I have a question relating to hand tension when playing.
I’m new to the website (what a wonderful site, thanks Arthur!) but I’m definitely not new to this type of music, especially the New Orleans styles, which has been a part of my life since I first heard (and was blown away by) Dr John’s solo piano albums in the late 1980’s. Since then, I have found myself returning again and again (in phases) to try and figure out how he did it…! (I was really quite upset when I heard that he passed on last year). I don’t have Arthur’s books (yet..!) but I have collected all the Homespun material where Dr John ‘teaches’ ( they are all inspiring materials but sometimes a bit vague on specifics and 'how-to' s..... ;-D )
But here’s my question : I’ve been a piano player since the age of 6 (now 51), and a sax player since 18, and played all kinds of music in performance (classical, jazz bands, solo etc) but I have never played the solo boogie or New Orleans stuff in public. I find that I just can’t keep it going ( am learning here that I need focussed and consistent LH practice which I have never quite applied) and also, that sometimes the energy of the music zooms off ahead of me and I can’t keep up - that’s the only way I can describe it…! :-) But another thing which bothers me is that I do find that I get wrist and hand pain whenever I try to practice this kind of music for very long, and then I need to take a break for a day or two. Since I’ve played so many other types of music in my life to a fairly high level, and I don’t have so much technical difficulty with complex rhythm and a reasonably sophisticated level of hand independence, I wonder what is going on there?
Looking at it systematically I can only assume one or more of the following is at play:
1- I’m tensing my muscles because I perceive the music as ‘difficult’, leading to over-use symptoms
2- I’m stretching out my hands too much ( LH tenths are do-able but not when I try to move them around and keep time - and the RH licks are quite often a bit of stretched hand with things happening in the middle fingers)
3- I’m pounding too hard on the keys
4- something else?
- but noticing all this, I still don’t quite know how to solve it! Does anyone here have similar troubles and/or solutions? Arthur, do you have any advice for me? I suspect that (3) is definitely at play but I also find that the music needs to be played at a certain volume/energy level, in order to sound right. When I watch the masters play they certainly don’t seem to be exerting much effort, which I think is key. I can sometimes achieve that but the music pulls me in and the rhythms make me play more energetically. If I use my weighted keyboard (Roland FP2) I can play lighter (though the problem still occurs), but on my ‘real’ piano the keys just seem to need a bit of pounding to make the right kind of sound and give the music the right kind of energy. Perhaps I’m using hand&wrist too much where the whole arm should be involved? I suspect also that some of those licks where the middle RH finger glides from black note to next-door white note are also hammering my hands a bit too much - it doesn’t seem possible to do this more lightly and have both notes sound out well. My piano is a high quality one so I don’t think the issue is there. It could be just muscle power that I need to build up, but I don’t want to do myself damage by just ‘pushing through’. Could it even be something like the angle of my ‘attack’?
Anyway, I just wanted to say hello, thanks for the forum and I’m interested to hear from anyone who has faced the same questions. Sorry for the long post, I realise there's a lot to respond to, but I just wanted to get into some detail about it :-)
Thanks everyone and congratulations Arthur on becoming a father! - plenty of joy and also exhaustion lies ahead ;-)
Best wishes from Europe,
As a beginner, one thing that helped me was this (Search video: "Piano Think with Dr Scott Holden: Double Thirds") - nothing to do with boogie! My fingers were simply collapsing (just going to like jelly) after trying to play the RH blues riff once or twice repeatedly... I'm still working on the 3 and 5... and getting 4 out of the way... and now it's my chord changes... seems like I get one bit working ok then it doesn't sound right with the other bit !!!
