Helping our piano kids to develop good technical habits is an important part of piano teaching. So much of what we teach happens away from the sheet music – we are responsible for giving our students all of the skills they’ll need to have a long, happy and healthy life on the piano bench.
One of the many important things to teach is good posture at the piano. And while we inevitably end up teaching some kids who go home and practice on benches that are teetering on 3 legs, keyboards that are propped up on a computer desk and a whole host of other eyebrow-raising scenarios… we can still help them to develop proper piano posture while they are in lessons with you. Posture is important – it affects your students’ playing abilities and it also affects their physical health. As they enter into intermediate and advanced repertoire, good posture habits will prevent injury and enable them to inject expression into their playing with ease.
3 Steps to Good Piano Posture
As we’re dealing with kids, long-winded discussions of posture is really not the best way to make your advice stick; kids will tune out pretty fast. Giving your piano kids an association with something that has some strong imagery is a great way to drive these concepts home. Here’s what I use:
1. Straight Back – A straight back not only makes you look great on the piano, it also has bearing on everything else you do while playing. Slouchy shoulders, a rounded neck, tense shoulders… they can all wreak havoc on your piano kids’ posture.
Do you remember the “Crack and egg on your head, let the yolk run down…” sing song you used to do as a kid? This is great imagery for keeping your neck and spine in alignment and straight. How? Have some fun pretending to crack an imaginary egg on your piano student’s head. Talk vividly about how it would feel to have all that ooey gooey slim running down your neck. How it would be cold and slippery as it ran down the small of your back. Did you see what just happened? They straightened up! Their shoulders fell… their neck stretched up instead of out! Now all you need to do is whisper “remember the egg” as they play and that sensational memory will have them sitting nice and tall.
2. Dangling Legs – If you don’t have a stool for your little ones, it’s a great idea to get one. Having flat feet on the floor or other surface gives your student a sense of being grounded.
For kids whose feet wiggle around, cross at the ankles, or (argh!) kick your piano as they play, the fix is as simple as a piece of tape. Make a big deal about a “sticky swamp” – kids love the idea of quicksand. This tape becomes quicksand (place the tape sticky side up on your floor or stool) and their feet become “hopelessly” stuck. The tape makes a noise as it peels off of their sock if they try to move so it’s a good non-verbal reminder. Offer a reward for staying in the quick sand for the entire lesson and you’ll soon have those feet firmly planted where they belong.
3. Shoulders, Arms and Hands – Another element of good piano posture involves your students’ arms, starting with relaxed shoulders, flexible arms and wrists held parallel to the floor and a nicely curved hand. This can really be affected by your piano bench, so check out this blog post for help in that arena.
My Piano Kids LOVE this imagery… To help your kiddos gain a sense of flexibility and relaxation in their arms requires them to “let go” of tension – which for a kid (who is ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice) can be really difficult. Show your student a video of a marionette doll (or of Pinocchio as they probably aren’t familiar with him!) and then give them their own set of “marionette strings”. Tie a string around each of their wrists leaving lots of play. Have them practice relaxing their arms totally giving you (the puppet master) control over how their arms move. Prepare for lots of giggles. Not only is this fun, but it helps your student to know what it feels like to have freedom in their arms and wrists. When I notice tension as they play in the future, I just say “puppet arms!” and they are usually immediately able to find that floating feeling again.
Discussions of Posture Don’t Have to Be Boring!
Use some imagination when discussing posture at the piano. It makes a lasting impression on your piano students and you’ll spend much less time fixing and explaining during lesson time as you can then simply use a word or two to instantly remind them of what good posture should feel like.
Give it a try! Put together your egg-dripping, quicksand-stuck marionette image and watch your piano kids’ posture improve dramatically!
Another way to use imagery in your lessons is to create a story behind the music. Kids play with much more expression and feeling if they have a mental picture of what could be happening along with the music. The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo provides this vivid imagery through a super-cool comic created by an illustrator for Marvel Comics! Your kids will play with lots of maturity as they play to create the soundtrack for the comic.