Monthly Archives: January 2011

Hand and Arm Strain When Playing

Something that commonly affects musicians is arm/hand strain when playing. This can affect beginners and advanced pianists alike and is something that I have suffered from in the past. I also tend to see it in new pupils as they are not used to the positions adopted when starting to play. Problems such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and tendonitis can arise if bad habits are adopted long term. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid this with some simple adjustments to posture and seating position when practising.

The way you sit is incredibly important as being too high or low can hurt your back, shoulders and arms, especially if playing for long periods of time. Preferably, the arms should be horizontal with the elbows just below the level of the keyboard and the hands should be relaxed. I used to carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and upper back and so I now consciously try to keep my back straight and my shoulders open and dropped down instead of hunched. A lot of people tend to think that good finger dexterity comes from tensing the muscles in order to strengthen them but you will find that the hands become stronger and more flexible if they are kept relaxed and heavy. Lastly, the most important thing you can do to avoid painful arms when playing is to ensure you have regular breaks when practising and try to play for short periods of time throughout the week so your piano lesson is not too much of a shock for your muscles! Keeping healthy also helps and I used to do Pilates and the Alexander Technique to strengthen muscles and help my posture.

Following these simple steps and getting in to good habits right from the start can avoid any problems later on and will keep your piano playing enjoyable and relaxing.

Information on Associated Board Piano Examinations

At some stage in your piano lessons, you will be given the option of taking graded music exams with the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM). These range from the Preparatory Test right through to grade 8 and eventually the performance Diplomas. In the Prep Test, there are two short pieces of music to play along with a selection of finger exercises. There are also some musical questions about rhythm and dynamics etc. There is no “pass” or “fail” for this exam. Instead, the examiner writes a detailed assessment of the student’s performance and gives advice and tips for improving your piano playing. A lot of pupils find it helpful to learn the Prep Test music even if they are not intending to take the exam as it is a useful way to establish how you are progressing.

After the Prep Test, there are the graded exams (1-8). In all of these exams, you will learn three pieces from a selection of music published in the ABRSM books. You also have to learn all the scales and arpeggios for the grade. Finally, there is a sight reading test and aural tests which your piano teacher will help you with in the run up to the exam. The results are out of 150 possible marks; 100 will give you a pass, 120 will give you a merit and 130 will give you a distinction.

The exciting news for 2011 is that a new syllabus has been created by the board! There is a wide range of music including baroque, classical and romantic pieces as well as American spirituals, jazz pieces and contemporary music. For more information about the new syllabus and where to find the exam centres in Brighton and Hove, follow this link: