how to avoid hand injuries?    







It was Albert Einstein who said: the problems CANNOT be solved on the same level they turned up to which. That is why discussing any problem related to the piano playing, and studying it we cannot omit as many aspects of the matter, so many others guys are habitually doing...! We must examine the subject from its intellectual, emotional, psychological and corporal side, too.


Question 15.


Our Friend from South Africa had asked about some things that are very close to the problem maintained above. Her questions look as follows:


"I need an answer to a problem which forced me to give up music when I was still a teenager at the College. As I got older (17, 18 yrs old) I lost a self-consciousness, which grew into complete inability to play in public.


1. I experienced an inability to read the music while playing. It was as if my head and my hands had lost their connection.


2. I would become unable to press the keys with my fingers – a kind of nervous paralysis. To depress the keys of the right hand I would have had to use the left hand to help!


It was an impossible situation. I ended up choosing the easiest pieces for performance at exams and was penalized for doing so, but I did this as my brain and my nerves somehow combined to render me unable to actually play. Is this a mental/physical condition and what is it called? Are there others who have suffered the same?


Something interesting I found on the Internet, it is a Masters degree dissertation by Jσnas Sen, entitled "Playing the Piano: playing with fire? A study of the occupational hazards of piano playing". Apparently there are performing arts clinics being set up now to deal with this and other various problems experienced by musicians – and pianists in particular."


My Answer:


Dear M.,


Approaching the problem I thoroughly read the text written by Mr. Jσnas Sen and found herein all the things I was deeply convinced they could be found in here. Unfortunately, I did not find hereby the most important detail RELATED to the matter, and yet I was nearly sure, even before I started studying the text, that the Author would NOT like to write about THIS aspect of the whole problem, exactly. Although this sorrowful conviction was based on my long-term experience, I was surprised once again. How it could be possible to refer such a complicated, many-sided problem as playing piano is in its entirety – without taking into account the absolutely most important aspect of the matter?


Well, at this point I feel, I should very seriously declare my absolutely welcoming attitude towards Mr. Sen's article! It was just the pure chance that Mrs. M. had found this text on the Internet and suggested me reading it. Though, because it has now happened so that this text raised to be the point our discussion could be started from, I actually have no other way apart of referring my thoughts after reading it.


At the beginning let us immediately quote Prof. Neuhaus: "Music lives within us, in our brain, in our consciousness; its "domicile" can be accurately established: it is our hearing."


According to this message, which in my opinion represents the indisputably actual worth, in any professionally oriented discussion about CORPORAL aspects of playing the piano, we cannot OMIT such a noteworthy point as is the HEARING. Such an error could be compared with tries to understand painting as a process, but focusing the attention on all the possible elements of the matter EXCEPT seeing; would it be reasonable?


The main idea in Mr. Sen's text, unfortunately, is NOT a new one, and however Mr. Sen quotes very many authoritative specialists from many various disciplines – he does not propose any NEW solution. It happens because of the fact that his and THEIR thinking about the art of playing and teaching the piano, have apparently been formed on very similar old beliefs typical to all the traditionally mechanical concepts, characteristic to early periods of the scientifically (...?) oriented theory of the piano.


Let you have a look at the following sentence! It was Albert Einstein who said:


- the problems CANNOT be solved on the same level they have been occurred into.


That is why discussing any problem related to the piano playing and studying it from its intellectual, emotional, psychological and corporal side, we cannot omit the HEARING, which FACTUALLY is the decisive factor, working herein as a general regulator INSIDE the pianists' mind & body entirety. This factor INTEGRATES the whole action and gives the pianist up-to-dated information about what is going on in the most important sector of the matter: in the sound, and via information related to its quality, informing as well about what might happen inside of the pianist's acting hands. I hope, I even do not must bring to light the fact, that the success in playing – including instrumental easiness and exactness, psychical comfort, artistic freedom and courage, etc, etc. – would never been achieved if the pianist would NOT be able to adequately INTEGRATE all the structurally essential elements of his/her MIND & BODY wholeness. Among them all, the ANTICIPATIVE INTERNAL HEARING should be seen as an element of the definitely most important value!


Answering the question related to Mrs. M.'s troubles in playing, "Is this a mental/physical condition and what is it called" I would like to say as the following:


I am not a physician, so you should not expect from me the scientifically adequate diagnose; still I am sure that my advice could offer you very positive help. So, I think it would be much enough if I, as an interim measure, name your problem as the "disintegrated game syndrome."


