This article has quick tips for piano students of any level to assess their posture at the piano and establish a sitting position at the instrument that encourages good technique.
When I think back on elements of good posture at the piano, I remember many important tips given to me by different instructors, but one that always sticks and comes to mind first is what my accompanying professor told me in college:
“You are a tree—your torso and up are the trunk, and your arms are the branches. You have to have a strong, stable trunk to allow your branches to move freely.”
A poetic example, sure, but a sound piece of advice that serves as my constant reminder at the piano. What my accompanying teacher was saying is that you must establish a solid sitting position in order to allow your arms to stay relaxed and completely mobile, which is a fundamental of good technique. Playing piano requires a free utilization of the weight of your arms while they also stay relaxed, and to do this, you must have good posture as the basis.
Here are some tips for establishing great posture at the piano:
- First, sit tall, thinking about your lower back elongating and pulling you up.
- Try, pulling your shoulders up, then let them roll back and down. You should feel like your shoulder blades are now dropped down your back. From here, try to maintain the same position, but let go of any tension in the muscles so that you are sitting tall, but feel completely relaxed and neutral.
- Double-check your neck! Make sure you are not extending forward from the neck itself, but if you do need to lean forward while playing, do so from your waist.
- Maintain a good, square connection with your feet to the floor and pedal. Sitting with your legs crossed, turned in a different direction as your body, etc. can move your back out of alignment and cause tension to be manifested in different areas (and we want to keep it away from the arms, shoulders, wrists, elbows, and hands).
- Let your elbows float! If your elbows are relaxed, they naturally fall so they are facing the floor when your hands are on the piano. If they are squeezed in towards your sides, or if they are raised outward and not pointing down, this means they are in a locked position, which will limit your mobility.
- Don’t lock your wrists! A quick way to assess if your wrists are not in a flexible position is to place your hands on the piano and try to move your wrists in circles without letting go of the keys. This allows your hands to freely rotate, which is a very important technical concept covered in piano study.
This quick list of checkpoints can be very useful in assessing your own piano posture or that of your students’. Even with a list of points to remember, though, it can be difficult for the player to modify all at once. The key is to approach your sitting position with awareness of what you are trying to achieve, and when you find there may be tension somewhere that is affecting your level of freedom and relaxation in the “branches”, be mindful of the solution. Correcting bad habits and forming new, good ones is reliant on awareness and then action.
Keep the importance of your posture at the piano in mind, and notice the difference in feel and comfort that can be achieved through proper sitting position at the instrument.