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Students using too much pressure
#2894757 09/27/19 09:29 AM
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A question for teachers: what kinds of strategies would you use to re-train students who press very hard on every note?

I have a couple of new students who have had 1-2 years of lessons with another teacher, playing in the first two levels of Alfred Premier. There are reading issues (associating notes with finger numbers, no knowledge of steps/skips), but I have a well-honed method for dealing with that smile and I'm sure they will be on the right track soon enough.
Anyway, both students hold their hands very rigidly and press forcefully down on each note. Their arms are also very stiff and hard. Perhaps their previous teacher emphasized holding a certain position?
Any ideas?


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Re: Students using too much pressure
pianist_lady #2894817 09/27/19 12:37 PM
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Pianist Lady, I would start with looking at the shoulders. Often there is tension there that trickles down to the arms and hands.

Lightly resting your hands on a student's shoulders and telling the student to relax (drop) the shoulders can help. Eventually, wordlessly touching their shoulders when they are tense will be enough of a reminder.

I also demonstrate tense versus relaxed shoulders by having the student look at the distance from my ears to my shoulders. I really exaggerate the raised shoulders (so that they touch my ears), then lower them, like an elevator that is going down to the lowest floor.

Another thing I've done with kids who play forcefully with distorted hand positions is to get them to stand up and have them hang their arms loosely at their sides. (Relaxed shoulders coming into play again.) We then look at the natural slight curve of the hand when arms are dangling relaxed at their sides. I try to get the student to replicate that hand shape and level of relaxation when they sit back down and place their hands on the keys. You might have to do the stand/sit, rinse/repeat sequence a few times in succession. smile

Play around with bench height, too, and talk about what will help them sit at a good height at home.

Re: Students using too much pressure
pianist_lady #2895075 09/28/19 07:23 AM
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To combat the tense torso and arms I did the "flop" for several weeks and every once in a while before playing. Basically you start by "flopping" your hand down on the keyboard. It starts out with your right arm being supported by your left (holding at the wrist) and then you just let go and let it bang down into the keyboard. Do this several times with both arms. After doing this...do the same thing but target one finger on a note and move down your hand finger by finger flopping each time.

The guy I saw this from was Zach Evans. You can find this "flop" on Youtube and even though it looks weird...it really does work.

Re: Students using too much pressure
pianist_lady #2895094 09/28/19 08:34 AM
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Along those lines, from a beginner, how do I learn to play with more force with the right hand than the left hand? I tend to give them equal pressure.


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Re: Students using too much pressure
PianoWVBob #2895106 09/28/19 09:21 AM
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Originally Posted by PianoWVBob
The guy I saw this from was Zach Evans. You can find this "flop" on Youtube and even though it looks weird...it really does work.

I believe Zach is just demonstrating the use of arm weight per Russian school, along with some exercises to get inculcate it as a habit:




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Re: Students using too much pressure
pianist_lady #2895186 09/28/19 12:51 PM
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Nice video!

I have caught the shoulder tension several times. I sometimes use a back roller on students and say, "relax!"
For my newbies, I ask them to "give me control of their arm" and then I DROP it for them. Kind of a trust issue, but also to show them that they do not have to Hi-Yuk the keys to get a strong/loud sound.

I am going to add the wrist roll out that he mentions. A nice re-set for each phrase. I ask my students to literally breathe between phrases, including wrist lifts, but the added roll-out motion is another way to show it.

And, the tension in the fingers! Sometimes I spent several minutes doing finger relaxation exercises, and mirror copy the teacher stuff. "No monster fingers! No flat-splats!"

But, some people think all we do is show which keys to press and memorize.

I've started using words like kinesiology and stressing warm-ups/exercises so the parents (no forever on their cell phones) will maybe perk up and realize all the WORK it takes to teach young (and older) students!


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Re: Students using too much pressure
pianist_lady #2895339 09/28/19 09:47 PM
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Playing with stiff hands will show up in video & audio recordings. You may like to setup a phone or another recording device to record a few minutes of his/her playing and spend a few minutes at the end of a session to let the student see the results. Disconnected phrases are going to show up in a video.

Re: Students using too much pressure
pianist_lady #2895392 09/29/19 02:25 AM
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Originally Posted by pianist_lady
I have a couple of new students who have had 1-2 years of lessons with another teacher, playing in the first two levels of Alfred Premier. There are reading issues (associating notes with finger numbers, no knowledge of steps/skips), but I have a well-honed method for dealing with that smile and I'm sure they will be on the right track soon enough.

This only goes to show that the method does not a teacher make. Alfred Premier presents the most logical progression of pedagogical ideas for intervallic reading, so if the students are not reading steps and skips, it's the teacher's fault. OR maybe the kids are truly mentally incompetent. There's that possibility, too.

Originally Posted by pianist_lady
Anyway, both students hold their hands very rigidly and press forcefully down on each note. Their arms are also very stiff and hard. Perhaps their previous teacher emphasized holding a certain position? Any ideas?

Is the rigidity causing problems in tone production already? Unless the kids are literally hammering down on every single key POW POW POW POW POW, all you really have to do is to tell them to play softer and the problem goes away. Really. In my experience, students who have very low fine-motor skills and/or limited brain functions will have this rigidity problem, at the beginner level. Either that, or they have a very rigid piano at home so they HAVE to pound to get any sound out of it. Or maybe they are hard of hearing?

Anyway, don't know what else to say. Most of my beginners have the opposite problem--fingers way too soft and can't be "rigid" at all to get a good sound.


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Re: Students using too much pressure
pianist_lady #2895795 09/30/19 07:40 AM
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Thanks for the suggestions. I have already been doing some activities to encourage a relaxed arm, but I was surprised at how stiff they both were.


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