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#3101572 04/03/21 03:35 PM
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Is stamina at the piano mental or physical?


Example of an argument for physical: build-up of tension.
Example of an argument for mental: loss of focus.


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What do you mean by stamina? Are you asking about playing a demanding piece/program that requires you to play non-stop for a long time or are you asking about practicing for a long time?

The former requires a different kind of stamina than the latter. When you practice you repeat the same movements many times, which can be tiring, but you can take breaks. In a recital of a long piece that's not possible.

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Qaz, I purposely didn't define stamina, mostly because it's going to mean different things to different people and it's all interesting to discuss.

From the nature of your comments (e.g., physical movements, taking breaks), I'm guessing you see stamina at the piano as physical. But there is a mental aspect as well--being able to maintain focus, for example.


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think of it as learning to walk. Is this mental of physical? When you start, you work on every step, concentrating very hard not to fall. When you learn it, then it's physical endurance-you can walk as far as you can if you are fit enough. To continue training as well as practising music is a mental act. You need physical skills in order to mentally convince yourself to keep going and improve. But the first step is purely physics. similar analogy about learning a new language-first you learn letters, then words, then you need to convince yourself to keep going.
In case you need to improve your physical endurance of playing the piano, Brahms Exercises is a good way to start. But they are not for beginner players by any means.

Last edited by Siberialina; 04/03/21 06:46 PM.

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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Is stamina at the piano mental or physical?

Yes.

By which I mean, of course, that it is both mental and physical. I would add that the mental part isn't just focus/loss of focus, although controlling focus is incredibly important. And the physical part isn't just about tension, although controlling tension is incredibly important.

What other mental aspects are there? Hmmm, thinking ahead in the music, which is a cognitive activity. As is reading from a score.... Then there's the expressive side of "mental" which I wouldn't call cognitive as much as emotive...

What other physical aspects are there? I feel like these are maybe easier to list up... But I'll start somewhere that most people might not start: Your torso needs to be supported (good posture); your legs need to be "moveable" enough to pedal (and maybe page turn if you're using a tablet for the score)....

I'll let someone else add the rest.

If all of these details are not attended to, the pianist may experience it as a lack of stamina. Or, if "endurance" is the issue, then of course it could be experienced as a loss of stamina...

It's interesting to think about these details in this way, isn't it!


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One thing that is sometimes overlooked is that playing the piano burns up a lot of metal energy which is blood glucose aka blood sugar.

Because the piano work is not physically strenuous in the same way as running or going to the gym, one often does not notice a change until all of a sudden you "hit the wall" and cannot think anymore, and need to rest.

You have probably run out of blood sugar available, and need to replenish it.

Knowing that (which took me years to figure out!) while practicing or playing I always replenish both blood glucose and water before and during sessions.


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I also think it’s both, but for me, much more a mental challenge. I can easily play for 2-3 hours, physically, but my brain gets mushy way before my hands get fatigued. I take short breaks to refresh myself, it helps a lot.


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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Is stamina at the piano mental or physical?


Example of an argument for physical: build-up of tension.

The build-up of tension is an unnatural thing really. It can only be observed in sessions which are not long enough. It is a basic physiological fact that when the muscle gets tired it starts to relax naturally. And that's why longer sessions are more beneficial when working on technique, when muscles get tired they simply can't tense up any more, they start to relax naturally and the brain has to find a new technique to play things without that tension, as the practice goes on, the brain remembers this new, more economical way of playing, and so the technique improves. It also regards passage work.


Having mental stamina is much more important for long sessions.

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Originally Posted by rocket88
One thing that is sometimes overlooked is that playing the piano burns up a lot of metal energy which is blood glucose aka blood sugar.

Because the piano work is not physically strenuous in the same way as running or going to the gym, one often does not notice a change until all of a sudden you "hit the wall" and cannot think anymore, and need to rest.

You have probably run out of blood sugar available, and need to replenish it.

Knowing that (which took me years to figure out!) while practicing or playing I always replenish both blood glucose and water before and during sessions.

It's an invaluable discovery!

What dose of sugar and water do you recommend to intake before and during a session?

By the way did you measure the blood sugar levels before and after a session? If yes, what were the numbers?

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IMO mental stamina has more to do with one's actual interest and commitment in practicing and improving. I.e., I was never able to sit and practice for hours at a time when I was in high school, taking piano lessons and ABRSM exams and being made to play songs that I didn't like or didn't care for. But I could always sit for hours and hours learning to play songs that I actually liked (and sadly these were never songs that my teacher assigned or were exam pieces). I don't play music that I dislike anymore, so I'm now able to sit through 4 hours of non-stop playing learning a new song that I truly like and enjoy listening to.

