Did you know that piano posture has a huge impact on how you play? Not only is good posture important for your health, but it affects your ability to reach the keys and the pedals. Plenty of technique issues can be solved by simply shifting your posture.
Most kids don’t want to spend ages figuring out the perfect way to sit. They want to just get started already! But following these quick tips before lessons and practice can save everyone a whole lot of hassle.
The Bench Can Be Your Friend… Or Your Enemy
You can have the straightest back and the most poised fingers in the world, and that still won’t help you if your bench is out of alignment. Feel like you just can’t get the piano posture right? Chances are, it’s not you, it’s your bench.
Seriously. A ton of postural issues just boil down to:
- You’re too close to the keys.
- You’re too far away from the keys.
- You’re sitting too high.
- You’re sitting too low.
- You don’t have a place to put your feet.
That last bit is especially likely with younger and shorter students. If their legs simply don’t reach the ground, how are they supposed to plant themselves steadily?
Here’s how to troubleshoot.
The seat needs to be at the right height. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to determine what “the right height” is. When you place your fingers on the piano keys, your forearm needs to be parallel to your floor.
If your arm is sloping downward, you’re too high up. If it’s sloping up, you’re not high enough.
It’s pretty common for younger students to have piano benches that aren’t adjusted for them. After all, adults need to sit lower to get the proper posture. So make sure that your piano bench is accurately adjusted to your child.
One important note is that this doesn’t stop at professional lessons. When you practice piano in the home, you need a seat that’s adjusted to the proper height. Investing in a real piano bench is a must.
Now you have the piano bench at the correct height. So how far away is it supposed to be?
This is another easy test. When you sit up to your full height, you should tap your knuckles lightly against the fallboard. At the correct distance, the arm will be nearly straight without being totally locked.
If you’re working with an electronic keyboard instead of a traditional piano, you can tap your knuckles on the plastic surface of your music stand. That’s in the same position as a piano’s fallboard.
Can you comfortably put your feet on the floor?
If not, you’re going to run into serious postural problems.
Kids need a place to set their feet so they can maintain their posture. It’s nearly impossible to keep your back straight and arms aligned if you don’t have a grounded grip on the floor.
Without your feet grounded, you’re constantly distracted and off-balance. Oftentimes when a child has a tendency to wiggle, it’s because they can’t get their balance properly on the bench.
Teachers should consider investing in an adjustable footstool for lessons. That way, you can change the height between students to make sure everyone is comfortable.
It’s important for kids to have support for their feet at the home piano, too. Parents don’t necessarily need to do anything fancy. You can just find a footstool or a plastic box that’s tall enough for your child to find their balance.
Kids Are Built to Wiggle
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about piano posture is trying to get a student to sit still. That goes especially for younger kids. Is there a lot of wiggling, leg swinging, or shifting happening?
That’s okay. In fact, that’s normal!
Kids are bundles of energy. They simply aren’t built to sit still for long periods of time. Their bodies are growing, and their attention spans are short. Older kids might have an easier time being still, but younger ones are destined to wiggle.
So part of good piano posture isn’t actually about sitting at the piano at all. It’s about getting out all of that energy so that the student can focus.
Yes, exercise! Students, parents, and teachers can all get involved. Before you start your lesson, do some warmups and fun games.
Warming up doesn’t have to take a long time. In fact, you can do some of these exercises in less than five minutes!
Try these quick stretches:
- Reach up to the sky and then bend over and touch your toes.
- Shake your hands and arms out like you’re getting all the energy out.
- Spin around in a circle.
- Jump up and down five times.
Now, not every parent or teacher is going to want to do all that. But it’s a great way for the average younger child to expend some energy.
Make It a Game
Lessons and practice don’t need to be static. You can play games as you work on your skills! The best games are the ones that get kids up and moving around a room.
Sometimes you might play games that don’t involve moving. Your student might be matching music notes to their definitions, for example. But you can add a physical element to this by setting the board at one end of the practice area and the cards at the other end.
Rhythm and Dance
Who doesn’t love grooving to some music? Playing the piano is as much about feeling the beat as it is about technical prowess. You can practice clapping or tapping along to the rhythm of a song, which is a great way to get moving!
Another good note is to take breaks at regular intervals during the lesson. Get up from the bench, dance around, play a game.
Different kids have different tolerance levels for stillness. But most can’t sit still for much longer than their age in minutes. Are you teaching a kindergartener? They’ll probably start wiggling every five minutes.
Build some breaks into the lessons and practices. If you’re a teacher, you can hop on the piano and play some jazzy music to encourage some movin’ and groovin’.
What Good Posture Looks Like
Now you know how to position the bench properly. You know how to take breaks and expend a child’s energy so they can focus on their posture. What does good posture actually look like?
There are a couple of different components of the ideal posture.
A Straight Back
Keeping your back straight isn’t just good for your spinal health. It actually affects the quality of your play. If your shoulders are hunched or your neck is bent forward, that will affect your ability to reach the keys easily. It will also make your back start aching during long practice sessions.
Here’s a fun cheat: Tell the student to imagine an egg being cracked over their head. How does it feel for the ooze to drip down their neck and back?
This will make them naturally straighten up. Remembering that “egg feeling” is a great way for a student to remember their proper posture.
As mentioned, it’s vital that the student has somewhere to rest their feet. If they can’t reach the floor, they need a footstool!
If you’re seeing wiggly legs, crossed ankles, or even kicking, you’ll need to encourage the feet to stay on the ground.
Some piano teachers make a little square out of tape on the footstool. That’s where the student’s feet are meant to be. You can offer to reward them for keeping their feet there during the whole lesson, and they’ll build up a habit much more easily!
The shoulders should be relaxed. Then the arms should be flexible enough to easily reach different keys. As mentioned, the forearms should stay parallel to your floor.
Before a lesson, you can encourage your student to release all of the tension in their shoulders. Pretend that your shoulders and arms are a limp puppet’s. Flop toward the floor, roll the shoulders, shake out the arms, and you’re ready to play.
The more tension the child carries, the more difficult it will be to play. Staying relaxed and happy is the best way to learn the piano.
Piano posture doesn’t need to be daunting. As long as you have the right tools, it’s just a matter of knowing your student.
Check the bench first. Then give the student vivid imagery to remember the posture. It helps to do warmup exercises prior to the lesson.
Younger children will have trouble sitting still no matter what. For these students, you’ll want to incorporate play and dance into the lesson. That way, they can focus on the piano as much as possible!