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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: keystring] #2817284 02/19/19 09:30 AM
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Originally Posted by keystring
First: It is not about "relaxation". Perfect relaxation is limpness: dead weight arms; ineffective wet noodle fingers.

Hi Keystring, you are quite right! My video teacher kept saying relaxed wrist and I just did not understand it. How can you relax your wrist when you are playing - your hands would fall down! Finally it dawned on me: she meant flexible wrist, moving in a relaxed way.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2817300 02/19/19 09:57 AM
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Many interesting points being made here. Several people have stated that tension is simply bad technique. That is true, but not particularly helpful, to my mind, because it is too general and covers a multitude of sins; anything that detracts from fluid, musical playing is bad technique.

Everybody has something in mind when the word 'tension' is used (and almost no one has the same thing in mind, no surprise in the world of piano, where even the word 'read' has endless meanings). My own definitions: (1) there is physical tension (including bad posture) that includes or soon leads to pain or injury, (2) there is 'tension' that results from wasted energy (not using the least amount of energy to accomplish a task, e.g. playing a chord), and (3) there is mental tension (performance anxiety).

Physical tension of the bad posture or pain type is not an issue for me, but playing with a minimum of effort--well, I'm not there yet. Mortensen's centering video re-enforced what my teacher has been trying to hammer home for me. Those hand and arm (up to and including the shoulder) gestures not only look more fluid and graceful, the music that results sounds more fluid and graceful.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Animisha] #2817314 02/19/19 10:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Animisha
Originally Posted by keystring
First: It is not about "relaxation". Perfect relaxation is limpness: dead weight arms; ineffective wet noodle fingers.

Hi Keystring, you are quite right! My video teacher kept saying relaxed wrist and I just did not understand it. How can you relax your wrist when you are playing - your hands would fall down! Finally it dawned on me: she meant flexible wrist, moving in a relaxed way.

Actually, I'd use the term mobile wrist.

It moves when it needs to to enable a certain movement, but tenses up slightly when playing fortissimo and a lot more when playing fff double octaves from the forearm:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOqFgDIUVEk

As you can see, there are different ways of playing double octaves, one of which requires a somewhat mobile wrist.

That's why I said earlier that technique development is the key to unnecessary tension. A beginner trying to play flashy double octaves will almost certainly tense up the wrong joints and inadvertently allow others to 'collapse' (apart from playing all the wrong notes in the wrong order wink ). Ten years with a good teacher plus daily practicing down the line, he won't even need to think about which joints to relax and which to tense up to play almost anything - it just comes automatically.

There's a lot of over-thinking going on in the posts in this thread, and I don't think it helps at all - remember: just thinking about what to consciously 'relax' inevitably causes other parts of the playing apparatus to tense up to compensate for over-relaxation in another part.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: bennevis] #2817325 02/19/19 10:36 AM
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Originally Posted by bennevis


There's a lot of over-thinking going on in the posts in this thread, and I don't think it helps at all - remember: just thinking about what to consciously 'relax' inevitably causes other parts of the playing apparatus to tense up to compensate for over-relaxation in another part.


Absolutely!


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Stubbie] #2817335 02/19/19 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Many interesting points being made here. Several people have stated that tension is simply bad technique. That is true, but not particularly helpful, to my mind, because it is too general and covers a multitude of sins; anything that detracts from fluid, musical playing is bad technique.

While there are many forms of tension, the one that immediately jumps into mind is when I see a novice pianist who has decided to try to play Moonlight sonata's 3rd movement as their first piano piece off of Synthesia after having just bought their first $50 unweighted keyboard wink . It involves fingers clawing the keys with tendons bunched and popping out of the back of the hands as if they were a rock climber cling to the keyboard with their full bodyweight, never mind arm weight! I'd post a real example, except then Moo might accuse me of trying to unfairly single out a beginner wink . You'll just have to imagine it or look at this rock climbing pic and imagining that on the piano! Obviously, this imagery is an extreme case of tension, so consider it the high end of the "muscular tension" scale - clearly one can still have unnecessary tension of lesser degrees.

