Sometimes keen beginners just want to get to the instrument any old how and just start making music! But how your body sits and how your fingers sit are both really important for excellent playing. So it is worth forming good habits by getting them correct from the start.
Position – body
The whole body needs to be sitting comfortably tall, without tension, on a stool or a seat with no back. The tummy button is usually opposite middle C at this stage, not too close nor too far from the piano, so that elbows are beside the body, rather than forward or backward of it. If the seat is at the correct height, the forearms should be pretty much parallel to the floor. Smaller children may need a footstool so that their feet are supported and not swinging.
Hint: If a child’s posture seems visibly tense, have them imagine they are a floppy clown about to play the piano, and have them feel floppy starting from the head, down through neck, shoulders, arms and fingers.
Position – fingers
During the early pieces, make sure the fingers learn to curve around so the knuckles don’t bend backwards. I have found it helpful to show pupils how the finger has more flexibility when it plays with curved joints, and how, this way, they develop the ability to control the tone better. Backward bending knuckles are more rigid and the music sounds harsher. The fingertips to the first knuckle should be more vertical than horizontal.
Cut long fingernails, as it is best to play on finger pads. Fingertips are sensitive and good piano playing reflects sensitivity of touch. The fingers line up along the white notes as much as they can in a straight line, so the thumb is pretty straight and the middle finger is the most curved.
When any fingers are actually playing, all the other fingers need to learn to sit still and relaxed on the keys. Especially watch that the thumb does not fall off the white keys. This may take time and patience in the early stages, but every time it is done correctly the habit is starting to form. Sometimes I have learners play through a piece they know well, and every time I see fingers moving out of place I put a bead across on an abacus. The aim is to have fewer beads on the next run through. I also use my simple game “Stuck in the Mud” for children who need more help with this. Before you know it, a good habit is formed through playing a couple of games.
In the next blog I’ll look at some interesting things eyes do… or don’t do.