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,