8 Reminders of Proper Piano Playing Technique for Beginning Pianists

When you first start learning the piano, you might think to yourself that you can worry about technique when you’re playing piano at a more advanced level. But now is the perfect time to start building a solid technical piano foundation. Not only will proper technique help you improve your skills quickly and efficiently, but it will also keep you from injuring yourself or from making piano learning more difficult than it needs to be. The following are eight common physical pointers for beginners while practicing piano.

1. Play with Good Posture

Since you play the piano on a bench and not a chair, you might find yourself starting to slump over and ending up with a curved back while practicing the piano. Correct posture - sitting straight up with an elongated spine near the front of the bench - is important for players because it improves your playing and, more importantly, keeps you from developing back injuries. When you sit for long periods of time with a curved spine, or incorrect posture, you can end up with severe back aches, neck aches, headaches, and stiff shoulders. To achieve the ideal posture, you should complete the following steps: 1) Place your feet firmly on the floor, parallel from each other with approximately a 4-inch gap. 2) Keep your shoulders back and up straight. 3) When you put your hands out to play, your forearms should be parallel with the floor.

2. Avoid “Broken” Wrists

Right along with poor posture comes the issue of the “broken” wrist. This is something that happens when your wrists are doing anything other than staying straight while you play. For example, if you imagine your hands on the keys and your wrists make a V shape by tilting either up or down, you’ve got broken” wrists. Playing the piano with straight wrists is important because it can keep you from developing carpal tunnel. By the way, this goes for typing on a computer keyboard as well!

3. Curve Your Hands

Once you’ve checked in with your wrists, it’s time to take a look at your hands. Make sure to curve your hands correctly so you can play all the notes you want without straining any muscles. If you’re using proper hand technique, it should feel like you could hold the top of an orange or a tennis ball in your palm while playing. Your hands shouldn’t be so rounded that your wrists are affected, but round enough that you can see a distinct curve from your top knuckle to your fingertip.

4. Breathe!

When you’re focused on a task, you might sometimes hold your breath without even realizing it. When you’re finished with the task, you exhale a sigh of relief. That sigh of relief is a sign that while you were executing the difficult task, you were holding your breath. This physical mistake happens more often than you might imagine while people practice piano. There’s no need to hold your breath when playing music. It won’t help. Trust us. In fact, it may even hinder your piano playing. Anxious habits can easily lead to anxious performance. But if you practice with mindful breathing, that pattern may help you relax during the pressure of your big performance.  

5. Use More Than Just Muscle Memory To Memorize Music

A common physical mistake by people who are just beginning to learn how to play the piano is relying exclusively on muscle memory to play their music. Muscle memory is amazing and a very important tool, but it’s important to read your music while learning and to use your ear in conjuction with muscle memory. If you rely on muscle memory too much, you can easily start playing lots of wrong notes just by accidentally placing your hands on the wrong part of the keyboard. You should only completely rely on muscle memory once you’re completely finished learning a piece and preparing for a memorized performance. Even in that situation, you should still practice occasionally with your music so you can check for mistakes.

6. Check Your Fingering

Take a look at your music. Someone has painstakingly adding fingering to all of the tricky, confusing, difficult passages. Early pianists often want to use fingers they think are “easier”, but which ultimately are the wrong choice. In most situations, the fingering that your printed music recommends is the best way to go. When you play piano, your fingers are building strength.  If you choose your own fingering that you think is the “easiest”, you’re probably just favoring the stronger and more developed fingers, like the pointer and middle fingers. It’s important to develop strength in the pinkies and ring fingers as well. Thumbs are naturally very strong, so fingering for thumbs is usually about dexterity and flexibility.

7. Don’t Stare at Your Hands

Also applicable to typing is the bad habit of constantly looking at your hands. When you’re really just beginning to play piano, of course you need to look at your hands to get an idea of where the notes are. But after a few weeks of playing, you should start to memorize the keyboard and look at your hands as little as possible. When your eyes are glued to your hands, you’re likely to lose track of where you are reading your music. Many new pianists have trouble with this, but most of them have a better sense of where the keys are on the piano than they realize. Trust yourself!

8. Play the Piano with Hands Separately

Sometimes when we practice we make the mistake of not practicing our hands separately. Just like your fingers, each hand needs to develop individual strength. When you practice each hand by itself, you develop this strength as well as notice where individual hand difficulties are in the music. When you play both hands at once, it is easy to miss a mistake that is happening in only one of the hands.  Thus, be sure to play the entire song through with each hand individually.

Now that you’ve reviewed these common physical mistakes, set up a camera in your practice area and record yourself practicing.  When you go back and look at the footage, you can notice which of these physicalities you’re doing right or wrong while you practice.

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