Remember when Mom said, "Sit up straight"? She was right!
It's hard to imagine that good posture makes a difference in our piano playing sometimes, but it really is true, and Mom was wise to nag you about your posture, even when it comes to piano playing.
What are the main areas to focus on to achieve good posture while playing the piano?
When you sit down at the piano bench the first thing you want to do is put both of your feet flat on the floor. Keep your knees situated basically underneath your shoulders and place each foot under each knee.
A really good way to ground yourself so you can turn your focus on your piano and your goals, is to push each foot into the floor a bit, and even wriggle your toes and feel them touching either the floor or the inside of your shoe.
Stay aware of your feet. I know that sounds a little silly, but so many times when we're practicing, we get lost in our "heads" and forget about our bodies. Simply shuffling your feet and pushing against the floor several times while you're playing or practicing will help to keep your body and mind connected and you'll get more accomplished.
Now bring your focus to your spine and back. Don't reach forward yet to put your hands on the keyboard...just keep them in your lap, palms down, on top of your thighs.
If any part of your spine is curved forward, you need to bring it back, so that you are able to sit straight.
A great way to tell if you are humped over a bit, especially if you can't see your position in a mirror, is to simply take a big inward breath and as you do, allow your upper body to move up with that inhale. When you inhale deeply like this, you'll feel your whole upper body respond to that breath, as if your chest is opening up.
Also, when you inhale deeply, push off of your chair with your bum just like you did with your feet against the floor. This helps with grounding as well and also strengthens the posture you transition into with that breath. This motion also engages your core, especially if you pull your belly in on each inhaled breath.
Take several "check-breaks" during your piano playing to readjust your spine and always try to keep it straight and lucid. Use your breath as you inhale to help keep your upper body lifted and open.
Spine to Shoulders
Your spine and shoulders are deeply connected through literally hundreds of tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones.
It's important to give an extra mention about shoulders because not only do they connect to our spines and all of that tissue, they also connect to the hundreds, (yes, that many!) of muscles that surround our head, neck, arms, and even on down into our hips.
Begin to take notice of your shoulders simply by moving them in circles...this helps to loosen them up and again, ground you in your body. You can make front to back circles or the other way around - mix it up even.
Take a moment to just observe what your shoulders tend to do naturally, as you sit on the piano bench.
Now, bring your shoulder blades together as if they were going to touch each other. Do you feel the openness in your chest after doing this? It's amazing how effective this is. Try to hold your shoulders together for several breaths, just to help those muscles learn to "be there".
Keeping our shoulders back is one of the most important things we can do. As soon as we bring our shoulders back, the rest of our body just seems to naturally respond by aligning in a better posture. This also strengthens our neck muscles simply by reducing the stress from being strained in a constricted manner.
I just have to ad in: ever heard that saying "have a chip on your shoulder"? Rotating our shoulders, keeping them lose and flexible - just doesn't leave room for any "chips" to stay on there for very long.
Now the Neck
Necks are bridges of sorts. They connect the head the spine, shoulders and chest.
The spine supports our necks and it's surprising how much tension we can hold in our necks without ever realizing it.
One of the main ways we hold our necks that causes tension, is in a forward direction...where our heads actually are more forward than the rest of our bodies. This is a very common issue for those that use computers a lot, or are musicians, simply because the way we are positioned while doing these activities does not support a straight spine.
Your neck should ideally be "placed" over the back of your spine. I think that many of us "think" forwardly when it comes to our bodies, and we don't think about our backs very much.
Imagine your back, and picture the center of it just below the base of your head. Now, picture the very center of the back of your head right above that center place.
This is a neat way to align your head so that it enables your neck to be positioned correctly.
The spine, shoulders, neck and head, are all in the back of our bodies. That's not all that's involved physically when we play the piano though...because we need our arms to actually reach out and play the keyboard.
This is when we tend to "undo" what we've just done, in preparing our bodies to play! We all do it...right now, just check your posture at the computer or your phone...are you curved over? :)
What we have to learn to do and what we have to teach our muscles to do, is to allow our arms to move across the keyboard while keeping our the back parts aligned.
Just like learning the piano, this can be and needs to be practiced, because we are creatures of habit...which just means we can learn new habits!
Once you have gotten very comfortable with good alignment of your feet, spine, shoulders and neck...simply start this next phase by reaching out your hands and let them touch the keyboard in a relaxed fashion. Now check...
Bring your arms back and rest them palms down on the top of your legs...and repeat this several times. The more you practice this, the more natural it will become as your muscles learn that this is the way you want them to be.
Start adapting your improved posture in your playing slowly. Be patient - it takes time to change habits; it takes 30 days in a row to establish a new habit! Don't fret if your spine starts going in it's old comfortable patterns because you are changing those patterns...just bring your body back into alignment anytime you notice it is out while you're playing.
You can only notice it, if you are paying attention, so make sure you check in with your body and what it's doing many times while you are playing.
As you continue to improve your posture you're going to find a new freedom in your piano playing, because there are less constrictions in your body when playing with everything aligned properly.
Remember, our bodies do what our brains tell them to do.
And remember to thank your Mom.
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