3.5 Piano Ergonomics

Position of the body

Begin with Exercise 8.2 for sitting position xxx.

The sitting position must be stable without feeling too much strain in the torso and back. You should not need to feel the musculature in the torso working hard. Instead, the position of the pelvis is crucial for you to be able to relax when seated. Find a sitting position in which you can sit on the ischia (the curved bones at the base of the pelvis), so it is possible to maintain flexibility around the hip joints, and so you can bend forwards at different angles in order to vary your position in relation to the keyboard.

Try to find a suitable height at which to sit so that the elbows are at the same level as the keys. When you have found the optimal sitting position, the distribution of weight to the fingers through the arms will be more effective. Feel how the distribution of weight begins from all the way down in the soles of the feet and flows through the pelvis and its contact with the seat base and out to the pads of the fingers on the keys. Do not lock your feet and legs when seated. At the piano, the heel of the pedal foot should rest on the floor.

The goal is to use the least possible power and effort when playing, even during dramatic moments in the music. As you move over the keyboard, try to do so with a feeling of a “brushstroke” in the body. If you make this “brushstroke” in the upper octaves, try to feel the shifting of weight from seating level, as in the following illustration.

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Illustration 3.5.1. The centre of balance shifts to the right ischium and the torso maintains its upright position.

As you move down to the lower octaves, the weight shifts to the left ischium and vice versa when you play in the higher octaves. Let your breathing flow freely in relation to the musical phrase. Do not hold your breath as you play.

The hand

Appearance of the hand

Examine the gripping ability of the hand: let the forearm rest on a table and look at the hand. Try to find a position where the knuckles are visible and it feels like you are holding something like a bird or a ball. Start focussing on stability in the hand from the third finger.

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Illustration 3.5.2. The hand at rest with longitudinal and transverse arches in the optimal starting positions for hand function.

To achieve a stable position in the knuckles, in which they can be seen clearly, do the “cup” exercise.

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Illustration 3.5.3. The back of the hand should be rounded; on the inside, the little finger and thumb stretch out the back of the hand and stabilise the knuckles.
 

Lay the hand on the table with the back of the hand facing upwards, and let the forearm rest on the surface of the table. Tense the hand by stretching out the fingers so it becomes very broad with a considerable distance between the knuckles. Now bend all the knuckle joints slightly. Then bend the knuckle joint of the thumb a little extra in comparison to the fingers, and also the little finger, in which the actual bend occurs in the finger knuckle. Let the second and fourth fingers be a little more relaxed in this position. Feel how you stretch and made the whole hand broader by stretching diagonally between the little finger and the thumb so that the fingers are spread well apart. Maintain this position for a few seconds and then relax. Repeat this exercise 5–15 times and look at the back of hand to notice how the knuckles can be seen clearly.

Function of the hand

Train the contact, stability and distribution of weight to the fingers on the keys by “standing” on the pads of the fingers and slowly pulling the fingers towards you. This can also easily be practised without keys on a table, for example. Lay your hand on the table in a position of rest. See Illustration 3.5.4.

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Illustration 3.5.4. Sit at a table and let the forearm rest stably on the table. Let the weight of the whole hand rest on the finger, which should be in a stable position with a slight bend in all its joints. Try to pull the whole hand/arm backwards with this feeling.

The wrists need to be elastic and flexible when playing piano. Imagine a movement where the arm, wrist and fingers move forwards and upwards when playing. The energy comes from the keys and gives a light, springy forward/upward motion. If the wrists lock, this results in increased tension in the forearm muscles. Make sure the wrists do not find themselves below the level of the keyboard.

Position of the hand

Avoid maintaining a position while playing in which the hand twists to the side, towards the outer side of the hand.

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Illustration 3.5.5. For large hand positions, the wrist can easily find itself twisting slightly outwards.
 

It is important to be able to let go of this hand position as quickly as possible. (This twisting to the side can otherwise become a cause of pain in the musculature all the way up to the muscular attachments at the elbow on the side of the little finger.)

Controlling motor activity in the hand and arm

Lift the arms, imagining a thread on the outside at the level of your elbows. Let the elbows be at the same level as the white keys. Then release the hand and fingers down to the keys. When you prepare to place the hands on the keys, try to twist inwards with the shoulder muscles (necessary for the fingers to reach the same plane as the keys) and not with the forearm. Begin by letting the arm and hand hang beside your body. Before you place the hands on the keys, rotate the shoulders inwards. The hands will then be ready to be placed on the keys.

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Illustration 3.5.7. The arm hangs in a relaxed manner by the side. Then point the thumb forwards and the palm in towards the side of the body.
 

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Illustration 3.5.8. Now the rotation in the shoulder is complete. The forearm then follows, and the hand will be ready to play on the keys. Muscle tension in the forearm lessens considerably.
 

Keystroke

Starting point for playing with the fingers: prepare the finger for playing the keys by letting it be close to the key, and do not lift by bending much in the finger joints. When you lift the finger, try to stretch the finger slightly without too much activity, and then release and play.

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Illustration 3.5.9. Lifting the index finger with greater curvature in its outer joints and stretching the knuckle joint more increases the tension and locking in the joints of the finger.

Illustration 3.5.10. Release the bend in all the finger’s joints slightly. You will then have more energy for the keystroke and will more easily be able to use the weight of the finger. Use rounded fingers for playing, as this will entail less tension in the extensor and flexor muscles. You should be able to see the knuckles while playing. If your little finger is very short, let the arm follow along as you play, and assist with a slight rotation in the forearm for better weight distribution to the little finger.

The position of the thumb while playing

The thumbs have different positions as the hands are moved over the keys out towards the sides, where the thumb must come underneath, i.e. be carefully prepared beneath the hand until it is needed. When playing in the centre of the keyboard, prepare the fingers instead by placing them over the thumb.

Float with the hand when using all five fingers; the elbow will make elliptical movements. The centre of balance will move when the fourth and fifth fingers are playing. Make sure your thumb is relaxed when playing with the other fingers.