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  • Writer's pictureRuth Shyu

Tension in Piano Playing - Is It a Serious Problem?

Updated: May 8

You have probably noticed that most professional musicians are able to produce beautiful music effortlessly. If you feel that your playing is almost always a physical struggle, or lack fluidity, you may have tension problem in your piano playing.

Piano is fundamentally a percussion instrument. Therefore there will alway be some degree of physical tension in playing. The key is to know when and how to release the tension so as to keep it at a minimum. When we refer to tension as a problem in playing, we are referring to excess, unnecessary tension.

Tension leads to a great deal of difficulty in technical execution. It also gives rise to poor tone quality and physical discomfort during and after playing. It is an urgent problem to be addressed, especially when it starts to develop in young children. If left unaddressed, it can become habitual, and cause injury.

If you are not sure whether you have tension problem in your playing, listen to the tone that is produced. If it tends to be cold and dull rather than warm and resonant, it may be an indication of the presence of tension problem.

Tension can manifest itself physically in stiff palms and wrists, scrunched shoulders and neck, hunched back, under-utilized arms, and no fluidity of motion when playing. It can also exhibit itself through a tense jaw, or biting of the lower lip while playing.

After playing, a person with tension problem may experience muscle soreness or pain in the forearm, neck, shoulders or the back. In severe situations, tendonitis can develop.

Students usually develop tension problem when they try to use force instead of proper techniques to produce tones. This can happen very easily with young students who are eager to please their teachers. The teacher needs to be extremely watchful and make sure that the student is using proper technique when playing.

For students who have already developed tension problem, it is almost always necessary for them to take a step back to re-learn many of the fundamentals properly before they can go forward again. This can be discouraging especially for impatient students. But with skillful guidance of the teacher and committed parental support, the problem can be corrected.

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