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 Post subject: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2010 3:38 pm 
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I just had a friend over for coffee this morning and we got to talking about piano (of course) (he plays piano too), but then somehow started talking about basketball and he mentioned that he regularly jams his fingers when playing basketball. This sounds horrible to me but he said that he doesn't really break his fingers, but it does hurt. So he got hold of a grip thingy (not sure what you call it - maybe a grip builder?) and it's the type where you can press down fingers individually and also press down on the hand in a way that also works the wrist. He said that many guys in his office have some kind of grip-builder on their desks which they use to strengthen their hands for sports. Some of them are simply the kind that look like a large V and you just squeeze it. But the kind that my friend described - doesn't it sound perfect for pianists? Have any of you used grip-builders (also please tell me what they're really called). I'm thinking that it may be just what I need, especially to help me have stronger fingers for trills.

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2010 4:30 pm 
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I don't know if strengthening the muscles within the hand and fingers would be the best idea for pianists. I would be cautious in case it could cause decreased flexibility and end up being counterproductive. For trills, I think of using the fingertips as extensions that rest on the keys and the power/energy/motion moreso comes from the rotary doorknob turning movement of the wrist.

What do others think?


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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2010 8:30 pm 
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Nicole wrote:
I don't know if strengthening the muscles within the hand and fingers would be the best idea for pianists. I would be cautious in case it could cause decreased flexibility and end up being counterproductive.


hmm...now I really wonder. I'm a little afraid to try anything new because of my wrist problems. But I'd still like to hear if anyone has tried something like this. Also - and this may be the 'stupidest question(s) of the week', but are there muscles in the fingers? All I feel is skin and bones. And is it possible to strengthen tendons? Can you build tendons like you build muscle?

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sat Mar 20, 2010 8:27 am 
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There are no muscles in your fingers. They are entirely controlled by muscles in the forearm.

If you really want good strengthening that won't cause injury, try a Powerball. I don't use mine much these days (I have 3 of them), but they are extremely effective at giving your whole arm and shoulder great strength.

That said, I find that all the hand strengthening I need myself comes from simply playing, be it piano or one of those all-too-rare occasions when I have time to pick up one of my guitars.

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Last edited by Horowitzian on Sat Mar 20, 2010 3:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sat Mar 20, 2010 2:38 pm 
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I have never heard of a Powerball before. Kind of a weird thing, and probably you are right about getting enough strength training just by playing the piano. I play a lot, plus I workout regularly at the gym so my arms are strong. I wondered if there was a way to make just the actual fingers stronger. But that's interesting, though, so thanks for the information.

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sat Mar 20, 2010 3:49 pm 
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No problem. I suppose the only way to strengthen the fingers would be to eat a balanced diet, in order to support healthy bones and connective tissue.

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sat Mar 20, 2010 8:34 pm 
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Location: Germany
look here: http://www.prohands.net/

Christiane


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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sat Mar 20, 2010 9:39 pm 
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ch_a wrote:
look here: http://www.prohands.net/

Christiane


Wow, Christiane - that looks a lot like what I imagined! Thank you!! Now if I only knew if any pianists around here have actually used one...

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sat Mar 20, 2010 11:54 pm 
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Time Out, everyone! Nicole has a point. Please, just be careful Monica with any type of hand or finger grips. Before anyone injures themselves with finger exercises using hand or finger grips or the like, I thought I'd share a little background...

What we're talking about here is the risk of excessive force and repetitive strain injuries. If anyone has had a wrist problem, please find out the exact nature of the problem and current condition of the wrist before doing any hand or finger grips or any other exercises involving the fingers. Find out if there are any residual effects from a previous injury: calcification, stenosis, inflammation, etc. in the wrist. Even if it means to see a hand specialist. You don't want to injure or re-injure anything. To increase rapidity, as in trills, is not a question of strength, but skill to move fast through the efficiency of movement. It is a matter of technique, not brute strength. I think the story of David and Goliath is a fitting allegory for the notion of brute force and strength vs efficiency and technique. Playing the piano does not require an excess of strength as the weight of the forearm should be ample. "No pain no gain" is not the proper analogy for piano playing, as it's not like sports. When the hand is injured or fatigued, working it harder will not improve the situation, it will make it worse.

