How to Avoid Piano Injuries | Get Rid of Tension and Pain [Hand, Wrist, Elbow, Shoulder & Back]


Hi everyone! This is Ilinca Vartic for PianoCareerAcademy.com,
and today’s video is focused on a painful problem that sadly too many players struggle
with these days: piano injuries – may they be located in your hand, wrist, forearm, elbow,
shoulders or your back. We will go behind the curtain, identify the
real causes, learn how to avoid each one, what to do instead, and how to recover from
an existing injury. Before we get started, please don’t forget
to subscribe to my channel, and ring the bell so that you don’t miss any new tutorials
– and many of them are coming in the near future. I’ll begin with a simple fact that unfortunately
many players are not aware of: correct piano playing does not cause pain and injuries! Never tolerate pain – because pain is your
body’s only way to tell you that what you’re doing something wrong. At the first sign of discomfort, stop, take
a break, and identify the cause of your pain by using the information you are about to
learn. Of course, I’m not a doctor so in this video
we will only focus on piano-related injuries – and we will not look into problems that
are caused or aggravated by age or various medical conditions. Always speak to your doctor when in doubt! There are 4 mega-causes of piano injuries. The first troublemaker is bad posture and
incorrect arm alignment. Slouching when you play; tilting your neck
forward, so that this natural line between your spine and the crown of your head is disrupted;
raising your shoulders; sitting too low; sitting too close to the instrument; ‘gluing’
your elbows to your sides; having sharp angles in your wrist… These and other elements of a bad posture
can result in headaches, backaches, shoulder pain –
and of course, arm and hand injuries. Any locking, stiffness or exaggerated bending
in your body and your joints will cause discomfort, tension, fatigue, pain – and ultimately a
more severe problem. To avoid injury, good posture is very important. The back is straight – one line from the crown
of your head to your tailbone, as yoga instructors like to say. Your bench is properly adjusted, so that the
elbows are aligned with the keys. The feet are grounded, placed near the pedals
(if you’re not using the pedals). Your shoulders are down and relaxed. The arms are loose, and there are no shar
angles in your elbow or wrist. Your arms should feel like wings that are
breathing freely – so don’t ‘glue’ them to your torso! This should feel good! There should be comfort, ease and freedom
of movement. Also, make sure that the shoulders, elbows,
wrists and hands are well-aligned. There should be one line of energy from your
back to your fingertips – and you can learn more by watching my tutorial on this topic. At this point, however, there’s something
very important to keep in mind: a good piano posture is not something you hold. It is not static, tensed or rigid. It’s simply a neutral alignment where your
joints and muscles feel comfortable and at ease. It’s a starting point that allows full range
of motion. It is flexible, fluid and breathing. So, a good posture is a process, not a pose. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a movie, not
a picture – and it’s always adapted to the layout of the piece you’re playing. The second mega-cause of piano injuries is
incorrect technique. About 95% of piano beginners these days play
the piano incorrectly, by using inefficient and unhealthy movements. Incorrect technique is a plague that keeps
spreading. It thrives because of misinformation, and
also the desire to cut corners and play difficult pieces too soon, without taking the time to
learn how the body works, and how to adapt our physiology to the mechanics of this instrument. In this video we will take a look at 5 aspects
of incorrect technique that cause pain, injuries and also sabotage your progress. These days, finger-only playing is the No.
1 cause of piano injuries among amateur and self-taught students. It means pressing the keys by using separate
finger movements (which is very difficult), and keeping the wrist and arm disconnected
and usually motionless and tensed in this process. Why is this harmful? The piano keyboard does not work like a computer
keyboard! Because of the hammer mechanism, the piano
keys are heavy and they offer resistance when depressed. The piano keys also have depth – so there’s
quite a distance between surface and the keybed. The finger muscles are weak on their own. If you use separate finger movements to depress
the heavy piano keys, they will get fatigued very soon. Wrist and arm tension, the usual companions
