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#2584966 11/06/16 02:36 PM
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I experience forearm fatigue when playing certain pieces. For instance Schubert's third impromptu or the 12th of Schostakovich preludes (without fugue). These pieces have in common that they have repititive chords spanning typically an octave. For the record - my hands are small and I reach no more than one octave + one.

I suspect that the reason is wrong technique rather than lack of strength. Any idea how to solve this problem?

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Would it be possible to see a video of your playing these pieces (focusing on the hands)?

Otherwise my only assumption would be that your hand is too stiff and this creates tension in the forearm... But can't say really, nor I think you should take anything I say, in regards to this, as "true" of any sort.

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I'll try to make a video recording. In a couple of days. Being self-taught on the piano I'm loaded with bad habits, and getting some qualified guidance would be well worth the effort.

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If the forearm fatigue is on the top part of your forearm while playing, then my guess, without seeing the video, is that you're lifting and holding the fingers not playing the chords too high. My other guess is that your wrist is too low.


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May be the case. I haven't paid much attention to the adjustment of my bench, and when I checked it it was in the lowest possible position. I think this gives me a low wrist. I'll do some trial and error, but probably still make a video recording as there may be other issues as well.

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Are your wrists relaxed or tense?


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I am like you in that octave chords can be problematic for me. What I've done that helps a lot is I will play the chord and make sure that I'm only using just enough muscle to keep it as I hold it. Then when I lift, I let the entire hand collapse in to a loose fist (whatever position your hand goes to when completely at rest). Then I play the next chord, and repeat that process.

It's very slow going at first, but as I do this each day, I'm able to play the chords a little bit faster, and eventually cut out the hand-collapsing thing in between, while maintaining the sense of relaxation as I move from one chord to the next.

Definitely check your bench height, too, but that it something that is up to personal preference sometimes...I know some people who like to be higher up and play down on the keys, some want to be level, some a bit below. So experiment a bit and see if it helps. But I'm thinking it's most likely due to the amount of extended periods of stretching for a smaller hand.


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Hi Ganddalf! Haven't seen you in awhile.

See if you can minimize the amount of time your hand is actually stretching open.
While the hand is down on the key, the piano will hold your hand open.
While the hand is up in between notes, you can relax.
The only time you need to stretch open is right before playing.
If you can go slowly and feel relaxation both while on the key and while in the air, and only stretch when approaching the note, that's the key to reducing tension in these situations (in my experience.)
Octave scales played this way are very useful as well.

EDIT this is another way of saying almost the same thing -- only difference is whether you use some muscle or no muscle to hold the chord open while on the key
Originally Posted by Morodiene
What I've done that helps a lot is I will play the chord and make sure that I'm only using just enough muscle to keep it as I hold it. Then when I lift, I let the entire hand collapse in to a loose fist (whatever position your hand goes to when completely at rest). Then I play the next chord, and repeat that process.

Last edited by hreichgott; 11/06/16 09:32 PM.

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You do not have small hands.

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Originally Posted by hreichgott
Hi Ganddalf! Haven't seen you in awhile.

See if you can minimize the amount of time your hand is actually stretching open.
While the hand is down on the key, the piano will hold your hand open.
While the hand is up in between notes, you can relax.
The only time you need to stretch open is right before playing.
If you can go slowly and feel relaxation both while on the key and while in the air, and only stretch when approaching the note, that's the key to reducing tension in these situations (in my experience.)
Octave scales played this way are very useful as well.

EDIT this is another way of saying almost the same thing -- only difference is whether you use some muscle or no muscle to hold the chord open while on the key
Originally Posted by Morodiene
What I've done that helps a lot is I will play the chord and make sure that I'm only using just enough muscle to keep it as I hold it. Then when I lift, I let the entire hand collapse in to a loose fist (whatever position your hand goes to when completely at rest). Then I play the next chord, and repeat that process.


