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Help with technique (tension issues)?

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I have been learning to play piano for a while now but I've been having a lot of problems lately continuing to make progress. I can't afford a teacher right now so it is hard for me to get good consistent feedback on my playing.

I've noticed when I'm playing faster songs, or songs with a lot of big chords and octaves, my arms start to feel tired and a little sore afterwords. They don't hurt per se, but it feels kind of like the same feeling after you lifted weights at the gym (maybe it is lactic acid buildup?). I feel tired after playing for about 20 minutes but I can keep playing for over an hour if I take breaks. Any advice you have on reducing tension or improving my technique would be great.


Thank you for any tips you have! I always tell myself to relax and go slowly, but I'm still experiencing so much fatigue.

Edited by martinbaker2727

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I had some friends who decided to both take up piano again as adults.  They both ended up with carpal tunnel syndrome pretty much immediately.  Their doctor found this very funny and said it happens a lot with adults who take up anything from knitting to tennis to guitar, because unlike kids, adults are diligent practicers.  Children learning new skills are sporadic participants, at least at first, so they build the muscles and flexibility necessary for an activity slowly over time.  Adults make a schedule and practice daily for a set amount of time, right from the start, so there is no soft ease-in period and they get tendonitis and other repetitive stress injuries.  

Have you increased your practice time lately, or had the chance to practice more regularly than usual because of other changes in your schedule?  

Can you break your sessions into shorter morning and evening chunks instead of one long run to safely build-up little supporting muscles?  Can you get some extra mileage out of time listening to recordings, or marking up your score, that will help you take a little less time in front of the keys for the time being?  Are you just crashing through a piece at full speed, beginning to end?  Would less time running just the tricky spots, one bar at a time, slowly be more helpful?  

I expect it's going to be hard for people here to give you specific advice without seeing you play, but we can all benefit from practicing more efficiently, instead of just practicing more.  

Gently stretch before and after you play?

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I'm very sorry to hear that you cannot afford a piano teacher. Because that's probably the only one that will be in a position to help you, pateceramic's advice notwithstanding.

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My own teacher during my late teenage insisted that I did most development work away from the keyboard. It concerned finger independence, velocity and endurance. Students sometimes don't realise it but their entire bodies are used in piano/organ playing, the body acting mainly as an anchor but often used in directing power through the fingers. Playing a string of chords pp requires a different bodily action than playing ff. 

It's important not to keep on until your hands/arms cramp up. Push a little bit but allow rest. Like people who do body-building, if you crash your muscles you need a couple of days to rebuild. So you can plan your pianistic development along the lines of day one, endurance (octave playing, say); day two, finger independence and velocity exercises. However, it isn't good to crash the piano playing muscles in your lower arms/hands. 

I doubt it's still available - but look up the Cowling System. If it's still available I have absolutely no commercial interest but about the first 5 or 6 lessons were most useful. IIRC what it didn't cover was octave practice. An octave stick was recommended for this! 

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There are a couple of other points maybe worth mentioning. 

1) Practice passages slowly until you can play them more or less perfectly. Occasionally try them at target speed just to see what your hands need to do to play them. But revert to slower practice. If they aren't right in slow motion they'll probably be fumbled at higher speeds.

2) Be as analytic as you can. Look at how the hand(s) need to be sloped/positioned to play something at the correct speed. A good example is this "tuck the thumb under when playing scales / arpeggii. In fact, at speed it's only a partial "tuck under" as the entire hand moves to its new position, not propelled there by the thumb. Etc. Much tension can be avoided with good analysis but this too comes with practice and why one really should seek the advice of a teacher. Even once per month is better than nothing.

Finding teachers who can do more than supervise how you're practicing at the keyboard is a problem in itself.

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