It is a well-known fact that pianists are more predisposed to occupational injuries than any other musicians. The most probable reason behind this is the nature of the instrument itself as well as its huge musical repertoire. In addition, both hands and fingers are equally under the constant pressure, prone to overuse. Professional pianists as well as students preparing for piano competitions or diploma exams often practise 6-8 hours a day or even more! Therefore, to prevent and avoid further injuries it is most essential to understand our body (anatomy), muscles and their function as well as the ability to spot physical traits that includes any restriction or hand's flexibility relating to the piano. It is also of importance to understand one's mind, the emotional charge and temperament as well as psychological traits (extroverts & introverts) that could influence the quality of performance.
One of the reasons in developing repetitive strain injuries is practising with bad habits that are difficult to break. However, it is not impossible. Even after a recovery from occupational injuries, a musician will most probably develop the same problems again if they continue to practise with unhealthy piano techniques. For this reason, it is necessary to try to correct your habits and improve your technique as soon as possible. Prospects of changing incorrect ways of playing depends on the person's abilities, determination, discipline, musical talent, power of concentration, deeper understanding of oneself and the body. It is crucial to be patient as it takes time to re-train the brain to learn different reflexes.
To implement healthy piano techniques it is fundamental to always pay attention to four main aspects: the body posture that relates to the instrument, the position of hands & arms and further problems followed by overuse and the release of tension in performance.
Many pianists suffer from chronic shoulder, lower back, and neck pain. To improve and prevent those injuries you should pay attention to your body posture while sitting at the piano:
The awareness of the modern style of living that can cause performers' injuries is also important. This includes the use of mobile phones (texting), computers (typing and using the mouse), games, and extra stress due to the fast pace of every day living (trying to achieve too many things in one day). All use of fingers is in addition to your hours of daily piano practise and this could cause overuse.
A piano player should be also aware of their natural ability as well as hand and arm strength. Pianists with smaller or less stretchy hands should carefully choose the concert programme, combining various piano techniques, styles and textures. If not carefully considered, it could cause harm through fingers overworking or hands overstretching.
It is important for a musician to understand oneself and his temperament since psychological, mental or emotional tensions can be other factors for stiff and raised shoulders in pianists of all ages. Often the most talented piano students or even professionals are more vulnerable and emotionally tense than others. They are more prone to tense shoulders frequently, stiffen the elbows, make unnecessary movement with their hands (swinging with elbows, raising and lowering wrist while holding the same key, pushing the keys with the fingers and so on). All this may be counter-balanced through various meditation and breathing techniques as well as learning mentally how to control our emotions or fears.
Through my long performing and teaching career, I have found that it is crucial for any instrumentalist to see performing as a positive, fulfilling experience and be able to enjoy the thrill of their creativity. Therefore, it is important to raise the awareness of the problems facing a young performer as soon as possible whatever the age. It can only improve the mental and emotional state of the player. Prevention is always better than cure!
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