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Six months ago I purchased a new piano, a Yamaha U3. It’s much more resistant than the keyboard I was used to and after practicing a little fanatically for six months my hands started to become tense. Now, some of my fingers are numb so I saw two doctors who say that I did damage to the ulnar nerves in my elbows. I’m sure it’s a result of the tension in my hands. Does anyone have an exercise to help me relax my hands? Thanks very much! Brian

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Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney
after practicing a little fanatically for six months

Don’t do it!

First rest and recover. Then start with something easy like scales, check posture, hand position, play lightly, smoothly, concentrate on no tension in hands or arms. Short practice with plenty of breaks, build up to longer session. Don’t start anything difficult until you can do this without pain. Best a teacher shows you. Or post a video.

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I remember when I was young, I played with a lot of tension. My teacher had me do "chain scales" going fluidly from one to the next without any break - C major, A minor, F major, D minor, B-flat major, etc. you get the idea. When I first started doing my scales this way, I experienced pain in my forearms very quickly. I was supposed to make sure my wrists moved up & down as I played to help stay loose, I suppose. I was also supposed to write down in my notebook every day where I began to experience pain during the "chain." Eventually I could do all the scales without pain or fatigue.

These days I don't do chain scales, mainly because I barely have enough time to practice all my pieces. I notice that I can get tense sometimes when I play and I start to feel that pain in my forearm. When I notice that happening in a piece, I slow it down to where I can play it comfortably without tension. It seems, in my case, that I tense up when I feel insecure with the technical aspect of something. So slowing down to where it's easier helps a lot. Then I use the metronome to slowly work it up to a faster tempo.

I don't know if any of that sounds familiar in terms of what you are experiencing, but I hope you can get some answers and some relief. I agree with a previous poster that for the moment, total rest for a little while might be beneficial so you can heal. Did your doctors say anything about rest? Is the nerve damage reversible? I hope so.


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I took five days off, no difference, then I took ten days off and no difference. I’m in physical therapy a couple of days a week and I have a great teacher who gave me what she calls “lift and drop” exercises in which you play a scale and lift each finger up and drop it down all the while focusing on relaxing the hand. My doctor doesn’t know if it’s reversable but I’m seeing her again in December after I get an EMG then she’ll know more. I’m pretty sure it was practicing Hanon for hours on end that did it. Thanks very much guys, it’s greatly appreciated.

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Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney
I’m pretty sure it was practicing Hanon for hours on end that did it.

Another Hanon casualty.


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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney
I’m pretty sure it was practicing Hanon for hours on end that did it.

Another Hanon done totally incorrectly casualty.


Fixed it.


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Originally Posted by rocket88
Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney
I’m pretty sure it was practicing Hanon for hours on end that did it.

Another Hanon done totally incorrectly casualty.

Fixed it.

LOL. Maybe a casualty of doing Hanon the way Hanon said to do it? wink


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Yeah its all Hanon's fault lets join the Hanon Hating bandwagon.

From the OP:

Quote
I bought a new piano six months ago, a Yamaha, and I started practicing maybe a little fanatically. It just sounded so good. After a few months I started getting cramps in my hands...


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Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney
I have a great teacher who gave me what she calls “lift and drop” exercises in which you play a scale and lift each finger up and drop it down all the while focusing on relaxing the hand.
That's your problem right there. That technique injured plenty in Stuttgart where it originated in the 19th century (read Amy Fay at archive.org). I'd stay miles away from that teacher. Keep your fingers touching the keys - DO NOT RAISE THEM in preparation. Each time you slam down from a height you are sending a shock through your whole body.

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If you are injured or susceptible to playing with tension the last thing you need are endless scales and endless Hanon. You've got to be a bit smarter than that. Trying to bash your fingers into shape with repetitive exercises is just going to make matters worse.
Try playing a one octave ascending scale and rest at the top, shake out any hand, shoulder (or whatever) tension, then play it descending. Break things up. You need to give yourself micro breaks, learn to feel and relax the dysfunctional tension.
Once your posture is much better and you are more of a relaxed player then you can start increasing the length of things like scales and exercises. It's not easy, it can also be a bit of a lengthy journey. It goes against what many of us feel is the correct approach to becoming an advanced player - i.e. plenty of scales, exercises, difficult pieces. That can be a trap for some of us, you have to be aware of it.