Hi Ye'all! I recently joined this site and have been working on Boogie Woogie for a few months now. I started to develop 'tennis' or 'Boogie Elbow' in the left elbow. It was a real bummer since it limited my ability and length of time I could practice. Then a doctor friend visited me (just social) and I commented on my elbow. She mentioned a professional violinist who played for decades without pain. Then they got new bow and the pain started. Turned out the bow was 1/2 on ounce heavier. They switched back to the old brand and the pain faded away. She noticed my position and felt the keyboard was too low and so was I. I have raised the keyboard and now use a swivel stool to adjust my height. The pain has all but gone. Also, as Authur mentioned, Boogie is a marathon. Since my original pain is fading I found I can practice longer and harder. Of course the result is a NEW pain as in 'no pain no gain' kind. As I rest and budget my practice time I'm finding I'm getting stronger and can play longer, faster and more complex licks. I'm really chuffed!! At 62 it's great as I haven't played seriously for years. As for the music getting ahead of you, I get it! It's like running down a hill and suddenly the gravity takes over and you're faster than your feet and you start stumbling and tripping over your 'fingers/feet'. The marathon side of Boogie is not just physical, it's so very mental too! I've learned that Boogie is a great brain trainer! It takes a while for your brain and hands to catch up to each other.
I had/have the same problem - feels like I need to go to the gym for my left hand...
But I think I know what my problem is: height and concentration...
If I add another chair (we have those white stack-able plastic ones) I can play longer and if...
I don't look at the keyboard, I mean I look out of the window or read the kid's rules for long division which are on the wall to the side... it seems to prevent the tension building up... I feel looser...
BTW... adding another chair is not "the" solution - I think that's also telling me I need to sit more upright... and maybe then build the piano bench😁
no offense taken! I found it funny (and enlightening!) to watch my own ego... ;-)
thinking about this music as an athletic event is a great idea - it certainly feels like that when I play in short bursts, but I don't really do any equivalence of 'pre-match training', so of course it makes sense that I don't seem to have the required stamina.
Thanks for the advice about 'bigger arm muscles/little hand muscles' - very interesting distinction - and I'll keep observing and exploring 😁
Hey Patrick! Definitely no offense intended by suggesting having someone watch you. I guess I didn't realize you had had extensive training in the past. In that case, i think just looking at a video of yourself might help. And you are already noticing things about your different position which is good. In general, remember that this music is not played in the same way as classical... instead it is more of an athletic event. So you may need to approach your training in a similar way you might approach preparing for a half marathon or other sporting event. It's all about muscle memory (for efficiency) muscle endurance. Use your bigger arm muscles as much as you can, and not your little hand muscles. Best of luck and I'm glad you are enjoying playing this music! Happy to have you on the site.
Hi Arthur, thanks for such a quick reply! I figured you might suggest making a video 😂 It's been interesting to watch my ego respond to your suggestion of seeing a piano teacher, haha after so many years of lessons as a kid and then decades of performing, a certain part of me reacted with strong resistance... but of course, that is just ego. Of course it would help to get an outside eye to see what habits (postural or otherwise) I have picked up over so many years. I'm currently a student of Alexander Technique and I'm very aware of how the body will consistently return to harmful habits totally unconsciously!
So anyway, today I sat at the piano and made a mental note to really notice what my body was doing while playing some Dr John-type riffs - and there is a lot of tension, and I seem to lean forward and down into the piano a lot. Some of the tension I think is from concentration, and some of it is a kind of excitement and musical energy that comes when things are working well and sounding great...!
But when I think of the image of people playing boogie and New Orleans styles, I realise that generally they will have a decent space between themselves and the keyboard, and they sit fairly relaxed and upright - even leaning back a bit. So that was already a good thing to notice. I will see what happens when I try and play with my body in completely different positions :-)
It's funny how certain types of music can bring our body to a different position while playing, without us noticing. I'll keep exploring and report back here later, maybe even make a video of myself 😱
Thanks once again for the forum and I'm happy to join this community of piano players!
Thanks for sharing Patrick! Maybe you can post a little video of you playing? Then I can see what kind of ergonomics you have going on, also assess muscle tension, etc..
It might be a good idea to get some lessons with a "classical" teacher near you so that you can have someone take a look in person and help you adjust your technique. I'm almost certain it is just a matter of over exertion and tension.
A proper piano teacher can give you some exercises to help you loosen up your hands while you play.
If you watch me play, you'll see that I have my wrists slightly externally rotated (supinated) and I initiate a lot of movements from my elbows and wrists, not so much my fingers.
That's probably the best advice I can give without seeing you in person... hope it helps!