of finger-only action, amplify this fatigue even more. This type of technique is not efficient or
ergonomic. Simply put, it is not adapted to the construction
of the piano, and it doesn’t take into consideration the bio-mechanics of the human body. Playing piano with your fingers alone can
be compared to trying to walk by only wiggling your toes, instead of moving your entire leg
from the hip, or hitting a tennis ball with a small flick of your wrist, instead of taking
the energy from this whole-body rotation. The smaller the muscle you use for a certain
task, the harder that task becomes, and the higher the risk of injury. When you only use your fingers, playing the
piano feels like a struggle, it’s an effort, and it doesn’t feel good. Your hand muscles and forearm tendons get
overworked, and soon enough the inevitable fatigue degenerates into pain. If you ignore this pain and keep going, you
will most likely injure yourself – and here is where problems such as tendinitis or Repetitive
Strain Injury come into play. To avoid injury, play the piano by using the
ergonomic techniques called whole-arm action and weighted playing. You need to use the entire potential of your
body – starting with the powerful muscles from your back and reaching the last finger
joint. All of them are important, but the force needed
to depress the heavy keys comes from the larger muscles of the back, and it is channeled through
the loose arm and wrist into the fingertips and the keys. So there’s not need to strain and overwork
the fingers! In whole-arm action, gravity plays a big role,
so does the leverage principle. Piano playing is a whole-body activity – not
a finger or hand activity! If you use your body efficiently, your playing
will be comfortable, effortless, and also painless. Many method books nowadays are still based
on the old-school 5-finger approach. The beginner’s hand is placed on this position
and they are asked to play legato straight away, by only lifting their fingers (I can’t
even do it properly), without changing position or involving the arm and wrist in the process. Separate finger action is not the only danger
of these methods: legato (and now I played it properly) is a difficult articulation effect
because it involves finger articulation. So don’t get me wrong – finger movement
is very important, but if we start using the fingers before we learn how to use the arm,
we are guaranteed to do it incorrectly – and you already know the consequences of that. To avoid injury, choose a method book that
starts with non-legato playing, such as Nikolaev’s Russian School of Piano Playing, which we
use in our Course for Beginners. Non-legato is the safest way to learn whole-arm
action correctly. Simply put, first we learn to use the arm
as a unit, how to channel weight, how to keep the joints loose and flexible. Only when this is internalized, we incorporate
finger action into the formula: we move to staccato, and then to legato. And even then, we begin by connecting 2 notes
– and we don’t simply pay attention to what the fingers are doing. The arm and wrist movements are very important
here as well, and we also aim for a beautiful sound and a singing transition between notes. Then we connect 3 notes, and when we do reach
a 5-finger position, our muscles and brain are ready to do it safely. Playing with stiff wrists, immobile arms,
in a static manner, with constant effort and no relaxation, will 100% result in fatigue
and pain. To avoid injury, you have to understand the
cycle of effort and relaxation. Of course, we cannot be completely relaxed
when we play the piano. If we were, we would fall off the bench! Some effort is needed, so our muscles do contract
at certain times, but if we use whole-arm action correctly, we can keep this effort
to a minimum, delegate it to the bigger muscles, and also learn how to relax continuously. In other words, small efforts and ample relaxation
are always alternating, forming a never-ending cycle. This way, your muscles get refreshed as you
play, not when the piece is finished, and fatigue does not have a chance to accumulate. … and there are some other important things
to keep in mind here. Playing the piano is about constant, fluid
motion with no pockets of tension. Also, our wrists have to be flexible and anticipate
the layout of the music. The wrists are bridges that connect the arm
with the hands. That’s why wrist relaxation is crucial in
ergonomic piano playing! It’s also important to keep your hands constantly
‘breathing’ – and even in playing repetitive structures, as you can see, my hands keep
