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Anyone else struggle to play octave chords (e.g. D-F#-A-D in RH)?

A lot of my favorite musicians use these (Elton John, billy Joel) and I'd like to play them pain free. Any tips?

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Is your hand fairly small?

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Is your hand comfortable on the octave alone? I have small hands but luckily have the octave without a problem. I also do not have a problem with your chord example. But some of the fingers have to be inside the black keys. To play it comfortably, I have thumb at the outer edge of the key, 5 just inside the black key area, 2 about halfway back to the fallboard, 3 even further in. This means my hand and forearm are at a slight angle in relation to the piano. That doesn't matter as long as the hand and arm are aligned with each other.

I have more trouble with octave chords that have minor thirds. Some of them I can manage carefully; others I just need to leave a note out or catch it with the other hand.


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Or, if your hand is smaller--you can try playing way outside. That's comfortable for me too and has the hand straighter in relation to the piano. For this, both 1 and 5 play on the outer edge, just their tips on the piano; 2 and 3 just inside the black key area. Just be sure that you are not twisting at the wrist--you want the forearm aligned pretty much behind the 3d finger.

When playing in the middle of the piano, you may need to move your forearm more in front of your body to avoid twisting.


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What pain are you feeling? Where are you feeling the pain?


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I don't have small hands. I can play a 9th in LH and an octave comfortably in RH.

The real chord that's giving me fits is G-Bb-D-G.

The pain I get is sort of a burning feeling after playing the chord for awhile. Then later that night or next day my forearm feels really tight.

I've always had problems playing blocked chords over and over. I'm not sure I ever release tension while playing them.

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I wouldn't think G-Bb-D-G would normally cause problems. You can check alignment, making sure you're not twisting, also that your hand is in a natural shape without excessive curling of fingers or dropping of the wrist. Or maybe you are tensing your hand into a fixed position as you keep playing the same chord. You want it to relax except when in the act of playing.

It might be helpful if you can post a photo or video of your hand as you play the chord.


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Make sure the fingers do not lift any higher than the large knuckle where the fingers attach to the hand. (this is called "dead spider" in my studio)
That causes tension and pain on top of the forearm after a while.
Keep the hand in a very low arch, with that knuckle as the keystone of the arch, and the fingers resting on the keys.


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Originally Posted by DeadPoets
I don't have small hands. I can play a 9th in LH and an octave comfortably in RH.

The real chord that's giving me fits is G-Bb-D-G.

The pain I get is sort of a burning feeling after playing the chord for awhile. Then later that night or next day my forearm feels really tight.

I've always had problems playing blocked chords over and over. I'm not sure I ever release tension while playing them.

Try lifting your wrist higher? It might be that your wrists are too low


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Whatever the positional issue you are having, bear in mind that the fingers are actually attached by tendons near your palm - not at the knuckles. They can work quite hard, but they work best when they are as straight as possible (not vertically, but in a front to back sense) from the palm to the first joint, and arched at the top to make use of the bone structure in the hand so you don't unnecessarily strain muscle.

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Can you post a video?


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Originally Posted by DeadPoets
Anyone else struggle to play octave chords (e.g. D-F#-A-D in RH)?

A lot of my favorite musicians use these (Elton John, billy Joel) and I'd like to play them pain free. Any tips?


I'm wondering, given the musicians you mention, if you are talking about repeated, rapidly-played chords as opposed to playing individual four-note chords.

Regards,


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In this case the chords aren't rapidly played and only repeated once.

I definitely do struggle though with playing repeated chords (even 3 note). They burn my forearms out after awhile.

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Meanwhile, DeadPoets, I hope you are stopping what you're doing the minute you feel any burning sensation. Or, if there's a sequence you know will lead to burning later, I wouldn't even get into it until you have figured out what's causing your problem. I wouldn't assume that the cycle of pain and recovery is predictable indefinitely. If you keep doing the harmful movement, things can shift without further warning into something that's harder to recover from (I know this from unhappy experience with computer use).

Your body is already sending distress signals, and you're wise to heed them!


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Originally Posted by DeadPoets
In this case the chords aren't rapidly played and only repeated once.

I definitely do struggle though with playing repeated chords (even 3 note). They burn my forearms out after awhile.

A video would help if it's possible.

In the meantime:

Don't do anything that produces pain or the "burning" feeling.

Watch your alignment. If finger 3 (and in severe cases 2) are pointing diagonally toward finger 5 instead of straight forward, you will have tension and eventually pain.

Watch your arch. Don't let the fingers rise above the large knuckle.

Check that the wrist is loose and flexible by playing the chord and, while holding the chord, gently make circles and down-up movements with the wrist. With a 3-note chord, it should be easy to make smooth and gentle large movements. If you can't move the wrist at all, or the movements are jerky or tiny, you are tense. With a chord spanning an octave, sideways movement will be more limited, but up-down should still be possible smooth, gentle and large.

Try playing as relaxed and slowly as you can, verify that you can play the chords for a long long time relaxed and slowly with no trouble, stick with the slow relaxed pain-free approach for at least a week before pushing the tempo back up (and never push it up past the point where you can do it relaxed and pain-free.)

And if anything hurts or burns, do not power through. Resist the urge. Either stop and restart relaxed and pain-free, or if that's not possible then stop that task for the day.


Heather W. Reichgott, piano

Working on:
Beethoven - Diabelli Variations Op. 120
Beethoven/Liszt - Symphony no. 7
Tommy (whole show)

I love Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and new music

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