cannot have one shape.  Also, black keys are "higher up" than white keys.  If you try to keep the same curved fingers while playing an E chord (E G# B - white black white) that G# middle finger will be rather cramped.  It's a long finger - our fingers are different lengths.

Hands again: "At the wrist" (don't take this literally!) your hands can move the following ways:  up and down (raised or lowered "wrist"), side to side in a sideways swivel motion, and from the forearm so to say it can rotate in a doorknob-opening sense. These three directions give you infinite variations of a circle.  These possible motions immediately affect what we can do - for example, if you tip your hand rotationally into the 5th finger, that momentum goes into the finger and thence into the key .. as opposed to a rigid hand and doing it all only with the fingers.  It opens possibilities.  Or conversely: rigidity narrows possibilities.

From there we have the whole body: the arms with forearm and upper arm and shoulder, and how these work together; the torso and how it is seated, and its role; the hips, shifting weight at your sit bone, and your legs and feet that counterbalance, support, or "weigh down what you're trying to do.  These are explorations to do over time.

The reason I ended up with the round hands, rigid wrist, and motionless arms, which it turns out that my grandmother had been taught - is that I had her books, and the repertoire reinforced these things.  If you are playing music mostly on the white keys (G major, F major, C major, and relative minors), mostly with a hand span of a P5 (perfect fifth), and mostly in the middle of the piano, you'll end up with a relatively round hand.  You don't need to lean left and right because you're in the middle of the piano, and if you never use the pedal, you don't have to be aware of your feet.

My teacher does not give any "rules" such as the shape of the hands.  The only thing he insists on is a good height and distance from the piano, because that sets up a whole bunch of other things.  He gives repertoire that soon varies in the sense of using both black and white keys, expanding past a P5, moving all over the piano, and using the pedal.  Students are told to aim for the best sound and the greatest comfort.  As they experiment back and forth to find that comfort, their movements go toward something that looks and sounds right.  For those of us who got into poor habits, this is a good starting point.  You won't know what "greater comfort is" until you've experienced it, because whatever you're doing is your "normal".  But when you experience "better", that old normal will feel like cr*p and you won't want to go back to it.

It's a journey.  Beware of rules that say this (x) is the only way to move.  Two resources I can recommend right away that are on-line:
For a basic understanding of how your body works together, after part by part, and guided exploration, after which he shows a small number of basic motions of notes at the piano, I'd recommend going through the whole gamut of Piano-Ologist's course: it's tedious, slow, and boring, but I learned a lot, since I am quite body-unaware:

Jaak Sikk also has a course up which is tedious but builds things bit by bit: the first month is free.  Even better however is a teacher who knows what he is doing in this regard.
Quote
The body has to be straight, right? My teacher told me my arms shouldn't be at my side and there needs to be a slightly small gap between my arm and torso. Head should be erect, with the hands straight with the forearms.
Those are general guidelines.  But by itself it can leave you like a posed mannequin, when playing itself is fluid.  You are moving.  Imagine you are - erm - washing the roof of a car, getting at the part that is furthest away from you, closest to you, to the left or the right.   Would you keep your body straight upright and only move your arms?  Or do you shift your weight in your feet, lean from a central place so you don't topple, and maybe your head does some things too?  Sitting and standing upright are in themselves a constant balancing act of micro-movements.  We are not "rooted into the earth" like an oak tree, or a house on its foundations.

Offline dcstudio

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #4 on: February 09, 2017, 03:29:13 PM
Watch out for the shoulders.  I still have a tendency to do that and I have nearly 50 years in at the piano. I cannot begin to describe the problems it has caused at and away from the keyboard.  Fix it now.  8)

Offline pianoamatuer

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #5 on: February 10, 2017, 04:01:13 AM
The replies are helpful. Applying what you guys say to my posture.
I do have one really big issue though...

When I'm playing loud, why do I tense up? Why can't I stop it? Like on a particular song, I have to play around mezzo piano on my left hand. I'm using the ring, index and thumb finger. But I look at my left hand and the pinky is raised!!!! Clearly something's wrong!

Keep the helpful replies comin'! Thanks everyone.
I'm just a amateur taking a unconventional approach on the graceful, amazing piano.

Offline keypeg

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #6 on: February 10, 2017, 04:45:53 AM
When I'm playing loud, why do I tense up.
I'm guessing that you haven't learned how loud can actually be produced, so you've come into a default, or you were taught something that created this.

