A Tip for the Anxious Musician: Relax

Easier said than done. This tip is for any musician, and it will affect how you play. It makes sense that if athletes warm up before they exercise to loosen their muscles, musicians should too. After all, both require the player to control their muscles well in order to play well.

It is important that musicians learn which areas of their bodies tend to tense up more than others. For me, it’s my shoulders. When I get stressed out and anxious, my shoulders raise. Recognize that it is a skill to even sense this. Many often do not notice the change.

If you can learn to notice when your muscles tense up, you can learn to relax them. Here are some common areas that tense up:

  • shoulders and neck
  • hands
  • forehead
  • lower back

One way to relax is to focus your attention on the spot that is tense and intentionally relax it. Because it’s like flexing on purpose, one way to relax it is to first make it as tight as possible, and then letting it loosen up as much as possible, relaxing the area as much as possible.

There are many ways people work on relaxing, and beyond the mental and spiritual elements, I’ve seen this method of physically relaxing to be effective.

So if you play piano, for instance, and your hands are tense, a young player might tend to stick their fingers in the air. There are many possible reasons for this, but this exercise of tightening and then loosening is a start.

If you are a musician, what helps you relax?

Piano Fingers Tip #3

Piano Fingers Tip #3

Finger PostureI’ve written about what affects finger position for piano, as well as the tendency to let your fingers fly away as a beginner. This is a third tip about finger posture.

What is good posture? Typically one thinks about sitting up straight, and it’s a little like that with your fingers as well.

Beginner players, especially if they are short, can develop the habit of “sweeping” their fingers across the keys. Their arms are too low to allow the tips of their fingers alone to touch the keys. What happens is that the hand lays down because the elbow pulls it down. The fingers are then resting flat on the piano key instead of the tip.

The trouble with this is that it reduces efficiency. When the “sweeping” begins to happen, the fingers are doing a lot more work than they need to. The extra motion causes fatigue even faster and prevents the necessary fluidity needed for more advanced songs. Scales are difficult, finger positioning becomes difficult, chording, arpeggios and accidentals can become a challenge as well. These kinds of things are all dependent on strong, correctly postured fingers.

So, to state it directly, here’s the tip: Keep your fingers curved, and fingertips on the keys.

As I type, I realize that the posture should look like good computer posture. You don’t type with your fingers straight down, nor do you type with them flat (where your knuckles are almost touching the keys). No, your arms are fairly parallel with the ground and your fingers have a slight bend. Your fingertips are the only things hitting the letters. That’s the point.

 

 

Of the benefits, another music teacher and performer named T.H. Gillespie who has seen this problem often agrees:

Curved fingers not only facilitate rapid action for fast passages, but ensure greater touch control.

As much as possible, your fingertips should be the only thing that hit the piano keys.

Piano Fingers Tip

Holding your fingers properly as you play piano is very important. It’s as important with any instrument, for that matter.

I’d just like to point out a few things that affect finger position for piano.

Posture

First, posture is a big deal. It’s very hard to play properly if there’s any slouching going on. It’s not a good habit. The reason is that it pulls the wrists down. The arms get “heavy” as you slouch and the wrists find themselves resting on the keybed (the little piece of wood that sticks out past the keys). In turn, this pulls the fingers down so that the fingers are nearly flat on the keys. Try and sit straight with shoulders down.

Height

Ultimately, this refers to how high the elbows are. If a child is too low, she has to reach up to the keys. This is basically the same resulting problem as slouching, but the child cannot do anything about it. Her posture may be perfect. The solution is to give her something to sit on.

A related issue for children is that they have nothing to rest their feet on usually. They typically just swing above the floor. When she has something to rest her feet on, her lower back is actually supported better, which results in more confident playing. She will play more confidently when she is not (subliminally) distracted by trying to hold herself up differently. Comfy is good.

Stress

This is actually probably the biggest one (as I’ve mentioned before). When you’re stressed, muscles are tense, and everything travels north. Shoulders go up, breath goes to the chest, and fingers go up. Take some breaths and relax. If you’re too stressed, get up and walk around a bit. It is hard work to train your fingers, and can be frustrating. Keep tabs on your turmoil.

Finger position is important. Give them every opportunity to succeed by watching your posture, height and stress level. Then give them time. Keep working at it!