Play Piano The Nature's Way...

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The Pianist  

An intelligent pianist should know the fundamental physiology directly influence his/her  piano technique.

In order to develop the techniques that serve the music making, we must examine our body's playing mechanism itself - the upper arm, forearm, hands and fingers even our torso. We do not need to be an anatomist, but we do need the knowledge of our playing mechanism. We need to understand our equipment and use only the necessary part of our equipment to play so that we can play expressively and effortlessly without hurting our joints, muscles and tendons.

Our basic approach to the technical solutions is to search for the correct positions in which the right equipment helps the fingers work independently and provides them with the power they need. Our goal is to use the minimum motion and energy to achieve the maximum result.

"A pianist's body, in order to function at maximum efficiency. must be in accord with the principles of physics and physiology."  -  Quote from Otto Ortmann

Here is a factual presentation of our playing mechanism. -- the facts of our upper limbs. The anatomic terms may be boring to some readers, but you do not need to linger on them, you do not need to memorize them. Once you know the facts, move on and apply them to your piano playing. So, be patient and read through.

"Old traditional finger teaching exuded adequate participation by every part of the body rightfully concerned with piano playing."    -  Quote from Abby Whiteside


Before we go into details, let's understand how the muscles in our upper limb work.

Firstly, muscles in our upper limb are voluntary muscles because they can be consciously controlled. They are attached either directly or indirectly (via tendons) to bones and work in opposing pairs (one muscle in the pair contracts while the other relaxes) to produce body movements. That means, after the muscle has been contracted , it needs to relax to return to its original shape in order to function again. If it is not, it can still respond to another nervous stimulus and contract some more, but it would be under strain and would cost fatigue. If it happens repetitively and constantly, it would cost numbness, pain in the muscles and inflammation of the tendons.

"Piano playing is alternation between rapid contraction and relaxation..., No more time be consumed in muscular contraction than is absolutely necessary" -  Quote from Otto Ortmann

Secondly, when largest muscles are activated, the effort required to play the piano will be minimized. The stronger muscles can help the smaller muscles to handle their job easily.


"Movement of power and those of wide range movement are better handled by the larger muscles and joints" -  Quote from Otto Ortmann

Bone of the Upper Arm: there is only one long bone in the upper arm called humerus. (latin word).

Joint of the Upper Arm: it is Should Joint - we need to aware of the should joint, because many pianistic motions require freedom of this joint. Shoulder joint is one of the most flexible human joints. It is a ball-and-socket joint that allows the bone a wide range of movements.

Movements of the Upper Arm : up-and-down, forward-and-backward and rotate. permitting movement in many directions

Muscles that control the movement of upper arm: powerful muscles in the chest and the back across the shoulder joint control the movement of the upper arm. By using these strongest muscles we can easily avoid fatigue.

Examples of upper arm movements in piano playing: move the hand horizontally along the keyboard; move the hand into and out of the black area. Rotation moves the upper arm toward and away from our body.


Bones of the Forearm: there are two bones in the forearm -- the radius and the ulna, the radius can rotate around the ulna. The ulna can not rotate.

Joint of the Forearm: elbow joint - less flexible than the shoulder joint. It is a hinge joint ( like the hinge of the door).

Movements of Forearm: bending-and-unbending (flexion-and-extension) and forearm rotation (twist-and-untwist).

Muscles that Control the Upper Arm movement : a pair of muscles - biceps and triceps located in the upper arm. They are the strong muscles. The biceps muscle, the strongest bending muscle, runs down the front of the upper arm from the humerus to the ulna and the triceps, the strongest unbending muscle runs down the back of the upper arm to the radius.

Examples of forearm Movements in Piano Playing: bending-and-unbending move the hand up and down the keyboard and is constantly used in playing chords and octaves. Forearm rotation is constantly used in playing scales and arpeggios.


"Rapid movement and small range movements naturally belongs to the smaller muscles and joints" -  Quote from Otto Ortmann

Bones of the Wrist: there are eight bones in the wrist arranged  in two rows. First row of 3 bones are connected to the forearm, the second row of 5 bones are connected to the hand.