I mentioned that some very advanced pianists told me how it's necessary to learn a specialized technique of ballistic leaps for La Campanella in order to avoid tension which can even halt a performance of that particular piece. As an example of "anti-tension" - reaching the tension free nirvana that I seek - I give an example of Valentina Lisitsa playing that particular piece: (see for example how supple and "tension-free" her hands look at 1:10 for example - not "noodle hands," but they are so soft she could patting one of her many pet dogs instead of piano keys!)



Those who did look will note at 4:24 not a single bunched tendon or muscle in her forearm or hands at the end of very intensive work - like she was strolling in the park!

Last edited by Tyrone Slothrop; 02/19/19 11:04 AM.

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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tech-key] #2817336 02/19/19 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Tech-key
Keystring, I found your post very helpful. This line is great:

Originally Posted by keystring
Hence "strive for the greatest comfort" (with the best sound).
I think that's just another way of saying "play without tension" but it doesn't answer how to achieve that goal. Instead of "strive for comfort" I think the answer is learn the correct technique for each situation. That will automatically be comfortable and tension free.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 02/19/19 11:01 AM.
Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: bennevis] #2817342 02/19/19 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
[...]Ten years with a good teacher plus daily practicing down the line, he won't even need to think about which joints to relax and which to tense up to play almost anything - it just comes automatically.
Yes you do have to think about your technique! And practice it! So that after ten years it will come automatically.

Quote
There's a lot of over-thinking going on in the posts in this thread, and I don't think it helps at all - remember: just thinking about what to consciously 'relax' inevitably causes other parts of the playing apparatus to tense up to compensate for over-relaxation in another part.
I don't think it's overthinking. Maybe half a century ago when you were taking lessons ( laugh ), tension wasn't explicitly recognized and dealt with, but is seen nowadays as something that should be dealt with early on--and maybe the "it" will come automatically in five years, rather than ten. For me, as a late starter (and as someone who, had I taken lessons as a child, they would have been half a century ago, more, actually frown ), I am willing to give it some conscious thought and effort (per my teacher's instructions).


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Stubbie] #2817344 02/19/19 11:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Many interesting points being made here. Several people have stated that tension is simply bad technique. That is true, but not particularly helpful, to my mind, because it is too general and covers a multitude of sins; anything that detracts from fluid, musical playing is bad technique.
The question should not be what one shouldn't do but what one should do. When I or others say tension is a result of bad technique we mean that one has to learn the correct technical approach to playing many different kinds of passages(scales, arpeggios, tremolos, repeated notes. chords. jumps. etc etc) to avoid tension. So learning to play without tension can't be answered with a short answer since it encompasses all of technique. Also, tension means something physical and not performance anxiety which is a separate topic.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Stubbie] #2817345 02/19/19 11:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
For me, as a late starter (and as someone who, had I taken lessons as a child, they would have been half a century ago, more, actually frown ), I am willing to give it some conscious thought and effort (per my teacher's instructions).

Speaking as someone who learnt as a child and am now reading through these threads I am glad that I didn't have to think about it. And if I were to think about it now I think it would certainly be a hindrance. Conscious thought yes, but away from the piano itself. Once you get there listen. It's the same thing when people discuss key actions and touch.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Stubbie] #2817346 02/19/19 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Quote
There's a lot of over-thinking going on in the posts in this thread, and I don't think it helps at all - remember: just thinking about what to consciously 'relax' inevitably causes other parts of the playing apparatus to tense up to compensate for over-relaxation in another part.
I don't think it's overthinking. Maybe half a century ago when you were taking lessons ( laugh ), tension wasn't explicitly recognized and dealt with, but is seen nowadays as something that should be dealt with early on--and maybe the "it" will come automatically in five years, rather than ten. For me, as a late starter (and as someone who, had I taken lessons as a child, they would have been half a century ago, more, actually frown ), I am willing to give it some conscious thought and effort (per my teacher's instructions).