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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney
I have a great teacher who gave me what she calls “lift and drop” exercises in which you play a scale and lift each finger up and drop it down all the while focusing on relaxing the hand.
That's your problem right there. That technique injured plenty in Stuttgart where it originated in the 19th century (read Amy Fay at archive.org). I'd stay miles away from that teacher. Keep your fingers touching the keys - DO NOT RAISE THEM in preparation. Each time you slam down from a height you are sending a shock through your whole body.


I've come across that, where the fingers are extended to an exaggerated height. I think Peery piano uses it. It looked just plain wrong to myself (a beginner) - especially giving that kind of exercise to beginners.

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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney
I have a great teacher who gave me what she calls “lift and drop” exercises in which you play a scale and lift each finger up and drop it down all the while focusing on relaxing the hand.
That's your problem right there. That technique injured plenty in Stuttgart where it originated in the 19th century (read Amy Fay at archive.org). I'd stay miles away from that teacher. Keep your fingers touching the keys - DO NOT RAISE THEM in preparation. Each time you slam down from a height you are sending a shock through your whole body.

Isn't that what Hanon recommended? The first page of his exercises has:
[Linked Image]
This is printed in my Alfred edition too. However, I've read, although I don't remember where, that exactly following this particular instruction is a bad idea. This was what I was referring to in responding to rocket88's original post above.


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"Discipline is more reliable than motivation." -by a contributor on Reddit r/piano
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Well thank you all for your input. I’m taking more breaks and playing less repetitive exercises which I can’t seem to get enough of. I have a question, if you don’t lift each finger off the keys than what do you do? I don’t yet have the control to keep my fingers on the keys.
Thank you, Brian

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That's for the right teacher to sort out.

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Thank you but as far as I can tell she’s a very good teacher and an incredible player. I taught woodwinds for a long time and to be perfectly honest I really think it was my fault. I was practicing between ten and sixteen hours a day but I never heard of an injury from playing the saxophone and I practiced that just as manically as I do the piano. Ignorantly I thought I had to build up the muscles in my hands.

But in my defense, I was disabled for about twelve years with debilitating back pain. All I did for twelve years was watch TV, it was like being in prison. Then one day I decided I was going to play the piano and I threw my TV away and bought a keyboard but the sound sucked so I bought the U3 and I guess I got a little carried away. What else could I do? I didn’t have a TV anymore so I basically practiced every waking hour of every day. I think I put one of my neighbors in the hospital.

So no, I don’t think this is teacher error, it’s my own fault. Thanks everyone for your help.

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Firstly you need to learn how to hang your relaxed hand from your wrist, then how to plonk your relaxed hand onto the keyboard as if it's a slab of meat and then caress a key till it goes down. You should only have awareness of the caressing finger - absolutely nothing else. If your teacher is telling you about 'supporting arch of the knuckles etc.' she's leading you astray. As I said previously the lifting of fingers before lowering them is very bad. If she's teaching that, as you say, she's leading you into danger.


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Brian, this may sound off the wall and totally out of left field, but I recommend learning tai chi ( from a reputable teacher). Firstly, it will probably help your back and secondly, the principles of chi movement versus muscular strength are perfectly adaptable to piano playing and creates rather than disperses energy. Chopin.r.us is on the right track, you just need a lot more detail. PM me, if you like and I will give you more information on nonmuscular piano playing as taught by my teacher, Connie Crothers. I learned tai chi at the same time I was studying jazz with her and was amazed that Connie's approach to effortless playing embraced every principle I was learning in tai chi. Never have had any hand problems as a result. Also, after playing I find I have more energy in my hands than when I started. Hours of playing with exactly the opposite of fatigue.


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Thank you! Connie Cruthers? I studied with Sal Mosca for over ten years. I guess you love Lennie, me too. I’ll definitely hit you up but I’m just not sure I have the time for another discipline.

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I'm not an expert and had no formal lessons other than 'keep him amused' type as a child, so my advice has no basis in anything other than experience (oh, and I probably don't belong on this forum as a perennial beginner...). The way I tackle tension is to award myself time playing 'easy listening' stuff, slowly and enjoying it - free-style, chords being just played how I feel like at the time, and putting a larger amount of emotion into the playing rather than accuracy / technique. In other words, relax with the music. Yesterday I overdid the serious stuff, today was things like 'The Moulin Rouge Waltz' .. easy arrangement. All work and no play etc. as the old saying goes;)


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Yes, Brian, we are branches from the same tree. I know learning another discipline sounds like a real effort, but chi is at the root of it all.
It will inform everything else you do. Your call, of course, but if relaxation is your aim, tai chi's moving meditation is hard to beat.


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