I should clarify what I wrote. Muscle is used to stretch to the appropriate keys, but then you are right in saying that the keys themselves as you hold them down keep the hand open, so then opening the muscles can relax after pressing the keys. laugh


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Hi Ganddalf,

Although there is some salient advice on here, it's really impossible to judge exactly what is going on without assessing your playing in person. My advice to you would be to find a teacher who is experienced in the art of teaching technique and rehabilitating those with strain injuries. Unfortunately those teachers are few and far between in Europe, and there are many who claim to be able to help but who end up compounding issues rather than clearing them. It's good, for instance, to have relaxed wrists, but what about the rest of your playing mechanism? Lifting the fingers too high is a problem as someone pointed out, but why is it happening? Using the piano to keep your hand open, rather than muscle tension, is again very good advice, but it depends on your approach to the key as well.

When I teach, I teach a series of motions that I then get the student to integrate into their playing. The motions are the same for every pianist I teach, but when to use the motions and how big they are can vary in the same piece between students because of the size of their hand, height, build, etc, so it wouldn't be possible to say, give you a score of a Mozart sonata with advice written in it for one student and expect it to work for you (although you might get the general idea).

The forearm pain could be over lifting the fingers, twisting the wrist, moving inwards using the muscles at the thumb, curling the fingers, tension, you could even be too relaxed - for instance if you relax your wrists completely but your hand, wrists, and forearm are not moving in the correct way, you can make things very bad for yourself.

I have a student just now who learned with a (supposedly) very good teacher in France. She has come to me with endless books of studies, and is complaining about a burning sensation in her forearm. Her teacher told her that if she practised Czerny for two hours a day then she will work off the burning pain. It has only got worse over time. Her first lesson with me was last week. Thankfully I understand what to do in order to put her on the right track, but she has been to numerous pianists and teachers asking for help, and they all tell her she needs to have a better technique, and not one of them has told her exactly how to use her hands - they've merely given her more and more studies. This is endemic in our profession an it's a very serious situation (thankfully, the advice people are giving on this forum shows that we are now moving away from this mentality and it seems we have a number of knowledgeable teachers on here!).

Good luck in sorting this out. Fatigue is either a manifestation of an RSI, or it's over use. It might not even be the piano that is causing it, it could be typing or anything. Apply the principles your teacher teaches you to other areas of your life as well.

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Hmm, I have this problem as well, but in my case, I know it's because I hold my muscles tense while playing certain types of technique. Not sure if you have this problem, though.

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I did still not have the time to make a video, but I have a few comments to the suggestions from some of you.

About Heather's posting: "See if you can minimize the amount of time your hand is actually stretching open."

I have tried this when playing the Schubert piece. Ideally I would like to hold the melody (with the RH little finger) and minimize the use of the pedal. But then I have to stretch a lot to play the broken chord and this gives me problems. Therefore I have tried to release the melody note immediately after playing it in order to reduce the finger stretch. It seems to help a little bit, but still fatigue sets on after the first two pages.

Tension was mentioned by many of you. Yes, I have a general problem with tension. Not only the hands and arms, but even the neck and the muscles of my face. Seems to be a bad habit that is very difficult to get rid of.

I don't think I lift my fingers too much. But I suspect that I have kept my wrist too low, simply because my bench is squeaking if I don't adjust it to its lower position. I'm definitely going to buy a new one this weekend.

I struggle if I have to span long gaps with my middle (2 - 3 - 4) fingers. And when playing a (broken) chord spanning an octave I'm not able to bend the 1st and 5th finger.

I do not believe that I have RSI as I don't feel any pain unless I have to stretch octave intervals.

What actually worries me the most is that I suspect that this issue is something that comes with age. I played the Schubert impromptu many years ago, and didn't have any problems then. But at that time I didn't play very well, and I was probably simplifying the piece without really being conscious about it. Therefore I'm not 100% sure that it is related to age. Do other senior pianists have similar experience?

