Stiff wrists are a common problem among beginning piano students. As they struggle to contend with the myriad of newness that comes with learning to play the piano, their wrists often become tense in reaction to their concentration or unease.
Stiff wrists are the dragon lurking behind a host of other piano technique issues. Loosen those wrists and watch your piano students’ playing improve in leaps and bounds. By releasing the tension in your piano students’ wrists, you are releasing the tension in their playing. And when the tension is gone, magic happens!
Today we’re sharing some tips and exercises you can use to encourage that all-important relaxation in your piano students’ wrists.
“Learn to Let Go” and “Circle in the Sky”
The secret to loosening stiff wrists in your piano students lies in creating an awareness of the action of the wrist itself. Kids don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their wrists, but you can change this using the two following exercises:
Learn to Let Go: Have some fun with this one. Put on a recording of a silly 50’s rock song (Shake, Rattle, and Roll anyone?!) to take the seriousness out of the exercise and get your student up and off the bench. Practice holding your arms out to the sides. Tighten all your muscles. Tighter! Tighter! Tighter! Now release completely and let them flop to your sides. Do this with your student until your piano student can effectively “rag doll” their arms without controlling the downward motion.
Next, encourage your students to hold their elbows at their sides, again tighten, and then release allowing just the forearms to flop down. Once this is mastered, have them hold their wrists tight so that their hands point up to the ceiling and then release, letting the wrists hinge down so the hands flop forward.
Back at the piano, have your students do the same but release their hands down onto the keys. Repeat this flop onto the keys in time with the music in an up, down, up, down fashion. Children find it difficult to completely let go – but it’s so important for proper wrist action on the piano.
Circle in the Sky: The second vital motion to master is a subtle circle motion. But subtlety is not usually in a young child’s vocabulary… it’s not something they come by naturally. Give them guidance with the following exercise: Using the pentascale of C major (keep it simple!) have them press the first key and, while it’s held, down move their wrist in a full circle as though they were drawing a circle in the air above the key.
Once they can do one circle while holding down the key, then have them attempt to keep this “circle” in constant motion – continuing it as they depress the next key… aim for two air circles per key pressed. Use the metronome and start at a slow tempo. Gradually increase the tempo as your students master this motion.
Now… Transfer To The Music!
From this moment on, incorporate both of these exercises into everything they play. Piano technique should not be something that is viewed (by the student) as being separate from their repertoire. So, “flop” and “circle” those wrists through every single phrase. Demonstrate, and then have them imitate you using small sections of their piece. As their body awareness builds, so will their ability to emulate.
The most important thing to remember is to start early. Having an eye on your piano student’s wrist tension from the very beginning will produce a very mature-sounding student at a very young age.