By Julia Kossuth
Often in playing the piano, it is so easy to drift into less-than-healthy habits of playing and posture. Especially with my older students, I try to help them think through and mentally engage with what their body is doing while they play beyond just getting the music learned.
The first thing I remind my students to do is to make sure their bench is at the right height and closeness to the keyboard. While often overlooked, this can make a big difference in their technique and comfort while practicing. Along with sitting at the proper place at the piano goes sitting with good posture.
Another thing I often have to help my students use at all ages is “spaghetti noodle” wrists–cooked spaghetti noodles to be more precise! When I notice a student playing with so much tension in their arms and hands that I can’t adjust their hands at all we will stop and work on focused relaxation of the muscles in their arms. I’ll also give them 5-finger scale warm-ups to do while making gentle circles with their wrists to encourage relaxed playing.
For my particularly tense students, I like to encourage them to start their practicing with shoulder rolls and arm stretches. Also, we will work on identifying signs of tension while playing so they can stop and stretch mid-session if they need to.
One of the most helpful–but also hardest to implement–habits for my older students is to practice first, then play later. It is so tempting for them to just play songs they know without much thought to their technique or posture and consider this a warm-up, but instead the best thing they can do is to mindfully play their scales or technique exercises so they start their day with strong focus on technique. For many of my students, I’ve found that giving them a checklist helps them get in this habit more quickly.
What are some ways you’ve addressed technical aspects of your students’ playing?