The biomechanics of piano playing does not involve strengthening one's grip, as in rock climbing. But rather, we are dealing with achieving individual finger equalization, independence, and versatility of movement. In other words, one of the goals of technique should be to equalize all fingers as much as possible. Obviously, this is not an attainable goal, but rather an ideal to strive for in the pursuit of technique. Besides, certain workouts to increase strength can also limit flexibility which will have a greater affect on playing.

The power in our fingers comes from the muscles which are attached to tendons that terminate in back of the forearm. For pianists, the tendons are the weakest link in the chain. They are different from ligaments, as tendons are collagenous, inelastic, fibrous cords that slide back and forth through the tunnel of the wrist. Some tendons can slide more than 2 inches inside the bony structures in the wrist, or rub against other ligaments. Tendons are enclosed in a synovial sheath that secretes the necessary lubricant for facilitative movement.

However, with the repetitive nature of piano playing can eventually lead to frictional stress and injury of the tendons along bony structures and ligaments. According to Thomas Mark, the threshold of stress injury starts at 1500 repetitions per hour. Let's take a metronome tempo of 120, the rate of repetition for 16th notes over 10 minutes is 4,800, or an hourly rate of 24,000 repetitions. Now you can see the scope of physiologic activity. Clearly, certain ranges of motion can support these rates, however, certain positions will lead to severe injury over time.

Four causes of injury to the tendons for the pianist:
1. Co-contraction: To move a bone in 2 directions, requires 2 sets of muscles - one to move it one way (contraction), and one to move it in the opposite direction (lengthening) to allow for movement. If it doesn't, by both muscles in a state of contraction, then this co-contraction prevents movement and can result in injury. This is most evident when playing with "curled fingers" as opposed to playing with "curved fingers"
2. Extreme positions: Maximum efficiency and mechanical advantage of the tendon to conduct the force from our fingers is with the wrist in a straight line with the forearm. Deviating from this straight line through awkward angles of the wrist, either sideways, up, or down, can also cause reduced strength, as well as injury. So, posture, bench height are also important.
3. Static muscular activity: In dynamic muscle activity, the muscle contracts to decrease its length initially, and when the body part moves it lengthens. This results in the healthy flow of blood into the muscle. In static muscular activity, as the muscle contracts, without changing its length as the body part doesn't move. This produces much more stress and prevents the circulation of blood into the muscle, leading to fatigue, and/or injury.
4. Excessive force: There is a limit to what the muscles, tendons, and supporting structures can withstand. It's not clear how much force will cause injury, but generally, doubling the force produces an exponential increase in the stress on the tendon. Tendons can fray or tear apart with this form of injury.

There are several ways to get acute tendinitis. Tendons may fray or tear apart with constant or excessive stress, which may lead to thickening, formation of nodules along the tendon which can all limit movement. The injury site may also calcify which would could lead to jerky movements. The tendon synovial sheath can also produce excess fluid causing it to swell, even to the point of the tendon becoming stuck in its own sheath within the small space of the carpel tunnel in the wrist. This is Carpel tunnel syndrome as the pressure also exerts on the median nerve, thus producing numbing and tingling on the thumb and 2nd finger. Circulation to the tendons are poor, so if the tendon becomes injured due to stress, the recovery period is very slow. Muscles can also be injured, but since they have a rich blood supply, healing is much faster. Healing can be unpredictable as calcification around the tendon sheath can lead to bumpy movements. Surgery may or may not be an option.

Maintaining a healthy body and proper fitness, sufficient rest, nutrition are very important to prevent injury. Proper hand height, shoulder and back posture are also paramount. It's important to eliminate over repetition, co-contraction, awkward positions, static muscular activity, and excessive force. Remember to maintain proper curvature of the fingers, and don't curl them. When my hands tense up, I like to allow my hands to hang from the shoulders along the side of my body to allow for circulation to reach the hands, but proper rest is the only way to ensure that the tendons recover from fatigue. Injury requires a much longer healing period, and will require modified retraining methods to rehabilitate one's former abilities. But, it may take years....


Disclaimer: Any exercise or product can cause injury, so follow directions, and start small, don't rush to augment the strength routine too fast. Be careful, and you should ask your physician or hand specialist if you're going to be serious about using exercises or hand grips, etc. Here is a unproven list of exercises and products that may be conducive for the pianist to strengthen fingers. Then again the great pianists never used any of these which further debunks the brute force or strength theory. But, for those who want to have another gadget, these look more convincing:
1. Squeezing hand putty
2. These might be good for individual finger strength: http://www.amazon.com/Yellow-Digiflex-E ... B00066FHVU
3. Mostly for rehab, but may work for pianists: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMsxGfACAfo
4. You're on your own on this one... You can also do 2-hand push ups on your finger tips. Start with all 5, 4, then down to 3 fingers. This is the exercise for the tiger claw in martial arts. We're not Bruce Lee, so don't ever do it with less than 3 fingers (he did it with 2). If you don't want to do dynamic push ups, you can simply do stationary push ups by just elevating and suspending your own body your the weight of various fingers, both curved and straight type. Order of increasing difficulty, finger #s: 1,2,3,4,5; 1,2,3,4; 1,3,4,5; 1,2,3; 1,3,4; 1,4,5 (extreme). I won't specify a time, because you're on your own peril here.

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sun Mar 21, 2010 2:25 am 
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I'm glad to see folks talking about this. :D

In the past I would marvel at ultra-slender female pianists who looked as though they
wouldn't have the strength to pull a fridge door open, much less play huge chords and loud arpeggios for long stretches of time. I wondered how in the world someone weighing barely 115 pounds could get such sound and power. But I watched the body posture of these types and realized that they were leaning forward and using the power of their lower torso, and even their leg quadriceps!!! After doing some reading, many authors have confirmed that even for those of us who do not have such a tiny build, contrary to the way of thinking from a century ago, the best playing uses the fingertips and often even the forearms themselves simply as extensions of the larger muscles of the trunk, which is where the true power comes from.

If you are playing properly, imagine that you should not be able to see your bellybutton when you look down. You should be leaning forward past it.


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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sun Mar 21, 2010 12:13 pm 
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I've deleted my post from last night because it didn't make much sense. :oops: So now this morning I am re-reading everything here and first of all would like to say thanks for sharing your knowledge and ideas. Nicole - I understand what you mean about leaning forward to produce more powerful playing. And George - I understand what you say about the tendons and repetitive stress injuries. I just get interested in topics that deal with hand positions, body posture, piano bench height, things like that because they are things I can easily try at home. Regarding these hand-strengthening gizmos - I mentioned them because I had not heard of them before and wondered if perhaps I was missing out on some easy thing that could finally help me to trill better. I think it's probably all in my head, but trills cause me the most anxiety when playing, and I many times don't play certain music if it has too many trills or actually just long trills. I'm okay with short trills. What I can't seem to do is get my fingers keep the trill going for longer time and in a steady fashion. I'd die happy if I could finally play nice, long trills! That's why I thought maybe a hand-builder thingy is something I should try. I probably won't though, as I don't want to screw up my wrists even more. Also, I don't remember if I've told this before, but working on my computer hurts me more than piano playing. And here I sit...

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sun Mar 21, 2010 5:45 pm 
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Hi Monica

I'm actually really glad you posted your original post because it allowed us to jump in and throw some ideas your way before you may have possibly even hurt yourself.

For long trills, in case you are not doing it already, try using finger 1 and 3 at same time, or 1 and 4 at same time and pretend you are frantically wiggling a doorknob with your wrist. Keep these two fingers on the keys -- no lifting off or if any lifting off, must be minimal. Don't use fingers that are adjacent to eachother, such as 2 and 3 at same time or 3 and 4 at same time, even though it would seem to make more sense. You can even practice on your computer desk to feel the difference. If you are playing a trill on two white keys, go to the extreme tips of the keys (don't fall off!) and position your wrist much lower than trilling thumb and other finger that is playing the trill. I am doing it now on my computer desk. I can get a good drumroll sound going on my desk here for a very long time, especially with finger 1 and 4. RRRRrrrrrrrddddddddddddd........

Maybe you are doing this already, but for those who are not, hopefully this advice will help with longer trills.


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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Sun Mar 21, 2010 8:49 pm 
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Hi Nicole,

I'm very grateful for the advice given to me by you, George, and the others. I am not currently taking lessons, so the help received on our forum is wonderful!

