Some of the most important elements in piano playing are acquired during the first few lessons. These elements often remain with us for life which is why it is crucial to start in the correct way. Bad habits are indeed very difficult to eradicate! It’s much better not to start at all than to do it inappropriately, because re-learning can become very problematic especially as we have already trained our brains to think and act (or play) in a certain way so changing feels very unnatural.
How we sit at the piano can mean the difference between playing easily with freedom of movement or not, yet many pay scant attention to this vital element. When sitting at the piano for the first time, always make sure your stool is at the perfect height for you. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? However, it’s surprising how many pupils don’t adhere to this simple rule.
An adjustable stool is ideal because everyone will need to sit at a different height. If you don’t have one, either use cushions or telephone directories to raise you up or consider cutting an inch or two off the legs of your stool if you are too high (yes I am serious, because if you sit at the wrong height you will never be comfortable at the keyboard).
The ‘perfect’ position (if there is such a thing as perfection!), is when your whole body feels relaxed and comfortable (with your shoulders down i.e. not raised) so when you rest your hands on the keyboard your forearms are roughly parallel with the floor. If they are too high you will feel as though you are literally on top of the keyboard, and conversely, too low will induce all sorts of technical problems as you struggle to find a natural hand and wrist position. It is also vital to sit up straight when you play; slouching will only encourage bad posture, possible tension problems and can create a thin, weak piano sound too.
Another tip is to sit at a suitable distance from the keyboard. If you are too close then again, you will feel on top of the keyboard and your arms will be unable to move freely and equally, too far away will make smooth playing almost impossible. I encourage students to sit towards the front of the stool (nearest the keyboard) so they transfer some body weight to their feet (which should be flat on the floor) with ease and are then able balance firmly. This way, pedal control is easily grasped (always use the pedals with your heels positioned on the floor as you will have much more control) and the body can move freely in a sideways motion from the hips, making it possible for the arms (and hands) to run up and down the keyboard effectively and smoothly. This allows the student to cover the entire keyboard at speed with ease and makes for flexible, free playing.
If you are able to implement these suggestions, you will be on the way to playing accurately and most importantly, producing a beautiful sound.
For more information on posture see my short video-blogs below and you can also read these excellent and very interesting blog posts about how to achieve the perfect sitting position by GéNIA which appear on her Piano-Yoga blog site: Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.