pianists and overuse injury, piano, Uncategorized

Piano Technique: Selective, MINDFUL repetition to avoid overuse injury

After decades of observing students practicing their scales, arpeggios, five-finger positions, and myriads of permutations (parallel/contrary motion, longs strands of 10ths, 6ths, etc) I’ve observed many jumpstarts, anticipations, and anxious out-of-synch doubling of tempo on the turnarounds in scales, that if repeated over and again in haphazard ways will put a student at risk for injury.

Getting on the frantic, frenzied practicing bandwagon is a big, definitive NO!

Remediation, however, is best accomplished with presence of mind and focused, relaxed approaches to repetition with a FRAMED singing pulse and spot practicing emphasis. The latter involves calm, objective analysis of what needs to be improved. Rather than practicing a long strand of notes, not proximate to the site of a glitch or mishap, the student should consider bracketing off measures that lead in, and out of the finger trap. If the problem is fuzzy rhythmic perception in doubling tempo within a contrary motion scale, for instance, then practicing INTO the turnaround and OUT from, provides the fractioned part of the scale that needs work. (again within a framing, relaxed pulse)

Overuse injury can occur when continuous UN-mindful, shot-in-the-dark practicing occurs. In particular, if stock is not taken of what is causing playing irregularities, then self-devised meaningless repetition that seems to have a life of its own, can cause undo physical harm. I’ve watched LIVE students and those on Face Time and SKYPE create an unrelenting juggernaut for themselves that if uninterrupted leads to undo tension and pain.

When I send students recorded lesson segments, I try to edit out their myriads of frenzied repetitions, substituting their best efforts with some of my interspersed corrections. (so it shouldn’t seem like I’m eating up their lesson time with showboat demonstrations) To the contrary, I’m trying in the most focused amount of time to exemplify a more relaxed and mindful approach to the problem at hand.


BREATHING natural, full breaths is so pivotal to practicing and it ties in with AVOIDING injury. Anxiety infiltrates muscles and blocks fluidity, so that anything like meditation or related, can assist with remediating measures, phrases, etc.

In the attached video, particularly in the second part where a student works on the scale turnaround to double tempo (A minor melodic form in contrary motion) I have him SPOT practice the octave leading in and out of the turnaround with a consciousness of how to avoid the JUMPSTART or anxious anticipation of the rhythmic shift.

What isn’t seen are the pupil’s multiple repetitions that were getting him tangled in KNOTS–a feverish pursuit that had to be examined and amended.



The first segment focuses on playing parallel thirds, B Major with a recommended legato, side-to-side traction movement in preparation for snipping into legato.

What is not seen were the multiple efforts that were taxing the student, not allowing a funnel of relaxed energy, in its most economical form to accomplish the playing goal. With our focus on side-to-side motion, and mental imagery infused, (“caterpillar along the keys”) the student began to work with improved channeled energy. Making him aware of what WORKED as a substitute for haphazard repetition, improved the playing landscape as it likely will impede injuries.

I always tell my students: leave a memory in your practicing of your best, most fluid and relaxed effort. Once you have accomplished what you want, preserve a muscular memory and mental image that should linger into the next practicing session. Don’t keep hammering away after you have attained what was desired because it will otherwise lead to the very tension that took prescribed measures to relieve.

In this second video, some of the same referenced issues arise as a student practices scales and arpeggios with a remedial spot practicing emphasis. (Note that a “the floating arm” mental image proved to be valuable.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.