Piano Performances · Piano Practice

The importance of flexible wrists in piano playing

One common issue piano beginners have is maintaining flexible wrists during their piano playing. In fact, this issue can even be found in many experienced piano players. 

It’s easy to tell students to “relax the wrists”, but it seems difficult for them to do so, even when they really try to. I would point out that most of the time the problem arises not from the wrists but actually the forearms. 

Lots of piano players come to me and say that they get tired easily when they play, and when I point out if that’s their forearms that give up first, they are surprised to learn how I know exactly that’s their problem. 

Many piano students were not taught right from the start that they use the whole body to play the piano, no matter how easy the music is. They tense their bodies, their shoulders and arms, and solely focus on training their fingers to play accurately (the note pitches of) whatever pieces they’re given to practice on. 

Learning to use the whole arm to play one single note is the first piano technique exercise I give to my students, whether they are beginners or advanced players (if they have technical issues). In my Technique Transformation Piano Exercise Book, the single-note exercise is the first exercise I introduce to anyone who wants to transform their piano technique. The exercise is super simple – the purpose is to focus on the correct way of using arm weight (instead of forcing fingers hard into the keys). It’s important for any piano players to learn to feel how their bodies are acting during their playing, how to incorporate the different parts of their bodies and in particularly of their arms, even in simple exercise like this. 

Most piano players focus on the execution of the notes, and neglect the release of them. When I invite students to pay more attention to the release of notes and the relaxation of their bodies, they find it surprising that they were actually really tense without them recognizing it. Just like there are execution and release of notes, there are tension and relaxation of the bodies and arms during our piano playing. If we’re tense all the time, we get tired very easily. If you have tension issues in your playing (you can’t play fast notes or execute them clearly, or simply cannot play louder chords), tr to pay attention to your wrists and forearms, see if they are actually pretty tense. Try to make a point to relax them every time after you play a big chord or a fast passage (also notice if your shoulders are shrugged up-lower them down), and see how that feels after a passage or two. You might be surprised that relaxation is the key to better piano playing. 

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