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#2102593 - 06/14/13 05:34 PM Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot  
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Beth_Frances Offline
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I have recently started teaching an absolutely adorable young girl who lost her foot last year in a lawnmower.

We just got to a piece with pedalling, and she looked very uncomfortable trying to get the prosthetic to move the pedal up and down, and I realised it's probably not going to be very effective down the track when the pedalling gets faster and more complicated.

I told her she could use her other leg, but then noticed she was all off balance doing that. I left it there, because I didn't want to make an even bigger deal out of it since i know it's a sensitive subject, but now I'm wondering long term what I should do. Encourage her to figure out pedalling with the prosthetic, or let her sit skewed when she plays with pedal.

She is extremely keen, and has natural talent, so I don't want to make the wrong decision in advising her. What would you suggest?

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#2102596 - 06/14/13 05:41 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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Piano*Dad Offline
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Without more information, it's hard to make suggestions from a distance. Is part of her coordination problem one of distance? Would it help to have a pedal extender like for a smaller child? Would bringing the leg higher up give her more control over the motion?

Secondly, and this is going to sound a bit flippant …. um, what about the harpsichord? If she enjoys the keyboard, she might like an instrument without a nasty sustain pedal.

#2102616 - 06/14/13 06:46 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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AndyJ Offline
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A couple of weeks ago I met a young man at my nephew's high school graduation. He was born missing one hand and the lower ends of both legs. He had recently won a national table-tennis tournament, competing against fully able-bodied kids.

I have to think that a girl with a prosthetic foot can learn to pedal.

#2102620 - 06/14/13 06:49 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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Peter K. Mose Online content
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Seems to me that there is no right answer here, except more discussion and trial-and-error, and maybe some laughter and a few potential tears, for the two of you as you sort this out together.

Explain to her that using the damper pedal will be vital to her playing the piano, so it's time for her to start experimenting, given her disability. I would think she would be better off pedalling with her good foot (her left foot), and just get used to sitting differently at the piano. But if she has enough mobility with a prosthetic (her right foot, and the "correct" pedalling foot), then she'll get the hang of it.

Last edited by Peter K. Mose; 06/14/13 10:05 PM.
#2102632 - 06/14/13 07:40 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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Hi Beth,

You don't say what kind of prosthesis she has. You also don't say where the amputation is. For example, is it at mid-calf, or at the the knee? Higher up? All that makes a difference in terms of how much leverage your student can generate to play the pedal.

If the prosthesis is not properly articulated at the ankle, pedaling will be impossible. If it is articulated there but it's not adjusted properly, then it won't work well either. If the shape or size of the foot pad are are unsuitable, then it won't work either.

Myself, I'd have a talk with her orthopedist, her prosthetics maintenance technician, the physiotherapist, or the nurse/case manager who works with her. If you describe exactly what the physical needs are for this girl at the piano, I'm sure they can come up with a workable solution for her.


Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/greg-dempster/34/325/6b9/ (my day job)
#2102647 - 06/14/13 08:16 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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I wonder how hard it would be to adapt a piano so that the sustain pedal is on the left instead of the right. Of course, that wouldn't help her at your house.


Piano teacher since 2008, member of NFMC
#2103170 - 06/16/13 02:22 AM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Brinestone]  
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Charles Cohen Offline
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Originally Posted by Brinestone
I wonder how hard it would be to adapt a piano so that the sustain pedal is on the left instead of the right. Of course, that wouldn't help her at your house.


I wouldn't approach it by modifying the piano. That would tie her to one instrument.

I can imagine building a mechanism that sat on the floor, and transferred the motion of her _left_ foot to the _right_ pedal. Just levers and pivots . . .

That would be portable, and not terribly complicated. It might interfere with the una corda and sustain pedals, but she could play _lots_ of music without those.

I support the previous post suggesting talking to the people who made her prosthetic. I know a brace-maker, and she's brilliant about finding solutions to problems.

