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 Post subject: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2011 7:03 am 
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Hi everyone, I'm new here.

As a person who has suffered countless piano injuries, some major, some minor, the topic of pain interests me greatly. Technique aside, how do you deal with pain?

Pain is a tricky thing. When I was younger, my school gym teacher used to say, "no pain, no gain." We've all heard it; the theory being that muscles hurt when you are developing them, and that you've got to keep pushing beyond the pain to get good results.

My piano teacher, on the other hand, always said "if you feel pain, stop!" The theory here is that pain is your body's way of warning you that you've overexerted some muscle and that you better stop or you will get a serious injury. This is the approach I've taken all my pianistic career, yet it has forced me to take weeks and sometimes months off over small, yet very real, injuries.

Now, when you listen to Horowitz playing a Tchaikovsky concerto or Bermann a Lizst Transcendental Etude, it is quite difficult to imagine that the great pianists don't feel some degree of soreness (perhaps a great deal) after such colossal performances. I don't think it matters what school of technique you follow, God didn't create hands to pound out so many crashing chords and octaves on ivory keys! And yet I never once heard Horowitz complain or show the least sign of agony. Did he not feel pain? I find that highly unlikely. Did he simply ignore it?

So my question is, is it natural for pianists to feel a certain amount of pain after practicing demanding repertoire, and are there times when you ignore the pain, and if so, how do you know when to ignore pain and when to take it seriously?


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2011 7:47 am 
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Your teacher was right and you will find out most modern gymnastics instructors will follow the same line. You will not become a strongman if you start on day one lifting elephants: You start lifting ants.

Pain is not a sign of good practice, instead, it tells you you are doing something wrong or too fast. I admit I am no Horowitz, but I have been playing for over 20 years and in all those years I have never ever felt any pain anywhere as a result of playing and I have tackled some hair-raising stuff.

Take an example: when your arm hurts, what does that say? It says you are not relaxing. Ignore that and risk paralysis instead.

The idea is not to stop for a week if something hurts, it is to continue practice more gently. I do not believe you put your hand in a cast just because you felt a little pang on your small finger. Stop and relax and next time all should be well. Continue and yes, risk tendonitis, for example. Talking of that, can you give me a single example of a pianist with tendonitis?

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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2011 10:06 am 
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Location: Edinburgh, UK
richard66 wrote:
Pain is not a sign of good practice, instead, it tells you you are doing something wrong or too fast.


Spot on.

mauvis sang wrote:
Now, when you listen to Horowitz playing a Tchaikovsky concerto or Bermann a Lizst Transcendental Etude, it is quite difficult to imagine that the great pianists don't feel some degree of soreness (perhaps a great deal) after such colossal performances. I don't think it matters what school of technique you follow, God didn't create hands to pound out so many crashing chords and octaves on ivory keys! And yet I never once heard Horowitz complain or show the least sign of agony. Did he not feel pain? I find that highly unlikely. Did he simply ignore it?


I would be very surprised if he felt pain after a lengthy virtuoso performance. Fatigue perhaps, pain no. Playing lots of big chords shouldn't be something which is painful; you're not fighting the piano and if your hand/arm is relaxed and your muscles attuned to the various processes they won't be stressed by them.


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2011 5:29 pm 
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Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Quote:
So my question is, is it natural for pianists to feel a certain amount of pain after practicing demanding repertoire, and are there times when you ignore the pain, and if so, how do you know when to ignore pain and when to take it seriously?


No, pain is not natural. Further, I do not think that a pianist performing anything within their technical capabilities will have pain. There are great histories of series of the most demanding performances within a single night (like 3 concertos) or week (5 demanding recitals), etc. For a pianist to perform is like having a cheetah run at 70 mph or a fish swim at top speed: that's is what it does. Fatigue is another matter and is certainly to be expected. To be sure, one can approach playing with the "wrong" technique, and their is some variation of anatomy to be considered, even within a single pianist. I for example, have a much shorter tendon (extensor digitorum communis, see at http://www.bartleby.com/107/illus424.html) connecting my LH 5th finger to my 4th finger, which causes a severe restriction of extension (lifting) of that finger when the 4th is down and not able to give it more freedom. It hurts when I try to mirror what my RH can do. Plus I would have to add this: pianists are not immune to disease :( . There are disease states that affect the hands, like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis and Scelroderma, (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is not a significant pathology in pianists to my experience) that may also be a consideration. In summary, it should not hurt a pianist to practice and perform any more that it does a bird to fly! With one exception: in the early stages of developing a particular technical aspect when one may be using muscles/tendons not used before or in a manner not used before (no different than the Weekend-Warrior, or first leaf-raking of autumn, first snow-shoveling of winter, or spring-cleaning, etc.), one can certainly develop an expected soreness that usually achieves its zenith at 2-3 days afterwords. Another exception, I believe would be the finger tips. If a repertoire or practice regimen has an unusual amount of percussive FF-FFF playing, it would not be any more unusual to expect soreness of the finger tips, than it would to expect a ballerina's toes to hurt from "too much" en pointe. In either case, nothing that a little rest and recovery time wouldn't fix.

