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 Post subject: Wrist pain - Video examples
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 1:26 pm 
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I have a problem with pain in my right hand's wrist. It is not a new phenomena and I first encountered this problem many years ago but during the last couple of months, it has increased to a state where I feel I must do something about it. My piano teacher, who I have of course spoken to about this dilemma, sees the problem as a result of several technical issues in my playing as a) that I play with a rather stiff wrist b) that I play with tension overall and never give my hands and arms any time to rest.

But while my wrist look stiff, it is not really but rather it is just located in a very similar position all the time. I phase look it during trills but otherwise, it is not that stiff.

He adviced me to video tape myself to see the action which I have done and I thought that I might as well could get a second opinion as I know there are a lot of very good pianist who probably also knows a lot about technique on this forum.

I choosed three examples which I know the pain increases in and they are:

1. Fast scales as in the in of this Chopin Nocturne.
2. Bach as I never get to rest there (also check my wrist during the long trills).
3. Chromatic ascending scale (luckily, they seldom appear in music).

Any ideas folk?

Thanks for taking the time.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 2:40 pm 
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Allow me to give some opinions although I for sure don't belong to the group of "very good pianists who probably also know alot about technique" you addressed.

From what I see, your right hand wrist may be not be the loosest under the sun, but it does not look that stiff to me either. Your left hand wrist is stiffer and the left hand fingers also straighter.

Instead, your right hand looks well curved to me. Also that your fingers don't get straight during runs and the long trills - great!

So I have unfortunately nothing or less to say what addresses the current problem with the right hand wrists.

Some other observations however, but really - forget them if you find them useless. I don't like to be smart aleck.

Your fingers don't rest on the keys most of the time, instead they are above the keys. I think one has better tone control if the fingers remain on the keys, also for Bach. Sometimes a harsh tone comes out if the fingers have a long way down to the keys, this would not happen if they remain on the keys beside exceptions. If it should be all the way staccato, maybe this is such an exeption (maybe even for staccato try to remain on the keys? I don't know - other opinions on that?).

Indeed your wrists could look a bit more flexible, especially however the left wrist. I have seen some professionals in a concert, if they raise an arm their hand will hang down loosely, completely, almost 90 degree down. As I was a child, my old piano teacher often took my wrist and moved it up and down while I should play a phrase. Believe it or not, this helps to release tension. If someone moves the wrist while one plays, the wrist must be loose and gets looser and looser. I did the same on my son, he affirmed that he sensed a difference after loosening the wrist this way. One only needs to remember the great feeling tension free muscles create afterwards.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:19 pm 
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At last we get to see these golden hands :wink:

I am no expert on technical stuff like this (in fact totally disregard any physical aspects of playing) but I see little unusual here. As Olaf said your LH is generally rather flat compared to the RH, seems like you had good instructions how to properly bend and lift the fingers. It seems to me (but can't really see it from sideways so maybe wrong) that you have very little of no lateral wrist movement. Whether that good or bad, I dunno. Also surprises me how consistenly you RH thumb is trying to point upwards, until such time is it gets something to do. Could that be the problem ? No idea.

Good job on the scales ! Shame they don't occur more often :P

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:16 pm 
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MindenBlues wrote:
Allow me to give some opinions although I for sure don't belong to the group of "very good pianists who probably also know alot about technique" you addressed.

Badly chosen sentence. Anyone are welcome to comment as one do not have to be a teacher, studied teachnique in detail etc. to understand problems like this.
MindenBlues wrote:
From what I see, your right hand wrist may be not be the loosest under the sun, but it does not look that stiff to me either. Your left hand wrist is stiffer and the left hand fingers also straighter.

Instead, your right hand looks well curved to me. Also that your fingers don't get straight during runs and the long trills - great!

So I have unfortunately nothing or less to say what addresses the current problem with the right hand wrists.

Some other observations however, but really - forget them if you find them useless. I don't like to be smart aleck.

Your fingers don't rest on the keys most of the time, instead they are above the keys. I think one has better tone control if the fingers remain on the keys, also for Bach. Sometimes a harsh tone comes out if the fingers have a long way down to the keys, this would not happen if they remain on the keys beside exceptions. If it should be all the way staccato, maybe this is such an exeption (maybe even for staccato try to remain on the keys? I don't know - other opinions on that?).

Not resting on the keys is one of my problems. Probably originating from playing keyboard with sloppy keys for 7-8 years in various bands. If you just touch such a key, there will be a sound and to not risk this, you must keep your fingers off the keyboard. I practise this as soon as I can with slow scale exercises.
MindenBlues wrote:
Indeed your wrists could look a bit more flexible, especially however the left wrist. I have seen some professionals in a concert, if they raise an arm their hand will hang down loosely, completely, almost 90 degree down. As I was a child, my old piano teacher often took my wrist and moved it up and down while I should play a phrase. Believe it or not, this helps to release tension. If someone moves the wrist while one plays, the wrist must be loose and gets looser and looser. I did the same on my son, he affirmed that he sensed a difference after loosening the wrist this way. One only needs to remember the great feeling tension free muscles create afterwards.