‘breathing’, there’s always a little bit of motion, I always take time to relax,
even if it’s a micro-relaxation, between these positions. If you want to learn more, I have a detailed
tutorial on this topic. Another thing is to find comfort even in the
most difficult passages. So whether you have fast runs, or a series
of octaves, or powerful chords, try to find the underlying pillars and the most ergonomic
movements that are suitable for every case, and practice those structures smartly, by
using the ‘magnifying glass’ practice method, instead of simply playing them through
and hoping for good luck. If you perceive piano playing as a finger
activity, you will feel the need to stretch your fingers each time you come across a wider
interval. Some people even do finger stretching exercises,
which are very dangerous and really not worth it. To avoid injury, use whole-arm action and
the wrist navigation technique. Remember: our fingers are not leaders in piano
playing. They are followers. If you have a wider structure, don’t initiate
the movement with your fingers, don’t strain and overstretch them. Initiate the movement with your arm. The arm and wrist lead the way, they are the
navigator, and they take the fingers to the needed position in advance, so that stretching
is kept to a minimum. A good example is Chopin’s Etude in Ab Major,
op. 25 No. 1, that many students play like this, trying to cover these distances by stretching
their fingers alone – when it is so much more comfortable to reach everything by performing
these natural arm and wrist movements. Keybedding is another form of incorrect technique. As you probably know, we cannot control the
piano sound after it has been produced. Once the key has reached the keybed, that’s
it – there’s nothing we can do to make the sound louder or change its quality. Still, some players like to keep pressing
the key (or the keys) with a lot of effort instead of holding them lightly, by only using
the natural weight of their hands. If we hold a key correctly, this is an occasion
to relax and refresh our muscles. Remember the cycle of effort and relaxation? Do you see how I’m completely loose, and
yet the key is still pressed? If you are keybedding, on the other hand,
you are not taking advantage of this opportunity, so you are increasing your fatigue and risk
of injury. So, to avoid injury, make sure that as soon
as the key has reached the keybed, there is muscular release – and you are only using
the minimum amount of weight that is needed to keep that key down. Before we wrap up the technique compartment
of this video, I will answer a common question: Is a bit of hand and arm fatigue normal when
we practice? To be on the safe side, I will say “no,
not really – especially if you are a beginner”. Sure, if you’re an advanced student and
you have been practicing a Liszt Etude for 3 hours in a row, you will most likely feel
a bit of pleasant fatigue in your entire arms, but without any centralized painful sensations. This fatigue will go away soon, and the next
day your arms will feel completely refreshed. But if you’re a beginner and you feel fatigue
after each practice session, even though your pieces are easy, it means that you’re doing
something wrong, and instead of tolerating this fatigue, you should take a few steps
back, reassess the situation and make sure your posture, technique and practice habits
are healthy. Speaking of practice habits – the 3rd mega-cause
of piano injuries is Incorrect practice. In this video we will analyze 7 main aspects
of incorrect practice: mechanical playing, skipping your warm-up, irregular practice,
never taking breaks, repetitive practice, too much fast practice and learning pieces
that are too difficult for your level. The rest of this tutorial, where I analyze
each element of incorrect practice with plenty of examples and detailed solutions, can be
found in the Members Area of PianoCareerAcademy.com. At the end of the video, I also reveal the
4th mega-cause of piano injuries and share some additional recovery tips. Don’t forget that as a member of our program
you will have unlimited access to our entire library of tutorials, which includes our Course
for Beginners, our Scale $ Arpeggio Course, our Sight-Reading Course, interactive projects
and also hundreds of stand-alone tutorials for all levels focused on a wide range of
piano topics and pieces. Thank you so much for watching, please give
this video a thumbs up if you found it useful, don’t hesitate to share your experience
in the comments below, let me know what you think, and I’ll see you in the next one. Until then, practice well and stay healthy!