Regarding the trills - I do often use fingers 1 and 3, or 3 and 5. 1 and 4 is awkward for me - I'm trying it on my desk right now and can't get a nice drumroll like you. Actually, I can't get a drumroll with any finger combination. Seems I am just destined to be a crappy trill-player. :( I like that idea about playing at the end of the keys, though. And also with the wrist lower - not long ago I discovered this by accident, and it did help somewhat. So, thanks again - I'm taking a little break from practicing right now, but I'll try your ideas when I get back on my piano.

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Tue Mar 23, 2010 5:09 am 
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Quote:
I'd die happy if I could finally play nice, long trills!
I didn't know that playing trills was on your "Bucket List." :)

Hi Monica, I am glad that some of the physiological background helped. I just don't want to see anybody hurt their hand. If you still experience pain in your wrists, then that means that the tendonitis is still active, inflammation has not yet subsided. The synovial tendon sheath is vulnerable, especially if corticosteroid injection didn't work. If there is no calcification or arthritis in the carpel tunnel or wrist, then it will heal but it will take a longer time due to the poor blood flow to the tendons. I'd avoid exercises that involve bearing weight on your grip at the gym. Many people suffer from tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome, or tennis elbow, and the numbers are rising... Remember to use the same principles of bench height, elbow placement, wrist position, and relaxed should position when you're on the computer too. In addition, I recommend back and palm support for computer operation.

As you know, the height of the bench is determined by having length of the forearm in the vertical position position, such that the elbow is coplanar with key height. If the bench is too high, you compensate by having a low angle at the wrist which shifts the weight onto the wrist, and stresses the tendons even more in the carpel tunnel. If the bench is too high, you compensate by having a upward angle on the wrist, shifting the weight to the elbow and run the risk of tendonitis in the elbow. In either extreme, the shoulder is also stressed. In addition to bench height, and other aforementioned criteria,

I agree with Nicole, that leaning forward will also transfer power more efficiently to the keys because it's like having a shorter lever arm to do the same work, hence greater mechanical advantage. You're right about involving the legs, torso, etc. Horowitz once said that he plays the piano with his stomach. The abdominal muscles also get a workout... However, I don't think anyone will be getting 6-pack abs by playing the piano anytime soon. :)

Belief In Retraining:
Many pianists do not recover because they end up doing the same things that injured them in the first place - They try to toughen it out, practice technique, go with a "no pain no gain" approach, or play the way they've always been taught. These are all poor strategies that are not only ingrained in our bodies, but in our minds. Pianists have to question and be prepared to change their attitude and approach by retraining themselves. This should involve a precise process of retraining one's technique from the most elemental level, the beginning, and examining and questioning every motion as one progresses. One will have to retrain themselves based on the principles of anatomic movement, creating efficiency in movement, energy conservation/relaxation plan, rapidity protocol, fingering, and understanding the relationship of the pianist with the piano from an ergonomic standpoint. Physics cannot be overlooked, and even gravity's role should be addressed as the hands "fall" onto and "rebound" from the keyboard.

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 Post subject: Re: Get a grip ;)
PostPosted: Tue Mar 23, 2010 2:07 pm 
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88man wrote:
Quote:
I'd die happy if I could finally play nice, long trills!
I didn't know that playing trills was on your "Bucket List." :)
.

haha - that's a good one, and true! Also sleeping through the night. If only....

So about all this grip/tendonitis stuff - last night at the gym I worked out on all the machines, including lots of biceps/triceps/shoulder and realized that my arms are much stronger than they used to be (I've been working out regularly since last September). Also, I've noticed that I can produce a fuller sound on my piano, but I'm not sure if it's because I'm stronger or if it's because I'm trying to remember to lean in more now.

One more thing - my last teacher told me that much of my tendinitis and pain problems stem from playing too rigidly and holding much too much tension in my hands when I play. He showed me how that when you play anything on the piano, whether it's phrases or chords, your wrists should always be moving. Like when you come down on a chord, you shouldn't just sit there but you should move your wrist upwards. He explained to me that if you are constantly moving, then you are not as tense and therefore you are not overworking the tendons. I hope I explained that okay. I get what I'm talking about but maybe nobody else does. Oh well....my thing is to just remember all the 'good' advice when I'm actually sitting at my piano.

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my videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/monicapiano


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