Have you worked through every lesson in the PianoOlogist thread that I posted?  If not, you should do so, because you'll be armed with a lot more knowledge than you have presently.  The answer I started to give is in there as well.

Offline outin

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #7 on: February 10, 2017, 05:26:23 AM
The replies are helpful. Applying what you guys say to my posture.
I do have one really big issue though...

When I'm playing loud, why do I tense up? Why can't I stop it? Like on a particular song, I have to play around mezzo piano on my left hand. I'm using the ring, index and thumb finger. But I look at my left hand and the pinky is raised!!!! Clearly something's wrong!
This sometimes is linked to your hand structure and some good pianists  raise the pinky when playing certain things. Focusing too much on this only can cause harmful tension as well. You really need a good teacher to assess what is happening. I don't believe you can be helped much by internet lessons if the teacher cannot see your body and hand structure and your playing in person. When working with a good teacher one can supplement by looking for more theoretical understanding from other sources, but to actually rework the basic posture is too difficult without personal help imo. So if you teacher doesn't help, try to find one who will.

When you play loud do you tense up because you need to to make a big sound? Or are you uncomfortable with the loud sound and mentally resist? For me it was the latter, my ears hurt with most pianos when I play loud. If it's the former you need to learn to use your whole body and that's where you need the proper posture.

Offline pianoamatuer

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #8 on: February 11, 2017, 03:21:42 AM
@key, I have observed some of the videos in the series. Frankly, I find them quite difficult to follow a bit, not to add it's a bit boring. However, I'm learning a good deal and I will continue to look at the videos. I'm not really getting any HELP from the videos.. I feel like the pianologist observes the piano in a technical scope but doesn't helpfully explain how to apply that kind of information into [playing] the piano. I mean, according to me. I think.
@outin, I tense up because I have to make a big sound. This problem has been bothering me ever since I played piano. In fact, I'm quite upset that my teacher never bothered fixing my problem in the beginning. HMM!
I certainly know how you're supposed to play loud - use gravity and your forearms. Some say the whole body too, but I've yet to hear that explanation. But it's so confusing..
I did watch the piano-o-logist but I usually like to learn from trial and error with observed criticism by other people. Unfortunate, because you guys would need to see a video of me playing. I might just get one up and PM some of you guys it!
I have millions of questions. But I need to go practice. Thanks everyone.
I'm just a amateur taking a unconventional approach on the graceful, amazing piano.

Offline outin

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #9 on: February 11, 2017, 05:04:42 AM
@outin, I tense up because I have to make a big sound. This problem has been bothering me ever since I played piano. In fact, I'm quite upset that my teacher never bothered fixing my problem in the beginning. HMM!
I certainly know how you're supposed to play loud - use gravity and your forearms. Some say the whole body too, but I've yet to hear that explanation. But it's so confusing..
I did watch the piano-o-logist but I usually like to learn from trial and error with observed criticism by other people. Unfortunate, because you guys would need to see a video of me playing. I might just get one up and PM some of you guys it!
People learn differently. Some people have generally poor body awareness (I am one). So just being shown how to do something or told how something should feel never worked. I learn best when I know what I am aiming at tonally and then by trial and error I can find the physical way. When the right sound is connected with the movements I can remember and reproduce that combination. It is then learned. It is essential that my teacher helps by assessing the tonal results and suggesting me how to experiment physically.
 One problem with playing loud is that acoustic pianos sound less pleasant when played loud and for a long time I tried to avoid that by playing more "carefully" until I realized it's not the way I played but that's how the instrument works.
 It may help you to think less about playing loud but play "bigger". To use the whole body it might help to think about engaging your core muscles (in the torso) to make yourself taller to take full control over the keyboard. While your hands may go down on the keys, your body can feel like raising up from the bench. So instead of hunching or leaning forward to attack the keys, think up and long arms. But again, literal explanations or even videos of other people playing may not help you if you need personal coaching and experimenting.
It might also help to find a piece where the dynamics feel natural for you, something where you actually want to play louder. There are such pieces for me and learning them certainly helped. For me in modern music (20th century) it is easier to play loud than earlier music for some reason...
Just to make sure: You do know that volume with piano comes not from pressure to the keys but the speed by which they move? So what we are looking for is acceleration. To understand this may not teach how to do it, but it's still important to know so that you don't waste energy trying to add unnecessary pressure to the keys.

