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Hello,

I wonder if somebody could provide some tips on this issue I have. I tend to keep hands and forearm under tension when playing. I believe subconciously I think it's a way to keep control, but obviouly it does not work like that.

Does anybody has hints on how to avoid/fix this?


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Drop your arms and hands on your lap, let gravity do all the work

When you raise your arms your hands should be 100% relaxed and basically dead weight.

When playing try to maintain that feeling in the wrist. Keep practicing it will come natural after a while.


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This is something I struggle with though I like to think I’m improving. For me I have to continuously tell myself to relax from the shoulders right the way down the arms to the end of the fingers. Any tension anywhere seems to affect everything else

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I think that you need to learn the correct technique in which relaxation is a part. Basically, after the key attack you relax your hand and lift it from the forearm. Try to do this as an exercise, very slowly, one finger at the time.


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The most fundamental exercise is to play slowly, stopping after every note/chord and scanning your whole body for tension, relaxing mentally or shaking every body part where tension was found. It's pretty boring but it's necessary.

Getting rid of tension is a long way. The more you relax the more subtle tension you discover.

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Hello, all.

Thank you for your answers. I have read and appreciated every and each one. I learned by reading some posts that I am not alone with this kind of issue.

Please keep coming. smile


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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
The most fundamental exercise is to play slowly, stopping after every note/chord and scanning your whole body for tension, relaxing mentally or shaking every body part where tension was found. It's pretty boring but it's necessary.

Getting rid of tension is a long way. The more you relax the more subtle tension you discover.

Yes.

People have tension when they play because they have practiced with tension.

You get what you practice. Remember, practice does not make "perfect"...Practice makes "permanent".

This is why many pianists have had to rebuild their technique, essentially starting over, because as they grow as a pianist, they discover that they have a lot of tension, and the only way to get rid of it is to start over.

Which means putting aside the music that you have learned, because it has tension as a learned behavior built into it.

Instead, learn to relax by using some simple exercises. Play them very relaxed, stopping before each note (as Iraoslav explained) and re-relaxing the hand, arms, shoulders.

I tell students to count slowly 1 -2- 3- 4 between each note. Yes, that slow.

Hanon is great for this, because the exercises are simple (i.e. easy to remember) and repetitive, unlike most repertoire, so you can focus on relaxing between each note rather than being busy trying to read the music.

Then, after a while, begin learning some new pieces, at or below your level, and consciously integrate into them the "relaxation response".

This takes a lot of work and may seem like you are not making progress, but, like the tortoise and the hare story, slow and careful gets you where you want to go.


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Pay attention to your bench height as it could affect that aspect of your posture. Me I have it a bit higher than the piano so as to allow my long arms to have a slight curve and to make the "fall" unto the piano more ergonomic corresponding to my body anatomy.

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Please keep in mind that "relaxed" and "tense" are relative terms. There is no such thing as completely relaxed; you could not play the piano, or any other musical instrument, in such a state. To curl your fingers the way it is usually recommended, requires that you activate muscles in your arm, so you are already not completely relaxed.

It's a matter of the balance between tension and relaxation; more relaxed than tense, but never completely relaxed.


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But if I relax too much, the keyboard will fly up and hit me in the chin! Somebody has to push it down...

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This is a different approach and it might not apply to you, but here is something I found.

My piano room is really ’live.’ Lots of hard surfaces. After experiencing some tinnitus recently, I decided to make an effort to improve the acoustics in there, and that is in progress. For the short term, I got a good pair of earplugs (about $15 on Amazon).

Imagine my astonishment when I played with them the first time. Things just flowed. Much less tension. I sounded much more relaxed. I felt better.

I had not realized it, but the loudness and echoing of the “too live” room was evidently making me tense up.

Acoustic changes are in progress, and this might not apply to you, but it’s something to think about.


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Originally Posted by rocket88
People have tension when they play because they have practiced with tension.

You get what you practice. Remember, practice does not make "perfect"...Practice makes "permanent".

This is why many pianists have had to rebuild their technique, essentially starting over, because as they grow as a pianist, they discover that they have a lot of tension, and the only way to get rid of it is to start over.

This is interesting. When I started playing piano again I found I was playing with a great deal of tension—I do not remember ever addressing tension in my childhood piano lessons. I’ve been working on new pieces with a teacher and have been able to reduce my tension greatly. But recently he suggested I relearn a piece I had played in high school and as I reacquainted myself with it, I was astonished how much tension I had. Indeed, it seems the biggest challenge with relearning it will be figuring out how to remove all this tension that I practiced in! I will give the extra slow method you mention a try and see if it helps (the piece in question is Bach’s C minor prelude from the Well Tempered Clavier). Hopefully all the work I’ve done reducing tension in new pieces will cross over a bit.