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
The build-up of tension is an unnatural thing really. It can only be observed in sessions which are not long enough. It is a basic physiological fact that when the muscle gets tired it starts to relax naturally. And that's why longer sessions are more beneficial when working on technique, when muscles get tired they simply can't tense up any more, they start to relax naturally and the brain has to find a new technique to play things without that tension, as the practice goes on, the brain remembers this new, more economical way of playing, and so the technique improves. It also regards passage work.
That's an interesting approach, but I have some doubts about it. If someone practices technique unsupervised for a long time wouldn't it be more likely to cause injury rather than to find the right technique by chance?

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It depends on the piece. I think this tension and technique is less of an issue with experience. I think mental stamina is needed to learn play a baroque pieces especially a fugue. Also for a fast etude needs mental stamina and persistence. Certain pieces are like a workout also need physical stamina. Moonlight sonata 3 or rach g minor prelude, for example, is brutal. Often its nicer to avoid these technical problems by finding alternatives. I try to not push difficulty too hard anymore as I haven't got the best stamina, however you define, and would probably just give up if the piece is too difficult.

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I replenish stamina too much and tend to gain weight by playing certain pieces. It is too bad piano playing is not physical energy.

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I regard a piece as requiring physical stamina if I'm sweating (and my heart beats >100/min) while playing it, which applies to most of the music I play - predominantly fast & often furious (as befits my personality whistle).

As for how I 'refuel', I use coffee: the caffeine in it certainly helps to keep me going (the same as it helps endurance athletes keep going - all marathon runners use it as it's perfectly legal as a performance-enhancing drug) and of course, it also helps my mental concentration. The only calories in it is from the small amount of milk in it (I'm lactose intolerant, like most of the world's population, so I have to be careful how much milk I put in), as I don't have sugar. (I prefer to get my sugar rush from gourmet chocolate.)

I guess I'd lose weight from piano playing (if I didn't compensate by eating more) - probably a pound a week (3,500 calories) if I played only fast & furious music non-stop for four hours a day, every day........


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I no longer possess Piano Stamina, no matter what it is. I have little now. Drinking beer helps, so does an appreciative audience. That usually depends also on them drinking beer. And recitals do too. But I've eased up since a few years ago. Now I'm trying to consolidat some of my submissions.
That requires stamina . . . .groan.


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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Is stamina at the piano mental or physical?


Example of an argument for physical: build-up of tension.
Example of an argument for mental: loss of focus.

Both but it doesn't seem to be as important at seventy-four as it was at twenty-four. As my music now is far more demanding both mentally and physically than it was fifty years ago I therefore assume I expend energy in a more efficient manner, although I am hard put to say exactly how. With a bit of thought most movements can be executed in ways which consume less energy than brute force and with no detriment to musical result. I do enjoy keeping fit and well and to that end I train a lot. I also enjoy exercising my brain but how much these activities influence my piano playing is uncertain. Coffee and sugar, in the small quantities I consume them, are probably insignificant to my piano playing.


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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
The build-up of tension is an unnatural thing really. It can only be observed in sessions which are not long enough. It is a basic physiological fact that when the muscle gets tired it starts to relax naturally. And that's why longer sessions are more beneficial when working on technique, when muscles get tired they simply can't tense up any more, they start to relax naturally and the brain has to find a new technique to play things without that tension, as the practice goes on, the brain remembers this new, more economical way of playing, and so the technique improves. It also regards passage work.
That's an interesting approach, but I have some doubts about it. If someone practices technique unsupervised for a long time wouldn't it be more likely to cause injury rather than to find the right technique by chance?
Yes, I agree, this approach, I mean long sessions and intense passage work, is for more advanced players who wish to perfect and polish their technique, when all basic technique is already there. It's a bad idea to try to acquire basic technique like that, basic technique is best acquired using conscious relaxation and unfatiguing practice sessions.

But come to think of it, beginners may use some methods of muscle relaxation before practice session to gain additional technical benefits. I mean, for example, warm bath, massage, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), endurance exercises for arms and hands with low resistance, gentle stretching. The more relaxed the muscles are before practice session, the more beneficial it will be in terms of technique development.

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Originally Posted by ebonyk
I also think it’s both, but for me, much more a mental challenge. I can easily play for 2-3 hours, physically, but my brain gets mushy way before my hands get fatigued. I take short breaks to refresh myself, it helps a lot.
That's what I think virtually everyone does or should do. I wouldn't call it a stamina problem because there is no problem if one takes breaks.

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Prolific players start with 5-8 hours at the machine between youth through age 30. After 30 some continue, but they don't really need that many hours on the machine itself because their tech is pretty much fully developed at that point. They don't stop their musicianship in the other hours of the day, I'm only explaining that they don't need the longer hours of repetitive keys because there is a cutoff where their general mastery covers the majority of repertoire.

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