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Hi Ganddalf:
If 60's counts as senior, the answer is 'no', I do not have forearm fatigue. I have two teachers: one in 70s, and one in 80s, and neither have forearm fatigue.

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I'm 66. I don't have the chance to practice much. Usually just 30 minutes every workday, and nothing during weekends. With so little time I don't feel I have time to warm up, and I have a feeling that my hands and fingers become less flexible with time. This i why I'm concerned about age.

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Originally Posted by Ganddalf
I'm 66. I don't have the chance to practice much. Usually just 30 minutes every workday, and nothing during weekends. With so little time I don't feel I have time to warm up, and I have a feeling that my hands and fingers become less flexible with time. This i why I'm concerned about age.


I would suggest that you rule out some technique/posturing issue before being concerned about age. There have been several instructors here who have advised your posting a video so that you could receive better information.

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Hi Ganddalf,

There are a couple of things about your post I want to touch on. Firstly that feeling pain only when you have to play octaves may indeed be to do with the onset of a strain injury. Repetitive strain injuries are insidious in that by the time you feel hurt, you've been injured for much longer than you realise. I'm not saying "actually you are injured", I'm saying please just be careful. I train my students to play octaves in a particular way, and there is a basic principle that works for them all, but it has to be modified according to the size of their hand. I start by showing them an ideal 'shape' on a smaller interval - a fourth or fifth usually, and then get them to increase slowly, once they feel comfortable in each successive interval. There is much more to it than that, to do with the ideal shape of the hand in octave playing (which is what differs between students) and coming out of the octave position and allowing your hand to close between each octave, and using rotation - yes, even on octaves.

Secondly it's easy to say on a forum that you are over-lifting your fingers, or not lifting your fingers enough, but for me, personally, to make a comment on how your fingers are actually working, I'd have to sit beside you and look very closely at all the movements you are making. Even a video may not tell the whole story. How much finger action to use is one of those things that depends on various factors - size and shape of hand, sound desired, and primarily the safety of the pianist playing.

I really do recommend that you find a teacher who is experienced with this kind of thing. Sometimes it's best not to go to a concert pianist for lessons or a good conservatoire student, or a good conservatoire teacher, because often these people are focussed not on technique but on interpretation. Sometimes that's fine because sometimes the students don't need technical coaching, but many times it's actually a bit risky because students fall into bad habits and teachers don't always notice when taken up with issues of interpretation. I have found that teaching technique properly in a piece pretty much always solves questions of interpretation - some might disagree with me on that statement, but I'm merely stating my own findings with my own playing and that of my students. Yes, there are pianists who have atrocious technical habits who still give some legendary interpretations (I'm thinking Horowitz and Gould in particular - emulate their ideas but not their hands).

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Thanks for the great post, Joe80--may help others besides Ganddalf too!


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Originally Posted by Ganddalf
...fatigue sets on after the first two pages.
What do you do when you feel this fatigue setting in? Do you continue to play through it?

Quote
Tension was mentioned by many of you. Yes, I have a general problem with tension. Not only the hands and arms, but even the neck and the muscles of my face. Seems to be a bad habit that is very difficult to get rid of.


I struggle if I have to span long gaps with my middle (2 - 3 - 4) fingers. And when playing a (broken) chord spanning an octave I'm not able to bend the 1st and 5th finger.

I do not believe that I have RSI as I don't feel any pain unless I have to stretch octave intervals.


Some years back I'm sure that I had some form of RSI. The main cause was due to extended sections with a stretched position. I had way too much tension and the repeated playing of these sections eventually caused injury. An example of one of the sections I was playing is Brahms 116 no 3 (middle section).

I can't say it's the same issue you are having but the tension during octaves and chords sounds very familiar.

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After reading the last posts I realize that I can't rule out that I have some form of RSI. How bad is this actually? Is there any treatment? Anything I can do myself?

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