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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:08 am 
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Thank you for everyone's replies so far. It leaves me speechless to hear people say that they do not feel pain after practicing for hours such savage pieces as Liszt's études or any of those big 19th century concertos, given that I so often feel pains playing much slighter pieces. Having given it some thought, I suppose it's rather like those martial arts masters who can chop through bricks with their bare hands at one stroke without damaging their bones or muscles: it's a mixture of immediate technique and years of practice. Still, it is not something I can fathom, since I am so far from it.


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2011 10:11 am 
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Location: Gulfport, MS, USA
I agree with everyone else. I stopped working on Chopin 25/12 a few years because I couldn't practice it without pain and I knew that meant there was something wrong with my technique. And since I was so conditioned to those bad habits, I had to quit working on it altogether. Right now I'm having the same problem with Beethoven Op. 13. Fortunately I haven't practiced it enough to develop bad habits, but I'm having to spend a lot of time concentrating on the right approach to the LH tremolo so that I don't play with too much tension, which not only causes pain but inhibits facility and speed.

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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2011 2:38 pm 
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I must add that when I began practising voicing (for example, in Schibert's Impromptu op 90/3) the muscle to the right (that activates the 5th finger) made itself felt, but only a little and soon vanished and never became pain. I was experiencing a bit of pain once also, but not because of playing, but because of bad posture (back problems).

I find that the tips of fingers might hurt, but if chords are not thumped, but if one presses down on the keys from not too hight, as if one were trying to push the piano away, fff can be achieved without stress.

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"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2011 5:02 pm 
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richard66 wrote:
I find that the tips of fingers might hurt, but if chords are not thumped, but if one presses down on the keys from not too hight, as if one were trying to push the piano away, fff can be achieved without stress.



I would argue that this is true if the tempo allows. However, any virtuosic passages (rapid octaves/chords in Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, etc.) will not allow for "pressing" but only striking ("thumped" as you say). In fact, velocity will also prevent the "pre-positioning" of the hand prior to playing, and is the principle reason that the technique of direct play without pre-positioning (which is about practicing the approach through space from the prior octave/chord) should be an integral part of one's technical training. ... IMO ... :)

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"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2011 5:18 pm 
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maybe, but I have not really got that far and I am certainly not the fastest player around. I have, however, started working on a Rachmaninof prelude, but did not notice this. Maybe I noticed something with Albeniz's Asturias or Chopin's Etude in c, but I blame that on not too good a technique.

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"Please do not shoot the pianist
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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2011 9:18 pm 
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Hi Richard
richard66 wrote:
I have, however, started working on a Rachmaninof prelude


I have been working on three for some time and progress has been slow (given the time that I have to dedicate to it): Op.23: 4,5,6. No. 4 is ready to record, but I keep delaying doing so; No. 5 is memorized and almost (but not quite) up to speed; No. 6 is up to speed but not totally memorized. These are tough, IMO, lots of difficult control issues. Which one(es) are you working on (when you can get the time too)?

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 1:15 pm 
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I have been working off and on op 23/5 for somew years now. I always feel my technique is never quite there yet, so I stop. I must say. however, each time I start again it seems easier.

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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 6:25 pm 
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It's definitely tuff. Good luck. We have an excellent (IMO) performance on PS already.

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 6:33 pm 
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I make no pretence of competing with it! :oops:

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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 8:11 am 
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musical-md wrote:
It's definitely tuff.

Heck yes, that prelude is one Tuff Puppy :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 2:34 pm 
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It is the middle section that gets me. Interesting, because I started to play it eons ago at the insistence of the teacher. How I envy my old-time technique.

Sigh :oops: .

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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 05, 2011 12:55 am 
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I've studied and recorded Op. 23, No. 5, but the recording, although good, is not up to my standard. I think that if I were to make another pass at the prelude, I could probably make a better recording. On the other hand, I'm in no rush to do it. Why not? Because over the years I've seen on piano forums loads of young pianists who seem to believe that Rachmaninoff wrote only two preludes: Op. 3, No. 2 in C#m and Op. 23, No. 5 in Gm. It really bugs me! (I would bet that they buy, copy or download the single piece of sheet music rather than getting the whole volume.) They have no clue as to richness of the other preludes. As it was, I recorded ten of the preludes from Opp. 23 and 32, but I took the least pleasure in doing the Gm which has become a "conservatory anvil". I always try to find lesser known pieces, so I'd probably learn one of Rachmaninoff's other preludes rather than trying to motivate myself to play the anvil again.

David

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 Post subject: Re: Am I being overly cautious about pain?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 05, 2011 2:31 pm 
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When I first started learning it I had not yet heard it and had no idea it was famous. Up to this day I have heard it maybe 3 times and these when I have chosen to do so.

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"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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