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Originally Posted by MH1963
For the short term, I got a good pair of earplugs (about $15 on Amazon). Imagine my astonishment when I played with them the first time. Things just flowed. Much less tension. I sounded much more relaxed. I felt better.
lol...

Yes, we know. It's those disobedient damned piano sounds that cause our stress and tension! Let's mute them completely and be happy! smile

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Haha! You are right.

In my room, I have a lot of echo, and I find that when I have the earplugs in, I hear the instrument very well but the earplugs do a good job of blocking the echo and excess noise. I don’t think I realized how bad the echo was till I got the earplugs and blocked it out.

I have since added a rug and have some acoustic foam planned.


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I have played on and off over the last 50 years, but never got beyond a certain intermediate level. I tended to stop playing for a few years each time I became disillusioned. In my retirement, I am now practicing far more regularly and with all the online resources working on my bad habits. One of my main bad habits is playing with tension - particularly in my left hand. This explains (at least partially) why I have always struggled with technical LH sections. My left forearm used to ache and get quite warm to the touch when I played scales and arpeggios but that is improving now that I am concentrating on relaxation.

I am also using the technique of lifting hands and forearm and letting them fall completely relaxed either to my sides, onto my lap or onto the keyboard. Also doing the same and falling onto a note or chord helps.

Practicing SLOWLY is probably the most important and something I have been lazy about in the past. Even when one knows a piece reasonably, practicing a (troublesome) section extra slow definitely helps reduce the tension as well as getting the piece more solid as your muscle memory is no longer there as a crutch.

I have read many articles on relaxation (and other subjects) and followed many threads and I would just like to thank all you more experienced pianists that have helped me so much and kept me motivated. Piano is a great retirement hobby and especially so now in COVID times.


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Another tip: don't use a metronome while playing, and don't play along to software like PianoMarvel and such.


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I'm currently working on relieving tension, too. I've long suffered from a flying pinky, and I've gone back to basics to alleviate the tension that causes it. I really recommend the lifting of the hands method put forth a couple times in this thread--you can observe your hand relaxing and see where the tension is. Another thing I've been doing is isolating the things that cause tension. For me, they are playing at my fastest speed and strongest power, when the fourth finger is on a black key, when there are stretches between fingers 5-4 or 3-4, and I've also realized that when I play scales really fast I have a tendency to start moving my hand to the next position before playing all the notes in the previous position.

Once you isolate a problem, it's fairly easy to work on it. I've been doing this for two weeks, and I've seen a drastic improvement already. You start by playing slowly and softly, making sure you're comfortable and relaxed. You test going up in speed or power once you are comfortable and relaxed, lifting your hand (shaking it if need be) when there's tension, ensuring that you can relax after the figuration, and you slowly develop relaxation. My pinky would fly on scales like D major and G major (where there is the fourth finger on black keys), and already it is much more relaxed. Playing things like Bach's D major prelude from WTC I (5 I believe) which previously sent me into paroxysms now seems doable in a more elegant manner. I'm working on my fast scales now, and especially arpeggios, where legato playing with stretches (like the descending arpeggios in Liszt's Preludio Transcendental Etude) cause a lot of tension. The key is being attentive to tension, noticing when it occurs. When you feel it, immediately simplify, get down to basics, and play it or do what ever you need to get down the motions in a relaxed manner. I'm also doing finger exercises, focusing on my fourth finger and third, as well as double notes in thirds, but these are best done under the supervision of a teacher. Years ago I would do these with brute force, focusing merely on speed and force, and I think this contributed to tension in my hand--now I try to focus on tone quality and relaxation.

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Here’s a nice picture of the right position at the piano.....
Piano posture

Kind regards,
Johan B


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This is the picture Johan refers to.

[Linked Image]

I sit a bit more back, in order for my arms to have more freedom to move up and down the keyboard.


Playing the piano is learning to create, playfully and deeply seriously, our own music in the world.
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Originally Posted by Animisha
This is the picture Johan refers to.

[Linked Image]

I sit a bit more back, in order for my arms to have more freedom to move up and down the keyboard.


Click here...>>>Piano posture and read also the rest...
Johan B


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