As you progress in your piano playing you will begin to notice that your fingers don’t always do as you intend. Sometimes they do strange things. Sometimes after practising for a while your fingers and wrists can become strained even painful. This is can be a sign of bad posture, overuse and/or insufficient warm-up.
Prevention is better than a cure so this blog post is going to give you a number of wrist and finger exercises to do every day before you practise in order to get your arms ready for your practice and to protect you from possible injury and the dreaded sideline.
As well as these exercises, to ensure proper technique and guard against strain you should also make the following habit:
- Check your body posture is correct as you sit at the piano. Regularly check in between songs/exercises to maintain posture.
- Do your finger and wrist exercises daily, preferably before each practice
- RELAX, don’t strain yourself. It can be tempting to tense up the body when we play difficult or fast passages of music, but though this seems to help things in the short-term it doesn’t help develop fast playing and only tenses your body to make it open to strain.
- If you start to experience any pain, stop. If it is a recurring pain then you need to assess whether you are practising for too long or too often. Try practising in short bursts - ‘micro-sessions’ of 10-20 minutes each day rather than marathon sessions of an hour or more. If pain continues and you don’t want to stop practice then make sure you only do gentle and slow exercises or pieces.
- REST. Overuse is just not worth it. If pain persists, take a break from the practise for a week or until you feel your full range of motion without pain and take the time to find some new piano-driven music to listen to. Check out my Spotify playlist of relaxing piano music here.
Watch the video below to see how these exercises are done then read the rest of this blog to learn why they’re useful. Scroll down further for a FREE downloadable exercise checklist to keep at your piano for quick reference!
Wrist exercises are designed to strengthen your wrist, prevent injury and increase the range of motion in your hands as you’re learning the piano.
Before you practice:
The Beauty Pageant Wave - named after the typically graceful albeit unnatural wave that beauty pageant contestants and royalty seem to favour. This is rotating your wrist clockwise and anticlockwise while your arm forms a right angle with fingers pointing to the sky.
The Finger-flexer - put one arm out straight in-front with your palm facing forward, like the ‘stop’ signal, then with your other hand gently bend the fingers of the ‘stop’ hand back toward the elbow so that the palm and underside of the wrist feel tight and stretched. This movement works similar to the hyper-extend, it stretches out parts of the hand that we normally have caved inwards, you’ll also eventually increase your range of motion here. Don’t overdo it, be gentle on yourself.
The Zombie - put arms out straight in front with both palms extended forwards and fingers to the sky (like the ‘stop’ signal) then completely relax your hands forward so that the fingers point down, this should be a relaxed, floppy movement and not controlled. This is gently allowing your wrists to relax downward, again a movement that seldom occurs in daily life. This action is one we employ to put our fingers on the keyboard and when we check in with our body posture we should regularly do this movement to ensure our wrists are relaxed while we play.
The Mermaid - arms out in front of you use your hands to mimic the movement of a mermaid’s tail & body. Slowly lead with the wrists to point fingers up and down, up and down. This movement should flow freely. This is a relaxing exercise designed to expose our wrists to their full range of motion. An extension on this exercise is to turn your hands in a figure eight from left to right both clockwise and counter-clockwise, all the work here is done from the twisting of the wrists alone.
The Air-Hostess - This mimics the action an air-hostess does pre-flight to indicate the exits in the plane. With arms out in front, elbows slightly bent, lift hands to extend out straight in front with palms facing. Maintaining this position, gently move your hands so that the fingers point upward (toward the sky) and downward (toward floor). The movement here is all in the wrists, it should be gentle - you will not get your fingers actually pointing to the sky or floor, but the movement downward and upward will gently warm the sides of the wrists.
The Motorcycle grip - with arms out straight in front of you, clench the fists and have your top knuckles pointing to the sky. Then, as you would ‘rev’ the engine on a motorcycle with the handle grips, bend your wrists back and forth in a smooth controlled motion. This is a sort of massage for the front and back of our wrists. Do this action a few times then relax the hands downward. Then repeat.
The Reverse Motorcycle Grip (or ‘HEX’) - this is the same movement essentially but with the controlled movement and the relaxed movement reversed. With your hands in a closed fist but relaxed, loll then on the wrists as if you were shaking dice in each hand. Then with control, flick your fingers out and down so that the wrist is bent downward. This replicates the action of rolling and throwing a die, or as per the name, casting a witch’s spell.
Jelly Limbs - is to stand with arms fully relaxed at your side and move around shifting your weight from leg to leg, and allowing your arms, wrists and fingers to completely relax and flop around. This releases tension.
Are you warming up properly?
Download this free cheatsheet and integrate these wrist and finger exercises into your daily routine.
These finger exercises are designed to increase your range of motion, gain strength, agility and independence in your fingers so that they can move freely, quickly and on demand.
Spirit Fingers - as demonstrated on the late 90s teen film ‘Bring It On’, this exercise is mostly a bit of fun, but it’s getting your fingers ready for their individual movement on the piano, but it creates the action without the pressure of pushing the actual keys.
Shadow puppets + spiderman + gang signs - these are all just fun ideas to get your fingers doing things they’re not used to!
Hyper-extend - so often our hands are curled up, even when we relax - Hyperextending is great to stretch you out, just like when we do yoga we stretch up to the sky as high as we can to get our body stretching, we can do the same thing with our hands and what this does is it once you’ve created that tension from hyperextending you're introducing the full range of motion that your fingers don’t normally get to do.
Finger Combos - this works on your fingers independence. It’s all about alternating your dominant fingers with your less dominant fingers. Try it out on any surface (on your lap, on a table) lift each finger individually, 1-3-5-2-4 consistent, constant, even. Try in non-dominant (usually left) hand. And work on your speed too.
Get Typing - if you know how, type for 5 minutes of streaming consciousness a day. This increases the activity between your brain and your finger movement helpful for piano players, it can also be a way to work on your speed (if you do an online typing test, you can improve your Words Per Minute - a great skill to develop in general but also pretty good for your piano playing)!
Heavy Lifting - Rest fingers on table in playing position, try to lift 4 finger, independently, relaxed and increase the lift over time. Notice how you stress the 3rd or 5th finger to support it? We need to work on not needing that so much. This is working on finger independence. Some people will find it easier than others but if you find it particularly difficult then you know this is perhaps an exercise you should pay special attention to and do more often.
Finger Pull-ups - relax full arm and elbow with finger hooked on edge and pull up with finger. This is not something that comes naturally - it feels strange at first and it’s difficult to let your finger take the full weight as you lift it up and not get your wrist involved. But try not to let that wrist takeover, this should be supported only by the strength of your finger and that will help it to build on that strength.
The key with these wrist and finger exercises is to do them gently and mindful of how your body reacts. Check in with your body while you are playing the piano to feel if you are straining anywhere or feeling any pain. If you are, then you need to check-in with the checklist at the top of this blog post. Remember, these exercises are not to give your hands and wrists a workout, these body parts are relatively fragile and though we want to strengthen them, this will come over time. Gentle and gradual progress is key!