thumb thumb

I've mentioned because of a near fatal motorcycle accident, for me arthritis is not a matter of if, but when, because one of the things I got compound fractures and now I have titanium-filling for was the shoulder/hands. So I have a special interest in anything I can do to forestall this and stretch out this hobby (piano playing) until it is prematurely brought to an end. So I'd like to pay special attention to this issue of tension and the associated techniques of playing the hardest works like Lisitsa does as if she were patting her dogs. smile


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2817353 02/19/19 11:30 AM
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I have a general question.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm Assuming that "tension" or "fatigue" or "pain" (whatever you want to call it) increases as one plays increasingly advanced music. If this is so, shouldn't one be able to find simple enough music that doesn't case pain/fatigue and start working up from there? To exaggerate for effect, would playing the middle C with the forefinger cause any "tension"?

Last edited by noobpianist90; 02/19/19 11:30 AM.
Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2817355 02/19/19 11:31 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Stubbie
Many interesting points being made here. Several people have stated that tension is simply bad technique. That is true, but not particularly helpful, to my mind, because it is too general and covers a multitude of sins; anything that detracts from fluid, musical playing is bad technique.
The question should not be what one shouldn't do but what one should do. When I or others say tension is a result of bad technique we mean that one has to learn the correct technical approach to playing many different kinds of passages(scales, arpeggios, tremolos, repeated notes. chords. jumps. etc etc) to avoid tension. So learning to play without tension can't be answered with a short answer since it encompasses all of technique. Also, tension means something physical and not performance anxiety which is a separate topic.
Yes, the list of what one shouldn't do is nearly endless, whereas the list of what one should do is much shorter. However, there can be commonalities (such as no wasted movement, supple wrists, etc) amongst the correct technical approaches to playing many different kinds of passages.

I only mentioned mental tension (and performance anxiety) because someone had mentioned mental tension and performance anxiety is probably one manifestation of it.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: noobpianist90] #2817363 02/19/19 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by noobpianist90
I have a general question.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm Assuming that "tension" or "fatigue" or "pain" (whatever you want to call it) increases as one plays increasingly advanced music. If this is so, shouldn't one be able to find simple enough music that doesn't case pain/fatigue and start working up from there?
That is something of a circular argument, to my way of thinking. If you'd actually dealt with it with the simple music, then it shouldn't raise its ugly head again with more advanced music.
Quote
To exaggerate for effect, would playing the middle C with the forefinger cause any "tension"?
Don't get a certain poster started!


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Stubbie] #2817370 02/19/19 11:46 AM
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Originally Posted by noobpianist90
I have a general question.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm Assuming that "tension" or "fatigue" or "pain" (whatever you want to call it) increases as one plays increasingly advanced music. If this is so, shouldn't one be able to find simple enough music that doesn't case pain/fatigue and start working up from there?
That is something of a circular argument, to my way of thinking. If you'd actually dealt with it with the simple music, then it shouldn't raise its ugly head again with more advanced music.

Although as several posters have pointed out, advanced music has features that cause beginners tension. One only needs to look at some of the videos posted to the Reddit r/piano subreddit to see examples of this problem. Without singling any one beginner out, in fact if one just watches almost any video on that subreddit that has a subject line requesting other subreddit members to check their technique for them or to check out how they are doing on some virtuosic repertoire, almost 100% of such videos will show enormous tension in the hands (e.g., ropy tendons popping out, hands desperately clawing the keyboard for dear life, etc).


across the stone, deathless piano performances

"Discipline is more reliable than motivation." -by a contributor on Reddit r/piano
"Success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration." -by some other wise person
"Pianoteq manages to keep it all together yet simultaneously also go in all directions; like a quantum particle entangled with an unknown and spooky parallel universe simply waiting to be discovered." -by Pete14
Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2817376 02/19/19 11:55 AM
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Regulation of tension has a lot to do with how one neurologically handles instability and stability. It heavily deals with the face-off between one of our primal fears, the fear of falling, and our need to move (for whatever motivation).