Mr. Sen wrote, "There are many controversies in the field. A lot of debate has been going on as to whether these various problems and injuries are caused by a wrong way of playing, or whether they are simply caused by overuse of the body."


Let us look at the problem logically! Once such heavy consequences as various hand injuries appear, here MUST act some SERIOUS factors that cause them and it is absolutely senseless to discuss the DEFINITIONS only! Precisely said, it changes nothing if we do agree that "a wrong way of playing causes particular injury", or if we do agree that the "corporal damage has been caused by overuse of the body." In fact, the first of these opinions means nearly the same as the second one; or – better – the first CAUSES the second; that is all – but THIS is NOT a solution yet...


Mr. Sen is profoundly right in his article when states: "Excessive uncoordinated muscular activity in the technique will interfere with good execution."


Sincerely said, in my opinion, Mr. Sen did NOT write even one untruthful sentence in his article! The problem stands herein only because Mr. Sen, as very many other respective writers, actually would NOT like to identify the role of HEARING and its controlling function as the REAL ONE for and in the entire process of professional piano schooling. However, not only this element should be used to PROTECT the pianist from his own tendencies to overload the piano playing.


Greatly talented musicians, who possess finer musical temperament and a WILL to express themselves UP TO THE LAST END, who are still not used to control their energy output in playing carefully enough, might experience even very severe PHYSICAL consequences. The cases of Gary Graffman, Leon Fleischer, Alexander Scriabin and – partially – Paderewski (who still had never been forced to discontinue his piano career), probably might represent this kind of a problem. I do NOT like to say that these great masters WERE unable to precisely listen to their playing and examine it ARTISTICALLY in very effective way! Not at all! They actually were the great Artists. But, if I may present my humble interpretation of the problem, apart from particular genetically determined proneness toward specific physical harms, hereby perhaps acted such small, still negatively efficient factors, as the not ENOUGH strong evaluation of "HOW my fingers and hands factually use MY natural physical resources? Do I, maybe, OVERLOAD myself too much? Is the sound I produce, maybe – simply said – too loud? Do I really need to use as much muscular POWER as I actually do?"



Mrs. Sarah Silvermyn wrote: Practicing through pain can be extremely dangerous or even curtail a career, as in the case of pianist Leon Fleischer. "There was something macho about practicing through the pain barrier," he noted. "Even when my hand was exhausted, I kept going. Although I thought I was building up muscle, I was, in fact, unraveling it."


As the truly interesting postscript to this quotation I would like to suggest you having a look at this file that contains some opinions related to the piano technical training and given by Vladimir Horowitz; you would be profoundly surprised, perhaps!



Well: persistent, nearly AUTOMATICAL examination of the dynamic volume zone of the sound (produced by physical energy and the weight of the fingers in adequate level of depths of the keyboard) will generate likely "meaningless WINS" within nearly timeless moments of "activation" of the each key. Millions of such bonuses yet – beyond doubts – are able to PROTECT the pianist against any possible physical injury; let you take into consideration that in some – for instance Chopin's – Etudes the pianist must take about 600 or more sounds per minute...!


As I imagine, only the greatest piano giants are liberated from the obligation of fully conscious examination of HOW the correlation between emotions, artistic IMAGES proposed by fantasy and the sounding IMPLEMENTATION of them realized by fingers and hands actually WORKS. It could happen due to:


- extreme sensibility of their hearing that instinctively activates appropriate INHIBITORS that make impossible to CROSS the borders of A MUSICAL BEAUTY. Piano giants never must DELIBERATE on HOW to realize this or that problem: musical thought is for them nearly equal with the practical fulfillment of it.




- they possess ability to the persistent acting under TOTALLY CONSCIOUS control over all of elements, structures, factors and devices that might decide the always extremely high quality of their playing EVEN in case they SEEM to act being guided purely by emotions.


As the very interesting postscript to this segment I would like to suggest you having a look at the Web-Side that contains some bits of information related to the piano mastery of Mr. Josef Hofmann...


In any case, if in the playing might exist any shadow of physical overload, it obviously should become HEARABLE as the ARTISTICALLY inappropriate dynamic power of the sound, which should become detected and corrected in a while. The greatest piano giants POSSESS from Nature such "operational device" built in their brains that makes it impossible for them to realize anything that could work AGAINST the nature of musicality; that is the basis of the musical talent, as I see the problem!