15 comments

  1. This tutorial has proper English SUBTITLES (written by me, not YouTube)! Just click the CC button to turn them on :). Also, here is the video breakdown (with clickable time stamps for each main idea):

    00:02. Introduction.
    00:46. Correct piano playing does not cause pain and injuries!

    The 4 Mega-Causes of Piano Injuries:

    01:37. Cause No. 1: Bad posture and incorrect arm alignment.
    02:36. How to avoid injury.
    03:38. A good piano posture is a fluid process, not a static 'hold'!

    04:24. Cause No. 2: Incorrect technique.
    05:11. A. Finger-only playing (and what to do instead to avoid injury).
    09:09. B. 5-finger Legato playing during the early beginner stage (and the healthy ergonomic alternative).
    11:29. C. Tension, stiffness and static playing (and how to relax your muscles without falling off the bench).
    14:28. D. Exaggerated finger stretching (and how to connect wide intervals without overstretching your hand).
    16:10. E. Keybedding (and learning when to let go).
    17:27. Is a bit of fatigue normal when we practice?

    18:34. Cause No. 3: Incorrect practice.
    19:03. Where to find the rest of this tutorial…

  2. Hi Ilinca, Henry T here (one of your PCA Students)! Funny story, today 15 Feb 2020 I was at my local music store here in Colorado Springs, Colorado [U.S.] and I was discussing with the Owner how I think I've found a local Instructor to teach me how to deal with stage-fright when playing the piano. I was trying to explain how happy I was with PCA and I was trying to determine the best way to broach the subject with my new Instructor because I didn't want to seem/be dismissive about being taught how to play from them because the Russian method has proven itself to me to be the absolute best approach to learning properly. The funny thing was, I was there to buy piano books and when doing so I pull up the books songs on YouTube and help determine if it's something I want to add to my library. Anyway, I'm chatting away with YouTube in one of my ears and I begin to hear what sounds like YOU talking. I keep chatting and such and begin to leave when I look at my phone and BAM!!! It is you with a brand new pist for the day. I was so ecstatic I had to go back and show the Owner part of the video. Now how timely was that. Gotta love PCA!😉

  3. Thanks so much for this video! Right now I have a wrist and thumb brace on my left hand caused by passing under and stretching in scales, Hannon, and pieces. I’ve reluctantly concluded that I need to stop playing with that hand for several days and concentrate on mastering the treble cleft in my pieces. Another contributing factor is that my joints are very flexible allowing them to move past the point that the muscles can safely move.

  4. Your videos are absolutely wonderful, especially for serious students. Very high quality. When I browse piano tutorial videos on YouTube and read some of the comments—–"I don't want to bother learning to read music"—"I don't want to learn music theory, it's too complicated"—I just cringe. I, too, would love to learn to play like Valentina Lisitsa or Yuja Wang in 2 months. But, obviously that's absurd. Your videos are the best on YouTube for someone who is serious about learning to play the piano and accepts that it is a very long road. Your videos are great for helping serious students progress as rapidly as is humanly possible and, at the same time, not develop really bad habits because they have a "not especially knowledgeable" teacher. Thank you for your very high quality instruction.

  5. It's important to note that if students keep their hands and fingers totally rigid, they end up using only their arms or wrists to depress the keys like a giant lever. The result typically is a lack of motor skills at the finger tips for independent control.
    It's important to remain in contact with the keyboard and to depress the keys using the weight of the key, instead of lifting fingers up to then press back down. First instincts are almost always to press the keys like an elevator button lol.
    I think that the Russian technique rubbed off onto me when I was studying, since my best teacher was indeed a Russian concert pianist and although he was super disciplined, he was always emphasising so many of the things you mentioned here.
    Excellent video! Thank you so much!

  6. Hi! This was very nice! Very informative! I will keep this in the back of my mind when I play & practice! Thank you for sharing! I subscribed & liked, won't you do the same? Thank you. 🎹🎹🎹🎹😎😎❤

  7. Excellent video tutorial👍👏. You do a great job explaining your topic in clear, relatively simple terms & using examples. Thank you very much!

  8. This tutorial is informative, pointing out the mistakes normally committed by a beginner like me. I request for some more exclusive readings, videos on the subject as Learning to play Piano should get a pleasure and not lead to fatigue , as I intend to learn scientifically, as you well explained and taught. Your more suggestions on the subject will help me a lot as I have recently realised that I often misunderstand piano as computer, resulting in practising time lesser than required.

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