Tag Archives: Piano

How to Practice the Piano: Avoiding Play-Related Injuries

How to Practice the Piano: Avoiding Play-Related Injuries

When I was a little girl and just beginning piano lessons, my teacher spent what I considered an inordinate amount of time talking about posture and hand position. At eight years old, I was much more interested in making music than getting posture and position correct.

But when I retired from teaching and began seriously practicing piano again in my mid-sixties, I found that my hands ached during and after practice. I chalked it up to arthritis.

The repeated chords in the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata were particularly troublesome. I realized I was tensing my fingers and pounding the piano. But how else could I play that passage?

I was also revisiting the Schmitt exercises, and I found some that specifically dealt with eliminating tension by moving the hand from the wrist, keeping the arms still. Exercise 48 works with thirds and sixths, repeated and scales; exercise 51 works with repeated octaves and scales in octaves. I applied that technique to measures 25-29, 43-52, 121-125 and 138-147 of the Moonlight Sonata, third movement, and it helped.

Over 50% of professional pianists experience play-related injuries at some time in their careers.



Sergei Rachmaninoff

I saw a list of famous pianists who suffered from injuries, and Sergei Rachmaninoff was mentioned, which I consider poetic justice. How many pianists were destroyed by the unplayable chords in his Prelude in c# minor? I have small hands. How do you play a full, wide chord without stretching your fingers to the breaking point?

I polled some of my pianist friends on Facebook, and their best suggestion was rolling the hand from left to right, letting go of the lowest note and keeping it sounding with the sostenuto pedal. That’s a new skill for me, and it will take lots of practice until I can do it well. I didn’t even know I had a sostenuto pedal until recently.

Realize that the editor’s fingering markings in your music might not work for you. I’d always assumed they were the only correct way to play the passage. However, it’s subjective. Experiment with different possibilities, especially on chords of less than five notes in either hand.

Playing piano with tension in the body (hands, arms, shoulders, back, butt, legs) causes damage. So does playing while slouching. If you’re having pain, that’s a sign that something is wrong. Stop. Playing through the pain can have long-term adverse effects.

Elizabeth Mueller Grace discusses the role of posture and alignment in preventing injuries:

Beth Grace works with a student to correct alignment errors.

Muscle memory is a boon to pianists, in that it enables us to memorize music; but it’s also a curse, because it makes bad habits in our practice are so very hard to unlearn.

Dorothy Taubman developed an approach to playing the piano that eliminates damage caused by improper alignment. She identified four errors that cause structural damage: twisting the hand, collapsing the wrist; overspreading the fingers; and overcurling the fingers.

An introduction to the Taubman Approach:

I would love to learn the Taubman Approach for playing dense, spread-out chords, but the only way is to take lessons from a Taubman-trained instructor, or to take the Taubman workshops yourself. Or you can stream Taubman Approach videos for $14.99 per month. I have not done any of these, but I’m thinking about them.

Sources and related reading:




http://pianomap.com/injuries/index.html (read all 7 sections)


https://takelessons.com/blog/piano-guide-injury-prevention Scroll down to “Knowing When to Stop: Common Injuries and How to Avoid Them.”






Creative Juice #137

Creative Juice #137

Inspiration for your creative soul:

Video of the Week #195: D is for Despacito



Wordless Wednesday: My Piano



Video of the Week #171: Are Czerny and Hanon a Waste of a Pianist’s Time?


Almost two years ago, I posted an article about the piano exercises of Ernő Dohnányi in which I quoted Dohnányi’s thoughts on the exercises of other composers. Here is another discussion on the same topic.

Video of the Week#163: 1812 Overture


… But not the way you are used to hearing it. Valentina Lisitsa plays a piano arrangement. Gorgeous! (No cannons were used in this video, but you will hear explosions if you commit to watching to the end.)

Valentina Lisitsa


Photo by Michael von Aichberger

Born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1973, Valentina Lisitsa began playing the piano at the age of three. She enrolled at the Lysenko Music School for Gifted Children and later studied under Ludmilla Tsvierko at the Kiev Conservatory. In 1991 she won the Murray Dranoff Two Piano Competition together with Alexei Kuznetsoff. The couple married the following year and moved to the USA. In 1995 Lisitsa made her New York debut at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. Since then, she has performed extensively around the world. Her career received a huge boost from a home-made video, shot by her husband in 2006, of Valentina playing the 24 Chopin Études, which the couple posted on YouTube. Subsequent YouTube videos expanded her following, and that’s where I first discovered her. I was dazzled by her technique and the sheer speed at which she renders concert favorites.

With more than 95 million YouTube views and over 439,000 subscribers to her channel, Lisitsa is among the most frequently viewed pianists on YouTube, using digital innovation to champion classical music and performance. Impressed by her YouTube success, the Royal Albert Hall, in an unprecedented step, opened its doors for Valentina’s London debut on June 19, 2012. In that year Valentina Lisitsa signed an exclusive agreement with Decca Classics, and her Albert Hall recital was immediately available as both CD and DVD for pre-order on the night of the concert, her first of many recordings under the label.

Lisitsa is at ease in a vast repertoire ranging from Bach and Mozart to Shostakovich and Bernstein. She has a special affinity for the music of Rachmaninov and Beethoven and continues to add to her vast repertoire each season.