I understand what you mean ans very often, I am not flexible enough which probably is one of the problems. My teacher pushing my arms and also my wrists sometimes when I play but as soon as I forget to feel relaxed, I fall back into bad habits.

What he ordered me from last session is to start every practise playing the Chopin Impromptu which I recently learnt and play it slow, really slow and never harder than mp to relax. Kind of boring but if it works, it is definitely worth it.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:30 pm 
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techneut wrote:
At last we get to see these golden hands :wink:

Hehe. Golden...hm.
techneut wrote:
I am no expert on technical stuff like this (in fact totally disregard any physical aspects of playing) but I see little unusual here. As Olaf said your LH is generally rather flat compared to the RH, seems like you had good instructions how to properly bend and lift the fingers. It seems to me (but can't really see it from sideways so maybe wrong) that you have very little of no lateral wrist movement. Whether that good or bad, I dunno.

Probably bad and I play a lot using my fingers only. I should involve more of the wrist and arm.

The difference between the hands is much more obvious when filmed. But it is rather left hand that is doing wrong and is not in position. Should work on that too.

techneut wrote:
Also surprises me how consistenly you RH thumb is trying to point upwards, until such time is it gets something to do. Could that be the problem ? No idea.

Yeah I know, looking silly and it could be that too. Damn, can be a lot ;).
techneut wrote:
Good job on the scales ! Shame they don't occur more often :P

Perhaps I should begin submitting Czerny's op.821 (160 eight measure exercises)? ;)

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 8:24 pm 
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Have you noticed how tense your jaw is? I'm willing to bet the source of the problem is all in your head, literally. Your facial muscles are clenched. Relax your jaw.

Your neck is very tense. Try stretching your anterior deltoids and strengthening your posterior deltoids.

How about your eardrums? It is very easy to almost subconsciously contract the tiny bits that make up and surround the ears.

The muscles on the tops and outsides of your forearms are overactive. Using those long flexors make for very tight wrists.

From the fingers' point of view...I think I'm seeing a lack of transfer of leverage (therefore a lack of legato, maybe?). With each note, it seems that your fingers are trying to initiate a new direction of motion, instead of carrying the mass of your arm smoothly across the keys. (I know from your recordings, you know how to attain this smoothness, you've just acquired some mal-adaptive coordinations. You can break those habits.) Let the keys push your fingers up, instead of lifting them individually. I think you might be activating opposing sets of muscles simultaneously. This creates enormous friction. (Do your forearms get hot to the touch after playing, this is a sign of friction.)

Tension may also be caused by relying on the pedal to create legato, instead of actually making sure that two fingers are always in contact with the keys to play the legato smoothly.

The timing of the keystroke and the actual sounding of the tone differs significantly between an acoustic and a digital piano. This makes a huge difference in the fine tuning (pun intended) of your playing mechanism. Stop playing on the digital piano!!! I've screwed up my technique more than once on those diabolical gadgets.

That's just some random ideas... :wink:


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2007 12:19 pm 
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Robert, I think it's great you did this. I think we all should video tape ourselves playing to get objective opinions. And this problem you have with wrist pain is something I have also. To make a long story short, I have tendonitis. When I was first diagnosed, the doctor said it was incurable, which made me very sad. But lately I've learned that it can be cured, so I am hopeful. Just yesterday, I had my first piano lesson. My last one was twenty years ago.
The very first thing my teacher noticed was that I keep my right hand wrist up too high when I play. He said this is pinching the nerve on the underside which obviously is not good. Pete probably knows the technical terms for this. Anyway, my teacher said in order to play fast, I have to learn to hold my wrist straighter and use my fingers more in a way like Allan Fraser suggests. Also, my teacher suggested sitting at a different height on the bench.
If in this video you are indeed playing on a digital piano, then I agree with Pete. Don't do it. Before I bought my grand, I played all the time on a Clavinova and think this screwed up my wrists. One more thing, apply a heat pad to your wrist for 10 minutes, then a cold pack for another 10 minutes, then back to the heat pad, cold pad, ending with the heat pad. This brings blood rushing to the hurting area and helps heal any tendonitis.
Oh, yeah, one more thing. My teacher says you must warm up before you practice. I'm very impatient and hate to do this, although I see the wisdom in doing so. Practice scales, arpeggios, slowly, then maybe a slow piece - all together warming up for 15 minutes before you dig into your regular pieces.
Hope any of this helps.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2007 12:28 pm 
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Tendonitis - I wish all the best to you to overcome this, Monica!