Btw. We just discussed my unwillingness to play ff with my teacher the other day... Dynamics are always relative, so I would just need an instrument that can be played really soft :) I recently went to a concert by world renowned pianist and I suffered quite a lot because of the loud ( and even harsh) sound of the supposedly great Steinway grand. Other people seemed pretty happy. So maybe I just have to accept the sensitivity of my ears and wait until age takes away some of the edge...

Offline hardy_practice

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #10 on: February 11, 2017, 06:52:46 AM
I tense up because I have to make a big sound. This problem...
It's not a problem it's physics.  If you could sense (and with a bit of practice you could) how tense you are the instant you kick a football you'd understand.  Otherwise all your joints would give way.  For accuracy you can't allow any joint do that by any amount.  Immediately after said 'instant' relax - and that's where the skill lies.
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline keypeg

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #11 on: February 11, 2017, 10:09:17 AM
@key, I have observed some of the videos in the series. Frankly, I find them quite difficult to follow a bit, not to add it's a bit boring. However, I'm learning a good deal and I will continue to look at the videos. ....
This is not a thing to observe, but to do.  Observing gives you nothing.  When you do each thing, testing your own sensations, you start to discover things in a physical self-knowledge.  That then goes back to piano, where you are more aware of what is happening.  It can give you clues.  I agree that it is quite boring. ;)

Offline pianoamatuer

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #12 on: February 12, 2017, 04:05:24 AM
@key It is pretty boring. But my aspirations of being able to play Pathetique or Chopin will never be reached with proper education. I wish it was more easier to achieve correct education, but the strikingly differences between people's perspectives makes it that much harder to really find out what education is really 'right' or 'wrong'. I'll just have to learn from everyone and form a universal conclusion from it.
I will continue to watch the videos, but dear, not the whole thing! It is sapping my will to study for that geography test next Tuesday.
@hardy As a asian teenager, this might surprise everyone - I hate science. Physics. Everything school. Yuck. They force me to learn algebra and calculus. School is forced labor. I will never ever apply "X divided by Z times L where all variables have maximum value, blah blah blah" to my life EVER. I'll figure out what the 20% sale does to my receipt but after that, WHY!? Sorry to rant off, but man. School is rigged. As long as I know the basics I'm good. There's a reason why we have calculators. But I can't say that for the math enthusiasts.

I've been discovering things by.. learning from others..? I don't know. I do know that sometimes when I play kinda loud my forearms hurt sometimes and sometimes they don't. My technique is completely wrong, and it'll be a long way before I can fix everything. I know some things though, can't complain:
Hands should be straight with the arms.
Shoulders should be relaxed. No excess tension.
Playing loud is playing 'explosively?' This confuses me????. I think it's just best for me to learn it through experience. Not the best idea..
Tension is not a problem, tension that does not release is a problem.
I will continue to experiment with comfortable approaches to the piano. My learning style, however [ as I am aware] : I don't learn by myself usually. I learn from others. I actually like VERY, VERY detailed, brief instructions on how to do stuff. I have an arsenal full of questions whenever I learn something. No one enjoys answering questions, though. I like being taught, and I can teach myself but it is at a expense ; I will have various issues and gaps in my proficiency to be able to play a new technique properly and completely correct. There are various views of 'correct' as we can all see clearly in the forums, some people argue with eachother and so forth.
Basically, I learn through being taught ; not too much learning through experience/by self. Both ways are still significant and I do both, but being taught briefly is what I enjoy more.
TL;DR : More help please! Will take any advice on posture! Is this all the active forum posters? Come on, pianostreet! I thought this website had a variety of piano players!

I'm just a amateur taking a unconventional approach on the graceful, amazing piano.

Offline hardy_practice

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Re: What really is correct posture?
Reply #13 on: February 12, 2017, 02:37:47 PM

@hardy As a asian teenager, this might surprise everyone - I hate science. Physics. Everything school. Yuck. They force me to learn algebra and calculus. School is forced labor.
Agreed.  I quit at 17.  But what I meant was making a 'big' sound involves tension - that's just the laws of physics but you don't have to know them!

Tension is not a problem, tension that does not release is a problem.
Glad you got that.  
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM
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