Heavily tense people have a higher degree of fear or at least dislike of the "discomfort" of instability so they never quite learned what to do to handle the flow between instability and stability. The built-in avoidance of instability overrides
one's need to inhibit excessive muscle tone.

(How accuracy is produced at the piano itself can be considered a variation of this fear of falling i.e. "failing")

Every position we're in and every type of performance task challenges our system in different ways and degrees in terms of inhibition and facilitation of movement. The sitting position itself is very challenging for most people to do properly and adding the challenge of a gait-like performance task on top of it makes it even more challenging to the system.

Many of the initial issues with excessive tension cannot be efficiently addressed in a position and activity that is too challenging for an individual, so you have to heavily consider regressing the position and activity. Piano playing and sitting is just as much as a bipedal activity as walking is so if you cannot easily "transition" and "shift" in a coordinated fashion with your breathing from side-to-side, then you need need to heavily consider regressing back toward less neurologically challenging activities and positions.





Last edited by anamnesis; 02/19/19 11:59 AM.
Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2817381 02/19/19 12:00 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Tech-key
Keystring, I found your post very helpful. This line is great:

Originally Posted by keystring
Hence "strive for the greatest comfort" (with the best sound).
I think that's just another way of saying "play without tension" but it doesn't answer how to achieve that goal. Instead of "strive for comfort" I think the answer is learn the correct technique for each situation. That will automatically be comfortable and tension free.

Pianoloverus, I’m starting to get the distinction you are making. In fact, what you said about technique in an earlier post really resonated. I got assigned the first page of a movie theme in this week's lessons, which introduces a lot of new concepts to me. New bass pattern, ledger lines, sixteenth notes, and what not! The sheet I have is very similar to this. If you happen to check the sheet, please let me know if anything I say next does not fit smile

Just yesterday, my left forearm and wrist were paining a little because of the left hand bass pattern. But today I watched this video and tried to emulate him a bit. And guess what, no pains!

Next, I tried out the ideas discussed in the “Lateral Reaching Vs. Centering” video, for the 10th measure in the sheet. And the most helpful of all for me, was the one titled “90% of Forte is Piano”. Forte is the bane of my life!

I completely understand these things can’t be mastered in a day, and should be learnt under personal guidance. But I must be doing so many wrong things, that even the slightest improvements in technique are helpful. I have a very low threshold for pain. I’m so very thankful that this thread was created around this time, when I was really struggling and getting a bit disenchanted with piano in general. (Sorry for all the gushing, but I’m just so painlessly happy right now laugh)

Animisha,
I can now do the Miyagi thing a little. As you had suggested I’m skipping the pinkie, as it collapses badly. I guess the little break I took from it is working in my favour. Thanks a lot for your advice on this smile


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2817431 02/19/19 01:12 PM
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As this is not a 100% practical thread, I'll give a more personal view.

How to deal with tension is perhaps the number one issue in any art. The goal is always to use the body as an instrument of the mind (or spirit, if this means anything to you). Tension is a reflex of the connection between mind and body. Using the image of the bow, if there is not enough tension between the bow and the string, the arrow cannot reach the target. If there is too much tension you will fail the target because you will not be able to maintain the right focus, or even the bow can broke.

For all time that you are engaged in that art, you will pursuit the tension right measure, like a string in a violin, that has to be in the right stress to produce the sound desired. This is a twofold path. In one hand, it’s like the art of pottery, where you use a wheel to give form to the clay and after you will give it stability with fire. In another hand, it’s like sculpture, where you remove the excess to discover the perfect shape that hides in the stone. Well, sometimes you will need some rude method, like that of the blacksmith, where you have to heat the raw and reluctant matter with the fire and hit it with the hammer to give it shape.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: keystring] #2817468 02/19/19 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
To try to answer the question in the opening post. I've been going after these things for a quite a while, and yes, there has been progress. I had a bad start the wrong way, on two instruments.

