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Margaret Dylan Jones
W.A. composer, pianist,
teacher, article writer
How Should You Sit
When Playing Your Piano?
Opinions vary on how a pianist should sit, but most
agree a pianist's bench, stool or chair should be the correct height
Strangely enough, only two of my six piano teachers
to think this was important. Which is a bit strange when you consider
that a full-time classical pianist or serious tertiary student may sit
at a piano practicing up to six hours each day (36 hours per week), as
I have done for periods of many years several times in my life.
It should be obvious that how you sit is vital to your
health, as well
as your quality of playing. Playing for hours while sitting badly
will cause spinal, shoulder, elbow and wrist problems. These injuries
could be serious. Of course, even if you have
a perfect way of sitting you still must stand up and walk around at
frequent intervals, say every 20 to 30 minutes.
I'll tell you my own story. In the late 1970s I briefly
lessons with my third piano teacher, Madame Alice Carrad, in Claremont,
Western Australia. (BTW, she also taught David Helfgott, and was taught
herself by Béla Bartók). An enduring thing she taught me was how to sit.
At first it felt very strange and a little uncomfortable,
persisted with her sitting instructions because a) she was an eminent
teacher, b) my parents were paying expensive lesson fees and c) my
driving me over an hour each way to get there. Such was the logic of a
And I'm very glad I kept trying to sit the way she wanted me to
because, after a few weeks, the new way of sitting became much more
comfortable. In fact, from that day until this I find I can't bear
sitting any other way, it simply feels wrong and uncomfortable.
So how do I sit at the piano?
I believe you should sit close to the front of the chair (or bench or
stool), so that you are only sitting on your 'sitting bones,' that is,
your pelvis. If you sit in the middle or towards the back of the chair
you are also unfortunately sitting on your thigh bones, and your pelvis
is going to
be twisted or angled back causing distortion of your entire spine
right up to your neck. Do you really want to do that to your back for
36 hours a week?
By sitting near the front of the chair you can have some body weight
going through your feet to the floor, and you can easily and
automatically adjust the amount of weight you apply to the keyboard
through your arms.
This is where we touch very briefly on piano technique. There are many
varying attitudes and ideas about piano technique, and some people use
more arm weight than others. I believe that if arm weight is used the
weight must be immediately (in milliseconds) taken off the piano to
avoid keybedding. In any case, the amount of weight needs to
vary considerably from moment to moment, which is facilitated by this
way of sitting. If you have got it right, with your feet on the ground,
sitting near the front edge, and you were to lift your feet off the
ground you would fall forward (so don't try to lift your feet off). In
this position you can play with the maximum amount of body weight going
through your arms to the keys, and you can also play with zero body
weight, and all points in between, automatically and effortlessly.
When you sit in this fashion you can also breathe more easily as your
belly is not squashed up, which is particularly important if you are
also singing at the piano.
But how high?
Again, opinions vary about the height, and it has a bearing on how your
arms, wrists, thumbs and fingers are used. In February 2014 I changed
my views on sitting height in the light of finding out more about the
biomechanics of piano technique. I now believe you should sit at a
height that brings your forearms sloping down a little toward the keys,
and with a bit more than a right angle (so more than 90
degrees) in your elbow joints. From this position you can get your
thumb onto the keys easily and employ as little or as much arm weight
as you want, and distort the shape of the fingers and
wrists by the
amount. It's all to do with how the hands, arms & fingers are built
and how they naturally work. To sit otherwise can cause excessive
tension, which is a serious problem for many students.
The chair may need to be a centimetre or two higher in the afternoon or
evening compared to the morning, because the spine shrinks during the
course of the day. So it's good to have a way of easily adjusting the
This is how I teach my students. At first it may feel strange but if
they are conscientious after a few weeks it becomes automatic. After
this awareness has been achieved any student who inadvertently sits
wrongly will instantly notice how awful it really feels and will
immediately correct it to this much more healthy and efficient way.
How do I get the chair the right height?
My students use an adjustable piano stool, adjustable piano chair, or a
home-made piano chair box placed under an ordinary kitchen chair. See piano chair boxes
for info and photos of this.
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