After playing piano professionally for 30 years and teaching piano for approximately the same time, I have noticed that due to regular piano playing some people can experience similar physical and psychological problems. After observing students, colleagues and, of course, myself, I have come to the conclusion that these problems can be alleviated if dealt with before they manifest.
There is a popular misconception that compared to the work of a dancer, a pianist's work is mainly intellectually based. However pianists, use the physical body as much as the mind - without both elements the expression of music would not be possible.
The most common physical problems for pianists are stiffness and pain in the shoulder girdle and lower back, stiffness and tension in the hips (mainly due to long hours of sitting), muscle fatigue in the hands, arms and right leg (due to pedalling), and a general feeling of blocked energy. As well as dealing with physical strain many pianists, especially those at a professional level, have to deal with the psychological stress of public performances.
Music students are expected and encouraged to practice a lot and some classical pianists practice up to eight hours a day. However, driven by the will to succeed, they often ignore these issues, continuing to practice and continuing to be deprived of the desired results because of the state of their physical and mental well-being.
After studying yoga for a number of years and then training to be a yoga teacher, I started implementing various yoga postures and exercises into the breaks between my piano playing sessions. I found that the quality of my practice and my well-being improved tremendously as a result.
Hence, here are the first three exercises from my new mini-blog series 'Simple Back & Shoulders Exercises to Help with Your Piano Playing'.
The exercises outlined below are designed to help pianists during and after their sessions by rejuvenating and stretching the body, particularly working on the upper back. You can do each exercise individually between your piano practice sessions or do them together as a sequence.
Try to take notice and observe the way your body is feeling and choose the exercises that feel suitable for you. Also remember that all breathing during these exercises is done through your nose, with the mouth closed, unless you feel blocked and congested. Next to each exercise I have outlined the benefits of each exercise.
The model in these photos is my dear friend and yoga teacher Trudi Olivero, and the pictures were taken by a wonderful photographer and friend Pamela Troni.
1. Back Release
BENEFITS: Stretches the spine. Opens the hips. Warms up the upper body. Rejuvenates tired muscles. Restorative.
Props: Using a grand piano as a prop can be useful for stretching and releasing your back after a piano playing session. This exercise can also be done by placing your hands on a wall and then walking yourself backwards but is a little less effective. Recommended for adults only.
1. Place your hands with your palms facing down on the lid of a grand piano (Do not do this with an upright as the height would not be appropriate).
2. Start slowly walking backwards while keeping your hands on the piano until you find yourself in an L-shaped position.
3. Hold position for a few minutes and engage abdominal muscles by drawing them slightly inwards to support the back.
To come out of the stretch, slowly start to walk towards the piano while keeping your palms pressed on the lid until you reach an upright position.
2. Reclining Waist Pose (Supta-Madhyasana) Version 1
BENEFITS: Stretches the spine. Opens the shoulder blades. Improves circulation. Opens and stretches the front body. Restorative.
1. Lie on your back and bend your knees bringing them towards your chest.
2. Stretch your arms out in a T-shape, keeping them shoulder level.
3. Roll onto your right side, bring your arm across the body placing your left hand on top of your right.
4. Slowly start to move just your left arm in a circular clock-wise direction leading with your fingers, tracing them along the floor until the left hand comes back to meet the right, repeat 3 times.
Roll onto your left side and repeat 3 times.
3. Spine and Arm Stretch
BENEFITS: Stretches the spine. Warms up upper body. Improves circulation. Invigorating.
1. Kneel or stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart.
2. Interlock the fingers, extend the palms of the hands away from you, and raise them overhead as you breathe in.
3. Make sure that the lower ribs are not protruding out and the shoulders are kept down and slightly back.
4. Take three breaths through your nose breathing into the side ribs.
I hope you enjoy doing these exercises. If you have any questions please do leave them underneath this blog and I will do my upmost best to answer them!
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