And also, that it would be a great idea with that video taping to get other opinions about the own playing and posture style. I never have seen a video of myself playing, but it seems to be a good thing, to get other opinions on how to improve and to have a mirror itself. Probably I will be frightened about the own posture.

Regarding digital piano, beside the grand I play sometimes on a digital piano Kawai MP9500. The keys are much heavier and my hands start to hurt too on this piano after some time. On my grand I can play for hours without experience a bad feeling in the hands. So in my case there IS a difference regarding real and digital piano here.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2007 9:08 pm 
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PJF wrote:
Have you noticed how tense your jaw is? I'm willing to bet the source of the problem is all in your head, literally. Your facial muscles are clenched. Relax your jaw.

And druel on the keyboard? ;) Had a friend in the youth who did that from time to time. Not nice looking.

But I understand what you mean. I sometimes also bite my teeth together but I usually discover that. But even though I do not change face a lot, it do not think this is my problem. I just see very few reasons to move around my head or change face.
PJF wrote:
Your neck is very tense. Try stretching your anterior deltoids and strengthening your posterior deltoids.

I guess that is from scale as it is not possible to see in the other videos? When I must do something that is technically demanding as this 2-hand 4 octave chromatic scale, I tend to become tensed in my entire body. But if I try to relax, I immediately play wrong. Is not this the case for you? Can you play something in full speed relaxed? Creating the focus is how I raise the speed the extra 20% but I cannot keep it for very long. Just a few seconds.
PJF wrote:
How about your eardrums? It is very easy to almost subconsciously contract the tiny bits that make up and surround the ears.

I don't follow here. How can you control your eardrums?
PJF wrote:
The muscles on the tops and outsides of your forearms are overactive. Using those long flexors make for very tight wrists.

Arn't you supposed to use these muscles rather than just playing with your fingers (which I have always heard is wrong)?
PJF wrote:
From the fingers' point of view...I think I'm seeing a lack of transfer of leverage (therefore a lack of legato, maybe?). With each note, it seems that your fingers are trying to initiate a new direction of motion, instead of carrying the mass of your arm smoothly across the keys. (I know from your recordings, you know how to attain this smoothness, you've just acquired some mal-adaptive coordinations. You can break those habits.) Let the keys push your fingers up, instead of lifting them individually. I think you might be activating opposing sets of muscles simultaneously. This creates enormous friction. (Do your forearms get hot to the touch after playing, this is a sign of friction.)

Here, I really think you have a point. I lift one finger while pushing next finger down simultaneously instead of just moving the wrist in the aquired direction and let the key mechanics lift the finger. Is this what you mean?
PJF wrote:
Tension may also be caused by relying on the pedal to create legato, instead of actually making sure that two fingers are always in contact with the keys to play the legato smoothly.

The timing of the keystroke and the actual sounding of the tone differs significantly between an acoustic and a digital piano. This makes a huge difference in the fine tuning (pun intended) of your playing mechanism. Stop playing on the digital piano!!! I've screwed up my technique more than once on those diabolical gadgets.

That's just some random ideas... :wink:

Well, when it comes to digital versus acustic piano, you cannot jus easily say that this differs significantly as it really depends on the instrument. I actually gain more pain from my Schimmel than my digital while my Nylund feels better. Also, several new digital models just rip out the mechanics of the acoustics and digitalize the sound so the action is the same. For example Yamaha GT2 which has the same keys and mechanics as their concert grand and then they use optic sensors to read the key action, converts it to midi and play it back using samples. But with cheap digitals, yes. You need to spend $4,000 or more on a digital to get a good one.

But I went to the local piano shop and played on a Yamaha piano of the silent serie today and this was not bad at all. Here you get a real piano which can be converted to digital and played at in head phones when the family is sleeping. But not cheap at all :(. About $8,000. Silent grands cost about $25,000.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2007 9:15 pm 
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pianolady wrote:
Robert, I think it's great you did this. I think we all should video tape ourselves playing to get objective opinions. And this problem you have with wrist pain is something I have also. To make a long story short, I have tendonitis. When I was first diagnosed, the doctor said it was incurable, which made me very sad. But lately I've learned that it can be cured, so I am hopeful. Just yesterday, I had my first piano lesson. My last one was twenty years ago.
The very first thing my teacher noticed was that I keep my right hand wrist up too high when I play. He said this is pinching the nerve on the underside which obviously is not good. Pete probably knows the technical terms for this. Anyway, my teacher said in order to play fast, I have to learn to hold my wrist straighter and use my fingers more in a way like Allan Fraser suggests. Also, my teacher suggested sitting at a different height on the bench.

