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Popular Piano Lessons: Fundamentals - Posture

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Now, when I was a young
pianist I had the worst posture.
I actually used to sit at
the very edge of the chair,
really far back, and
my back was like this.
And I would kind of slouch my shoulders.
And I depended on just kinda
clawing the piano, kinda like this.
I looked like a turtle when
[LAUGH] I was playing the piano.
Believe it or not.
I looked like a turtle.
In fact there was a calendar poster that
featured me as one of the months and
you saw this huge curve of
my back as I was playing.
Almost doubled in half.
I had this strange notion that I
would sit at the very edge and
just have no support, and then,
and just rely on my feet to
propel me into the piano, and rely on my
shoulders to kind of come into the piano.
Well, anyway,
skip forward several years, and
suddenly, I started getting
shooting pains up and down my arms.
Both arms.
Icy cold flashes of pain.
And I had to stop playing for
about a month.
First time in my life,
and I was at a complete,
I was almost having a nervous breakdown,
I'd never not played the piano for
such a long period of time,
and it really scared me.
When I started recuperating,
I was determined to find techniques
that would never bring that pain again,
and I was just kinda curious to see if
there was any way that I could learn to
play with power without hurting myself.
And so
I basically tore down every conception,
preconceived notion of how
to approach the piano and
started experimenting with how to play
the piano from just basic physics,
basic mechanics and looking for
the most efficient way to play.
With as little stress
to my body as possible.
One wonderful thing that happened as
I was exploring all of this was that
I got to work with a rolfer.
One of my best friends at the time,
who is now one of
the senior members of the Philadelphia
Orchestra, his mother was a rolfer.
And a rolfer is to muscles what
chiropractors are to bones and the spine.
They kind of rework
the musculature of the body.
And she had some wonderful tips for me,
and many of which I have carried over into
my technique today and it's just
completely transformed the way I play and
the way I transfer energy from myself
to the instrument without harm.
So let's talk about some
of these basic principles.
The first thing is, number one,
imagine your pelvis as a tripod.
You have basically three points.
You have the point in front,
you have two points that's
just the shape of your pelvis.
You always want to have all three
points on top of the chair.
When I used to play this bad posture I
only had not even three points I had
half of two points back here and my front
point was completely off the chair, and
that's why I was always unbalanced.
So, you always want to have all
three points of your pelvis, okay?
Supported on the chair so
that you could lift up your legs and
still sit comfortably.
All right.
Very very important.
Once your pelvis tripod is established on
top of your seat, then you want to imagine
your spine as a straight column from
your head down into your pelvis.
So imagine this tube running straight
down and then take a deep breath in.
When you do that, I want you to
imagine your shoulders, just relaxing
naturally as you have your spine
supported above your tripod.
So one you have, again, a critical aspect
of my technique is to make sure you're not
raising your shoulders, and you're not
isolating your muscles from your back.
Your power is actually gonna come
from the weight of the arm itself and
from your lower back when you
get to very powerful playing.
You're gonna be relying on
the weight of you body and
transferring that through your shoulders,
through your back.
The human arm, each human arm
on average weighs nine pounds.
Two arms
if you just drop them,
will produce
a tremendous amount of sound,
just by dropping them.
Not even pushing them, or,
you know, forcing anything.
And so what we wanna do
is to learn to drop with precision and
power, but in a very relaxed manner, okay?
So that all of these posture
things will enable you to do so
without any extra force,
without any extra strain.
On your shoulders,
your arms, or your back.
So, hand distance to piano.
Basically, what you want to do is,
you wanna make sure that your elbow is
comfortably, slightly in front of you.
If you, you could have,
I'm a short person so
I like to sit a little
bit above the piano.
The very minimum you wanna have your arms,
if you're a very tall person,
the very minimum, try to have your
arms parallel to the keyboard.
And so a little bit above it, that's okay.
You also want to sit at a height so
that your wrists are not bent down,
not bent down here,
not raised too high either.
You want your wrists just to be slightly
below your knuckles here, okay.
And your elbows to be just
very very loosely bent, okay.
You don't wanna be too far back so
that your elbows are locked back here.
You wanna have a little
bit of flexibility so
the elbows should be
slightly in front of you.
Now, one key principle of your hand, is
going to be what I call the keystone arch.
One of the strongest.
Aspects in architecture is an arch.
And in an arch you have
what's called a keystone,
the stone in the middle
where the two points meet.
That stone is critical for
maintaining the strength of the arch.
In playing the piano, you want to think of
your knuckles a little bit like that arch.
You want to have that curvature so
that this keystone, these keystones,
if you collapse here, you're gonna
lose the ability to transfer power
effectively across your fingers, so
this keystone is really a strong
architecture [SOUND] for maintaining
power and strength, [SOUND] okay?
And flexibility.
[SOUND] All right, now once you have your
hand comfortable with
the concept of a keystone arch.
Above your knuckles here.
With your wrists down.
Nice, loose, relaxed wrists.
We want to locate our finger pads.
The finger pad is a little bit of flesh.
Right underneath your fingernail.
So you don't want to be playing so that
your fingernail is slipping on the keys.
You want to play so
that there is a little bit of flesh.
Just a hair okay well just enough.
Okay just a like a little smidgen of
flesh right underneath your fingernails.
So if your fingernails are long,
you may need to cut them.
Now in reality, we can play the piano
with flat fingers or curved fingers.
The reason you want to learn
to curve your fingers,
this kind of difference between playing.
If you run, if you have good, lean running
shoes, you'll be able to run faster.
If you have clown shoes, big fat shoes,
obviously that's going to slow you down.
So the main reason why we try to train
the other fingers, the curve they're
playing on, a very specific pad,
is really for speed and power.
But there will be sometimes where
I'll actually encourage you,
play with a flat finger.
Sometimes you want a slow,
more controlled sound.
So all the fingering positions
that we talk about for
curvature and all that,
it's really a training aspect.
But in reality, you're gonna be using
your fingers in a variety of ways.
This is the hardest thing to learn.
So if you can get this down then
the rest of this will be easy.
Again, key aspects are gonna be relax
your shoulders, relax your wrists.
And we're gonna be working on letting
your body really operate the piano
in this natural way and letting gravity
take care of virtually all the volume and
power issues that we
are going to be working with.