The Wrist Joint: as we have said above, wrist joint is not a single joint, there are eight small bones make up of the wrist joint.  We should think of the wrist joint as a structure  Do not use the wrist as a hinge joint, do not compress the wrist, it should be lengthened in movement.

Bones of the Hand:  there are 5 hand bones in the palm, they are connected to the wrist joint.

Movements of Hand: up-and-down movement, sideway movement using the wrist. Rotation with the radius in the forearm. Trying to rotate the hand at the wrist always results in strain and often in inflammation of the wrist.

Muscles that Control the Movement of the Hand: The forearm muscles control the movement of the hand. Bending-and-unbending the fingers by a pair of flexor-and-extensor muscles. Rotating the hand (turn the palm up-and-down) by a pair of pronate and supinate muscles.

Examples of Hand Movements in Piano Playing: scales and arpeggios. rapid running passages.


"Great strength is necessary in the fingers, but it comes with playing, if one plays rightly, that is, musically. From the moment one feels that the finger must sing, it becomes strong. That is quite different matter from playing exercises or etudes with mechanical repetition merely for the sake of strengthening, and saying ' I will exercise my fingers and make them strong.'  Such playing as this latter sort does not help."

   -- Quote from  Vladimir Horowitz

Bones of the Fingers:

There are 14 bones in the finger:

- 5 small bones are connected to the palm at knuckle joint.

- 5 smaller bones are connected to the thumb and four fingers

- 4 smallest bones are connected to four fingers.

Only the knuckle joints are of importance in piano playing

Joints of the finger: Finger joint -  simple hinge joints that allow only bending-and-unbending.

Movements of Fingers: up-and-down movement (flexion and extension) and sideways. Up-and-down movement of the fingers at the knuckle joints are free and ease. They are used constantly in piano playing. Sideways movements of the fingers are very limited. And we can not simultaneously spread the fingers and bend at the knuckle joint. So do not try to stretch the fingers.

Muscles that Control the Movement of the Fingers : the up-and-down movement of the fingers are controlled by the long, narrow and string like tendons in the forearm. The sideways movement of the fingers are controlled by very small and agile hand muscles. It assist the muscles of the forearm in manipulating the fingers

Examples of Fingers Movements in Piano Playing: Fingers are used in every aspect of  piano playing. They are the ultimate contact of the keys of black and white.

"In piano pedagogy, attention should be directed to both finger-action and arm-movement. Finger-action with quiet hand is just as necessary for perfect execution of certain  passages, as the addition of hand-and-arm movement to this action is necessary for other passages. The older school of pedagogy did not countenance the latter at all; The modern relaxation and weight school have fail to give the non-weight finger-and-hand technique its proper important place"       -  Quote from Otto Ortmann


Base on the factual analysis presented above, we come to the following conclusions:

(1) Muscles need to return to their normal state after contraction. The alternate contraction and relaxation of the pairs of the muscle ensure our playing equipment to work continuously without fatigue. Always avoid co-contraction of the muscles.

(2) Activated the strongest muscles in chest, upper arm and the stronger muscles in forearm to help the smaller muscles in the hands and fingers.

(3) In order to move the finger up and down freely, always align the fingers with their correspondent forearm tendons with the help of the wrist, hand, forearm and upper arm.  The fingers are always helped by the rest of the playing mechanism to reach the keys. Concentrating movement in  small joints and muscles of the hand isolates the fingers from the remainder of the arm and creates tension. We need to be aware of the fingers as part of a whole arm.

(4) Once the upper arm is in control, the rest of the playing mechanism - the forearm, wrist, hand and fingers will co-operate in the nature"s way. (see The Technique)

(5) Knowing the capabilities of each joint, We should realize that for physiological ease, motion should largely be confined to the mid range of each movement. All the joints function at their best when they are operated in their mid-range. Do not force them to the extreme position like stretching fingers.

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January 2013