. Charles


. Charles
---------------------------
PX-350 / microKorg XL+ / Pianoteq / Lounge Lizard / Korg Wavedrum / EV ZXA1 speaker
#2103172 - 06/16/13 02:50 AM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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I don't have a prosthetic foot. But I do have ankles that are basically either fixed at a ninety-degree angle (when I'm wearing my orthosis), or contracted so my toes point down (when I don't have shoes on). I also have disturbed (but not completely absent) proprioception in my lower limbs, so that it's difficult for me to tell what my feet are doing, unless I'm looking at them. Basically, I think that comes about as close to what this girl is dealing with as is possible without actually missing the foot.

I pedal with my right foot, even though my overall mobility in that leg is worse than in the other one. I've found that trying to switch feet would cause unnecessary pain and tension after practicing for more than twenty minutes or so, and long-term, bad posture may cause more persistent problems, especially in a child so young.

I also don't put my heel on the floor when I'm using the pedal. Instead, I keep my foot at a ninety-degree angle (aided by my orthosis), and lift my entire upper leg slightly off the bench and then bring it back, which, with my knee and ankle fixed, causes the pedal to go up and down pretty predictably, even though I can't see or feel my foot.

I haven't played anything yet where really fast pedal changes were indispensable. My teacher and I have worked on ways to minimize the need for pedaling in some pieces (sometimes by changing fingerings, and sometimes simply by deciding that it's OK not to have the dampers lifted, or to keep them up a little longer). I think that, in the long run, we may have to start consciously selecting my repertoire in view of what I am and am not physically capable of in the pedaling department, but that won't be a huge problem. There is plenty of beautiful music to play with slow pedaling, or not too much of it, or none at all.

So unless her dream is to become a concert pianist (in which case: ouch), I don't think this is an insurmountable hurdle.


Plodding through piano music at a frustratingly slow pace since 9/2012.

Standard disclaimer: I teach many things. Piano is not one of them.
#2103263 - 06/16/13 09:54 AM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Peter K. Mose]  
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rocket88 Offline
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Originally Posted by Peter K. Mose
I would think she would be better off pedalling with her good foot (her left foot), and just get used to sitting differently at the piano.


That is what I would try first...seeing as she is not used to pedaling at all, sitting a bit sideways will not be an "un-learning" problem.

Then she could play on any piano, anywhere, without carrying around a contraption.

As an example, Marcia Ball is a well-known Blues pianist and singer who often sits a bit sideways, with her legs crossed, very un-conventional, (she doesn't use a lot of pedal) but she sure can play...check out her playing like that on Austin City Limits:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTJku7nMF3o


Piano teacher and Blues and Boogie-Woogie pianist.
#2103275 - 06/16/13 10:20 AM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Saranoya]  
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ten left thumbs Offline
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Originally Posted by Saranoya


I also don't put my heel on the floor when I'm using the pedal. Instead, I keep my foot at a ninety-degree angle (aided by my orthosis), and lift my entire upper leg slightly off the bench and then bring it back, which, with my knee and ankle fixed, causes the pedal to go up and down pretty predictably, even though I can't see or feel my foot.


I think the thing is, with the greatest respect to Saranoya, we generally try to get the work to happen at the ankle, and not lifting the whole leg (work happening now at the hip, and could lead to all sorts of problems).

However if this kid has no ankle, then obviously not possible.

Levers allowing the left leg to press have already been mentioned. Or maybe, as I think used to happen, a lever pressed sideways by the knee? My be worth getting in touch with a local engineering college, as they may take it on as a student project.

And as a lower tech solution, if the kid is raising whole leg as described, they may have trouble keeping contact with the slippery rounded pedal. Perhaps a gripped sock and a little concave attachment to the prosthesis might help?

#2103321 - 06/16/13 11:52 AM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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Saranoya Online content
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Sorry if it looked like I was suggesting that my imperfect solution should be exactly what this girl will end up doing. If she has a healthy left leg, and a solution can be found that will allow her to use it, more power to her.

My point was simply that even within the limits that she obviously has, a lot is possible. A previous piano teacher once told me that she wouldn't be able to teach me beyond the second year or so, unless something could be 'done about my feet'. We ended up parting ways after less than two months, for more than just that reason.