Sorry to hear but you seem to be doing fine as your recordings are great. :)

Holding wrist straighter and playing more with my fingers is quite the opposite from what I have learnt but if it keeps the pain away, it is of course worth it. I sit pretty low (always changing it to the lowest position) but that does not show on the video (probably because of the camera angle).
pianolady wrote:
If in this video you are indeed playing on a digital piano, then I agree with Pete. Don't do it. Before I bought my grand, I played all the time on a Clavinova and think this screwed up my wrists.

I am not sure (of you read the reply to Pete) that this is the problem. And in my case, that would reduce my practise time to about zero and as everyone shouts at me when playing loud and I am about never alone in the house.
pianolady wrote:
One more thing, apply a heat pad to your wrist for 10 minutes, then a cold pack for another 10 minutes, then back to the heat pad, cold pad, ending with the heat pad. This brings blood rushing to the hurting area and helps heal any tendonitis.
Oh, yeah, one more thing. My teacher says you must warm up before you practice. I'm very impatient and hate to do this, although I see the wisdom in doing so. Practice scales, arpeggios, slowly, then maybe a slow piece - all together warming up for 15 minutes before you dig into your regular pieces.
Hope any of this helps.

I tend to skip the warm up but these things might work. My teacher says that I should play the Chopin Impromptu third of the speed (killing me ;)) and very soft and use this as warm up. Lets see if it works.

And to you all. Thanks for all the ideas and taking the time with my troubles. I really appreciate it!

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2007 10:14 pm 
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I really hope you can resolve this problem before it develops into a permanent injury. I've been down this route twice already. You have my prayers and best wishes for a speedy recovery!

Teacher hat on...

The muscles on the tops of your forearms are overactive in the sense that you're using them to actively lift one finger, while simultaneously activating the opposing muscles to push another finger down. Opposing muscles are contracting at the same time, creating alot of friction. In legato passages, let the keys push your fingers up instead of actually lifting them (this is facilitated by a properly regulated grand piano. I'm not sure it's possible on an upright.) It's a gentle 'easing up' of the wrist, via the musles of the upper arm and shoulder, that balances the weight of your playing mechanism with the resistance and/or rebound of the keys. This could be the most difficult thing to achieve in piano technique, IMO.

About relaxing, the word 'relax' is a bit of a misnomer in piano playing. However, there should never be any excess tension or unnecessary muscle activations going on while at the keyboard, ever. (So, by that definition, yes, I do play 'relaxed' all the time. I spent five years on it, at least, sorry.) I submit that the root of your tension is above your shoulders. Your jaw shouldn't be contracing like that. You don't have to keep your mouth open, just don't clench it, please. Drooling is optional. :lol: When you first do the correct 'relaxing', you can expect to feel like Samson post-haircut. It's like riding a unicycle or ice skating, very slippery and insecure, but once you get the hang of it, balance is automatic.

Contracting the eardrums is somewhat like wiggling the ears; some can do it voluntarily and some can't. If you were doing that, you would likely not be aware of it, so I'm not sure what to suggest here.

Do you ever get tension headaches or pain in your shoulders?


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 7:54 am 
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robert wrote:
I sometimes also bite my teeth together but I usually discover that.

I guess we all have something special we do... I tend to pull my lips inward when something difficult is going on. I'm usually aware of it, and trying to break the habit.

Sometimes I have some shoulder and back discomfort after a several-hours recording session but it always quickly subsides. Apart from that, never a problem but then I don't practice for hours on taxing stuff like you guys do.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 10:31 am 
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techneut wrote:
Apart from that, never a problem but then I don't practice for hours on taxing stuff like you guys do.


Your stuff is very taxing, to me anyway, so I think I'm feeling kind of bad again.

Robert, I thought of another thing my teacher told me. Don't do pushups. At least with your hands flat on the floor. It puts a lot of strain on the wrists. You can grip a bar, like one of those bracket-shaped bars or heavy dumbells to do pushups and then your wrists are straight.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 10:41 am 
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pianolady wrote:
Your stuff is very taxing, to me anyway, so I think I'm feeling kind of bad again.

Don't... With taxing I meant the real virtuoso stuff like Chopin or Liszt Etudes. If I were to practice one particular Chopin Etude four hours a day I'm sure I would get some kind of problem too.

pianolady wrote:
Robert, I thought of another thing my teacher told me. Don't do pushups. At least with your hands flat on the floor. It puts a lot of strain on the wrists. You can grip a bar, like one of those bracket-shaped bars or heavy dumbells to do pushups and then your wrists are straight.

Hm, I do 20-30 pushups every evening, and on thursdays usually another couple of dozen during fitness. My wrists are none the worse for it, and seem in fact stronger than they used to be. I was however told to place the hands pointing inwards instead of straight ahead, not sure why, but I thought I'd better follow that advice even though it seems to be harder that way.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 10:48 am 
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Since you never screwed up your wrists, you probably don't have to worry about it. Maybe people with wrist problems shouldn't do them. Who knows, everybody's different.

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