A lot of people teach posture as a strict way to sit and do this and that ‘correctly’. The result is that it sounds more like a military exercise than playing music but the whole point of these guidelines is to help you play comfortably.
You don’t always have to sit at the piano properly just for the sake of the ‘rules’ but if you’re learning a piece you know is going to be demanding, challenging, or you are sitting at the piano for a long amount of time, then sitting properly will reduce the likelihood of fatigue, strain or injury.
Do an experiment: sit at the piano slumped over with completely incorrect posture and fully tensed up and see how long you last! I’m sure you’ll be convinced that these posture guidelines are here to protect and give you full freedom at the piano.
The following blog is adapted from a video tutorial in my YouTube series ‘Finger Food’. Watch the video below then read on for fuller detail. Scroll down the blog further for a free Piano Posture Cheatsheet to download!
1. Seat height.
The seat should be high enough so that when your hands are on the piano your elbows are slightly higher than your wrists.
2. Sit forward on the seat.
You want to sit forward on the seat, I tend to sit on the edge. This is so you can lean forward slightly when needed, lean back, side to side as you are reaching toward the further ends of the piano. You also want to keep your back straight rather than hunched over.
3. Relax the fingers.
Before you put your hands on the piano it's a good idea to do the zombie exercise. Put your arms out in front of you, drop your hands like a zombie and plop them onto the piano (for an example of this movement go to my blog post on finger & wrist exercises). This is how you are getting that relaxed feel.
Some teachers will tell you to curl your fingers, but that’s not a relaxed way of playing and it actually makes you tense up. Just flop your fingers onto the piano, as if you can’t be bothered with life. If there is any ‘work’ felt in the arms at all it should be coming from your upper arms.
You should not feel like your forearms are holding you there, or your wrists or fingers doing the work. Any feeling of holding your arms in position should come from the upper arms… but still relax the shoulders down–do not have them tensed up toward your ears.
A lot to remember?
Download our Piano Posture checklist to keep beside your piano as a handy reference and never struggle with poor posture again!
4. Relax the wrists.
Your wrists should be relaxed, elbows should be inline with your wrists. When you move down the piano you are taking your elbow with you and learning your body side to side.
The wrong way to do it is to keep your body stationary and extend the arms straighter to reach the ends of the piano–this strains your wrists since they are doing all the work to reach the notes.
When we sit forward on the seat we have freedom in our hips to move side to side and take the elbows and body to the ends of the piano and put less stress on the wrists and hands to reach out.
5. Distance the seat to reach keys comfortably.
Have the seat at a distance away from the piano so that when you rest your fingers on the keys your elbows are slightly forward from your body. Those elbows are not glued to your sides and certainly do not come behind the body.
You also don’t want to sit so far away that you have straight arms because that creates tension. Everything about sitting at the piano is about being relaxed.
Some people say that the piano should drop down to the edge of the knees, I find that I want it a little behind (at the beginning of the thigh). Your feet should not be immediately under the knees but forward slightly to reach the pedals, so your legs are creating an angle greater than 90 degrees.
We’re nice and relaxed, we feel like we can just flow through everything. A great way to check that your whole body is relaxed at the piano is to do the opposite. Start with your toes and tense up every part of your body all the way to your shoulders, hold for a second, then release. You’ll find your whole body settle into place with ease.