As we could see, reading notice above related to Prof. Fleischer, he did not like to become granted by such bonuses, he actually liked to WIN the battle against the keyboard, still apparently he would NOT be informed that such a battle is of "no-win" nature...


The Chopin’s advice, seeing the problem from THIS perspective, is the one of outstandingly great worth!



Let us come back to the Albert Einstein’s opinion for a while, "The problems CANNOT be solved on the same level they have occurred into." Very well! Once the PHYSICAL injuries are caused by physically incorrect action, and – quoting once again Mr. Sen’s article, if we agree that "Making music is an act, which is as physical as it is mental" – we should consequently agree that the CORPOREAL PROBLEMS of the pianists could be solved on the higher, that is mental, level of the matter only. This mental level – in my opinion – MUST include just HEARING in its very special, PROFESSIONALLY correct meaning.


Mr. Sen wrote as follows, "The brain is responsible, and the brain is a machine of staggering complexity almost beyond comprehension. It transmits a multitude of neurological signals to the rest of the body and, with the right coordination, the movements of the hands and the arms interact with the musical instrument and we hear the wonderful sounds of a prelude, a fugue or a sonata."


Mr. Sen is absolutely right – apart of this truly small, yet very important element that has NOT become visible to him either, as it has been imperceptible to very many specialists before him, too: the hearing. Yes, the HEARING doubtlessly ACTS as the integral element of our brain and, doubtlessly again, it should become understood as the most important SUBJECT of any discussion touching the piano, piano playing and teaching as a whole.


All such INDISPUTABLY well-working systems as yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, many professional medicine treatments etc, etc. are absolutely INDISPENSABLE and they offer truly great help. But – such systems work very well UP TO THE MOMENT the formerly injured pianist STARTS to play again. And this must happen because all of the above maintained systems, unfortunately, do touch the effects only, staying afar from the reason (lack of professionalism in HEARING) that factually caused the pianists' injuries; that is the major misfortune in the matter!



Yes, all these systems, even if they are NOT purely BODILY oriented, do not factually are INTERESTED in the elements and factors that represent the CONSTITUTIONALLY most essential nature to any musical activity – including teaching and playing the piano. Furthermore, many – even such famous systems, as "Taubman Approach" and "Grindea Technique", are in my opinion, essentially, going the "unfinished" way round, too. The title "Choreography of the Hands" explains the problem well enough, I suppose. I would like to suggest you this link as well! You could find herein many good texts, still NO ONE of these articles will focus your attention on the hearing, HOWEVER just the hearing should be seen as the real "domicile" for the pianists, who would not like to experience any physical troubles while playing, ever.



* Epilogue


Any adequate piano technical correction CANNOT omit the hearing and nobody would achieve the real success in the piano focusing his/her attention on the manual, corporal or mechanical side of the matter only. Even if somebody, going such way along, might reach a total RELAXATION – this fact unfortunately cannot definitely solve his/her technical problems of playing the piano, because the relaxation should be seen as the HABITUALLY normal start point here, but not as the result one could achieve AFTER hours of practicing. Tough, such relaxation is of course very warmly welcomed! Unfortunately, it is factually still NOT ACHIEVABLE without fundamental improving of the pianists hearing habits that should be schooled and trained by the tutors having in a view the very PARTICULAR conditions caused by unique circumstances of as uncommon milieu, as is the piano keyboard.


Coming to the end I would like – in very short terms – to write an answer on the primary question asked by our Mrs. M.:


As you wrote, you actually suffer from "inability to press piano keys". But look: playing the piano we should NOT actually PRESS on the keys at all...!


Let you check up the articles linked to this file and try to put all the wisdom they are speaking about into your piano practice. The next problem you have maintained is "an inability to read the music while playing. It was as if my head and my hands had lost their connection."


This problem could probably be solved very easily in the case your hearing would start to work properly as the element that factually could CONNECT your hands and your head again. Focusing your attention – PRIMARILY – on the physical troubles of playing, you cannot be able to adequately process the data reading from the score because between your brains and your hands instead HEARING, unfortunately stands a pain. This misery could be eliminated – apart from medicine treatment – by activation of the hearing, which would give you the adequate amount of another data: related to the sound, which is the real basis of our musical "domicile" and could be recognized only via efficient hearing.



I would like to enlighten some of the peripheral aspects of the actually discussed matter in my next texts.


With my Very Best Wishes –    Stefan K.


Related link: A critical review concerning the Feldenkrais Method and its connections with  playing & teaching  the piano.  This way - thank you!







Actualized: 2007-12-03