First: It is not about "relaxation". Perfect relaxation is limpness: dead weight arms; ineffective wet noodle fingers. I went that route 15 years ago before piano, and it also hurt piano when I resumed it, since I was still on that tack. Think instead of the athlete, the gymnast, the golfer. Are they "relaxed" or is it something else which is the antithesis of debilitating tension?

Then there are formulas, rules,videos and books that appear to be giving rules. Several problems with these. Any rule or principle is part of other things in an interplay, and only one thing can be shown at a time. How you interpret or apply it, and whether it is suitable to you, or what music you're doing in particular. These things can harm as well as help. Some on-line teachers, such as Mortensen, have a whole series of interrelated things. If you only follow one then you lose the context of the whole. You might, however, grasp some general principles, including when several teachers seem to contradict each other, perhaps an overriding truth lies in the middle. I made mistakes in this area as well quite some years ago.

I've come to understand that there are some general principles. Being balanced over gravity rather than off balance, and seeing balance as a fluid ever-changing thing is one. "No joint should ever be locked anywhere". Strive for the greatest comfort with the best sound, and keep experimenting (for gradual improvement) sort of like babies go from toddling to walking. Understand how your body works and also how your instrument works.

I have not had the problem of rushing, trying to do advanced things before being ready, which was mentioned. But I have had the problem of being rushed in lessons in my past. I can grasp musical things quickly, and some teachers don't understand that the body needs to catch up. You can force out a desired sound through movements which will later trip you up as music gets harder. Hence "strive for the greatest comfort" (with the best sound).

That's what I can come up with right now off the top of my head. I'm taking a break from wrestling with my own hard spots: always in kinds of things I played on my own as a child. Changing those habits are hard.


Very helpful post!


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: noobpianist90] #2817470 02/19/19 02:27 PM
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Originally Posted by noobpianist90
I have a general question.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm Assuming that "tension" or "fatigue" or "pain" (whatever you want to call it) increases as one plays increasingly advanced music. If this is so, shouldn't one be able to find simple enough music that doesn't case pain/fatigue and start working up from there? To exaggerate for effect, would playing the middle C with the forefinger cause any "tension"?


Well that would depend on how you played middle c with the forefinger. There's certainly much less chance of introducing dysfunctional tension but it does depend on the player. To again exaggerate for effect, play middle C with your forefinger, at the exact same time point your ring and little finger to the clouds, you can also push up your shoulder too. All those movements are unnecessary and will introduce dysfunctional tension. Do it often and long enough and muscles quickly get fatigued. It will effect that middle C forefinger too, such that a simple press of the key is a little more difficult.

Last edited by Michael P Walsh; 02/19/19 02:32 PM.
Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2817472 02/19/19 02:29 PM
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Tension was discussed so many times, I don't want to repeat all things here.

I'll just say that there is one ancient method to overcome tension that solves almost every tension-related problem with guarantee. The method is to play very slow (starting probably at 1 note/chord in 3 seconds) and, what is most important, cheking and relaxing every unused muscle between every note/chord. By saying every unused muscle I mean:
  • muscles of non-playing fingers
  • muscles of playing fingers, so there should be no forceful pressure on the played keys
  • muscles of palms that stretch fingers, it especially concerns the thumbs
  • muscles of wrists
  • muscles of shoulders
  • muscles of face and neck
  • muscles of abdomen that prevent relaxed deep breath
  • muscles of legs

You can shake your hands and arms between notes to get rid of tension until you are proficient at identifying tension and treating it mentally.
When the initial tension is gone you can increase the tempo, but not beyond the point when you feel new tension. It's a slow process.

I know, it is boring to play like that and follow the checklist every time, I also understand that the impatience is undoubtly the biggest problem of every adult student, but this method has proven its great efficiency in generations of pianists and everyone who will adhere to it for a month (practicing it, say, 30 minutes a day) will have an eye-opening experience and benefit from it tremendously.

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