Relaxation - Teaching freedom of movement

Technique, methods and advice for learners

Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Jun 27, 2007 8:38 pm

It's a very good point, because the condition of the face reflects what's going on in the rest of the body. As I think I've suggested before, think not only of the face and neck when you play but, equally important, the shoulders. It's so natural to hunch up the shoulders when struggling with technical difficulties, but when you learn to let the shoulders hang loosely and naturally (not slump, though!) it tends to let the relaxation flow right down into your hands and arms.

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Postby Stretto » Sat Jul 21, 2007 3:05 pm

Along the lines of relaxed shoulders, I picked up a point once on relaxed upper back. I believe it helps with shoulders too. I've had past problems with feeling really tired in my upper back and try as I might to "do this or that" to make my upper back and shoulders "feel" relaxed, no position or posture would help my upper back from feeling tired all the time. Then I received the pointer of rather than putting my attention on my upper back, I should think about the front across the chest and shoulders feeling open rather than "crunched in". It seems to help me in a relaxed way, to point my shoulders both out thinking about an elongated direction (without tension though!). If I think about the front across the chest and shoulders being open and relaxed it seems to automatically make my upper back feel relaxed and not even tired when I'm not even thinking about my back and I can actually breathe easier that way!
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Sat Jul 21, 2007 6:07 pm

What "shoulders" are, how front and back relate: animation I was working on the same thing.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Jul 22, 2007 6:47 am

Actually that posting was a bit capricious and I was hoping to edit it. I had a similar experience to yours, Stretto, and was trying to sort out my front from my back. I was told that I had no idea what a shoulder was, and it's true, I didn't. I still can't believe the whole thing sort of floats (with the ligaments etc. not quite) and that it all starts at the collarbone. Apparently only creatures using their hands have collarbones. So lemurs could learn to play tiny pianos, but cats, even if they grew hands, couldn't. But none of this really helps anyone to relax, does it?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Jul 23, 2007 8:39 pm

Pianissimo,

That animation was fascinating--where did you get it? Are there others available?

My own struggle with tension years ago was enormously helped by being married at the time to a professional physical therapist. I did a lot of digging into the literature and eventually published an article in Music Educator's Journal. A similar article on relaxation is available here on PEP.

Bill L.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Mon Jul 23, 2007 9:34 pm

It is fascinating, isn't it? There's another showing some muscles: animation I just started googling keywords. Those were the only two I found.

Your sharing of what you have learned is greatly appreciated.
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Postby pianogal » Fri Aug 03, 2007 5:47 pm

I think this topic is just what I need!
My hands got injured, most likely from muscle tension.
Not too bad, fortunately. But what can I do to help it get better faster? :(
Don't ever give up piano, because you will like it someday
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Thu Aug 09, 2007 4:37 am

My hands got injured, most likely from muscle tension.
Not too bad, fortunately. But what can I do to help it get better faster

Pianogal, I just saw this.
Are your hands any better? Does your teacher know that you hurt your hands? He/she might be able to advise you in a number of ways for practicing, relaxing, causes, and even how much practicing you should be doing (and how) to allow your hands to heal.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Aug 09, 2007 9:10 am

Pianogal,

Slow down, rest when your hands hurt, stop pushing yourself! Your body is telling you that you are either doing too much or doing something wrong, or both. Listen to it!

Dr. Bill.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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Postby Stretto » Thu Aug 09, 2007 1:32 pm

pianogal wrote:I think this topic is just what I need!
My hands got injured, most likely from muscle tension.
Not too bad, fortunately. But what can I do to help it get better faster? :(

Just to add to suggestions: Split practice up over the day if possible 15 - 20 minute increments at a time. At least take breaks, get up walk around or stand and stretch for a while after 20 min. Put hands down in lap or shake arms loosely at sides for a few seconds now and then while practicing rather than arms constantly up for lengths.

Avoid the tendency to want to play a piece over and over. Avoid extremes of repetition on any one segment or piece for too long for example, a string of octaves practiced repeatedly for lengths on end. Instead play some repetitions of one segment, switch to another segment of the music or segment of another piece, do some repetitions, then something else, then if you want come back and do some more repetitions of the first thing you were working on. In general switch around often coming back to things so your not repeating any one thing over and over at lengths.

Avoid the tendency to want to reach or stretch for notes like when preparing to go to that note next. Keep one's hand relaxed and mentally picture the next note coming without reaching for it ahead.

What has really helped me also is back-tracking in level of difficulty. I think one reason that I got into trouble on this is trying to advance to too difficult of music too fast. Selecting and playing pieces that "fit the hand" have helped me and then gradually and slowly working up in difficulty of pieces from there. I went and bought books from a few classical piano literature series. For example, "Masterwork Classics" by Jane Magrath comes in levels 1-10. I backtracked to about level 4 or 5, (I even started out playing through the level 2 and 3 books some first) and have been practicing those pieces then I've moved to level 6 and am gradually going to go through the books in order so it gives me a slowly graded approach to stepping up in difficulty without noticing it. Another good series is Bastein's classical piano lit. series. I'm getting pieces that "fit the hand" in such a way with relaxed playing and avoid pieces that have wide stretches including big chords, or octave runs for the hand until I work my way to that point with graded pieces. Even playing 5-finger pieces or 5 finger excercises or scales and getting into a habit of these of keeping hands, shoulders, wrists, etc. relaxed while playing helps. I also took some beginner lesson books, playing through levels 1 and so forth thinking about being relaxed while playing. Whenever hands, etc. start hurting go back to 5 finger position and level 1 music thinking about staying relaxed.

Another thing to avoid, I've had the tendency to do is play or press the keys harder than necessary to produce the sound - the keys only go down so far -anything as far as pressing keys down after the sound has been made is wasted energy - sort of like cheering like crazy for a football game on tv thinking all your energy, strength, and tension in cheering is going to help them win. :D

I can probably think of a lot of other tips but here's some to start with. One other thing is if you have a teacher who is not helping or addressing these problems even when asked, (although I'm thinking you mentioned you were learning on your own right now), if you could afford it, even get a teacher for a few months short-term if you can't afford long-term lessons, ask in advance their experience in technique or ability to help with such problems or ask if anyone knows of such a teacher - maybe a nearby college - a piano student in the music program in college might give lessons or give you some tips.




Edited By Stretto on 1186688469
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Postby pianogal » Thu Aug 09, 2007 2:54 pm

Thank you so much guys!
Yes, my teacher knows about my hands, but no, he doesn't seem to have any advice, he had no experience of any pain (lucky). I am trying to rest more often and learn relaxing, but it doesn't help...I always get upset on myself for bring up the trouble...it's really frustrating...and I've got a recital and festival this Oct. and a state competition this Nov.
Do you think it might recover by then?
By the way, I've been taking lessons for a full year now! (after learning on my own for 6 years)
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