I'm sure some kind of solution can be found for this girl — ideally one that circumvents the missing foot entirely. And I'm glad she's found a teacher who respects her enthusiasm and talent enough to ask about creative solutions on the internet. Thank you, Beth_Frances, for not writing her off.

My message to teachers in general is this: never assume any of your students' limitations are an insurmountable hurdle, unless it's clear that the student has no interest in surmounting it. Calling something impossible is just another way of saying that you've decided to stop looking for a way to make it happen.


Plodding through piano music at a frustratingly slow pace since 9/2012.

Standard disclaimer: I teach many things. Piano is not one of them.
#2103323 - 06/16/13 11:55 AM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Saranoya]  
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Peter K. Mose Online content
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Originally Posted by Saranoya

My message to teachers in general is this: never assume any of your students' limitations are an insurmountable hurdle, unless it's clear that the student has no interest in surmounting it. Calling something impossible is just another way of saying that you've decided to stop looking for a way to make it happen.


Beautiful advice for us all.

#2103365 - 06/16/13 01:38 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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ten left thumbs Offline
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Amen, Saranoya. Please do not think for a moment what I posted was any criticism of what you do or of what you posted. It is inspiring to see how you have overcome these challenges.

#2103457 - 06/16/13 04:56 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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I have a student who can't lift her right foot because of some muscular problems. Her previous teacher let her play the piano without using any pedal for three years.
Now, she's pedalling with her left foot and doing great. She's a very talented pianist and her left foot has become used perfectly to pedalling in any way necessary. The only thing she can't do is using the left pedal. But as she just had to figure out for a chamber music piece, it makes her develop a soft playing with her fingers - in the end, this worked out beautifully.

The only thing I have to make her aware of from time to time is that she has to be very attentive to her way of sitting at the piano. We had to find out how she can sit balanced out, so both her arms are at the same distance to the keyboard, and still reach the right pedal with her left foot. It took some trying and now, she keeps her right foot behind the left which works fine for her.

Just try it out, try different hights of the piano bench and different distances to the piano. I wish you luck.


The piano keys are black and white,
But they sound like a million colours in your mind.
(Katie Melua)
#2103478 - 06/16/13 05:50 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: pianomouse]  
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Originally Posted by pianomouse

Now, she's pedalling with her left foot and doing great. She's a very talented pianist and her left foot has become used perfectly to pedalling in any way necessary.


This is the only solution that makes any sense.


Piano teacher and Blues and Boogie-Woogie pianist.
#2103598 - 06/16/13 10:52 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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I would contact a piano technician and get two problems solved. When she's at home, the damper pedal should be on the far left. When she's at other places, she needs a mechanism that allows her to use her left foot.

#2104317 - 06/18/13 10:15 AM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: rocket88]  
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Laurie R. Offline
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I agree that she should use her left foot.

A few years ago, I broke a bone in my right foot, and had an "air cast" on for 6 weeks. I had accompanying, and other things that I needed to play for.

I was very surprised at how easily I was able to use my left foot.

I think that with a bit of experimenting, the student and teacher will be abe to find a way of sitting (maybe moving the bench, or angling it, or changing the height) that will permit this student to find a comfortable way to approach this.

Good luck.

#2104636 - 06/18/13 08:15 PM Re: Pedalling question - student with prosthetic right foot [Re: Beth_Frances]  
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Okay, I think after reading all your responses I'll stick wtih having her pedal with her left foot. The amputation is just below the knee, and I just don't think that kind of stress on her hips would be pleasant or healthy. Tori Amos also pedals with her left foot, and has her right stradled over the piano stool lol!

I felt awful when I realised the foot was going to be any kind of issue with piano playing. She's a brave kid though. Lesson before last I told her that the next piece in her book was really difficult, just to psychologically prepare her for working hard at the next lesson. Blow me down with a feather duster - the kid figured it out herself at home and played it to me perfectly the next lesson! I guess having something like that happen to you makes you realise that the only way to get through a problem is to face it head on.


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