I teach piano lessons in Cedar Park, Texas, and in Texas, we love football in the fall. And going to a football game entails sitting on a bench. You’d think we would know all about sitting on benches, wouldn’t you? You’d be surprised… So, read on…
I find a lot of my time with students is spent talking about the mechanics of playing the piano. Sure, every good teacher will talk about the obvious points: proper finger positioning, arch the hand, relax the shoulders, and so forth.
But there’s one thing that is often overlooked, probably because a teacher is afraid of seeming–how to say this delicately–uncouth.
One of the most important things we, as humans, must do is learn to balance ourselves. We walk on two feet, and with a very sophisticated inner ear mechanism, we learn to balance our ungainly bodies over an extremely small amount of real estate called our feet. But, balance doesn’t stop at being able to stand up. It also applies to sitting down. When you sit at the kitchen table, or on your couch or at your desk, you tend to forget about balance because you can just flop, and let your back rest against the chair back. You probably sit fairly far back in the chair, with the bulk of your legs resting on the seat surface. Although this is poor posture, it’s comfortable enough when you’re watching TV, but it’s HORRIBLE if you do it at the piano.
So here’s the “uncouth” part of teaching a student. We have to talk about your (gasp!) bottom and where it belongs on the bench. If you sit on your piano bench like you do on your couch, you are going to be unbalanced. After you read this, I encourage you to go sit at your piano bench and try these postures out. First, try sitting with your bottom even with the back side of the bench, so that your legs are fully supported by the bench. You’ll notice that you tend to lean back a little bit. Put your hands on the keyboard and you’ll see that you seem to have less leverage. Try leaning forward, and you’ll find it a little uncomfortable, and perhaps even off-putting on your balance and constricting on your abdomen. You will probably subconsciously grasp at the keys to try to maintain your balance. What you’ll find is that your balance in that position has to be managed entirely by your back muscles and abdomen, with your hands unconsciously reaching out as you would for the banister on a staircase. Your legs are not part of the balance equation at all. Using the pedal from that position is awkward.
Now, move your bottom until you have the front edge of the bench right where your bottom ends and your thighs begin. You should feel your posture shift slightly forward. You’ll also notice that your weight is shifted more towards your feet. Lean forward towards the keyboard and back again. Your legs act as a counterbalance to your shifting weight, and gives you tremendous control. Put your hands at the keyboard as you shift your weight forward and back, and you’ll find you have no need to subconsciously grasp at the keys to maintain your balance.
You’ve got your pelvis with two protrusions that act as sort of “rockers”, or the bony part of your bottom. When you are in the correct position, you’ll find that your weight pivots nicely over those “rockers”. That means you are in good form.
Your balance is one of the most important tools you have at your disposal to improve how well you play, and also how long you can play before tiring. Being poorly balanced saps your energy, making you use large groups of muscles just to stay in place, and robs your hands of the controlled weight you need to produce a beautiful, well-controlled tone.
So, sit down and play the piano–the right way!