piano exercises off bench

5 Off-Bench Piano Exercises That Will Transform Your Playing

piano exercises off bench

You don’t have to be sitting at the piano to sharpen your skills. Below, piano teacher Ryan C. shares five off-bench piano exercises that will help transform your piano playing for the better…

Playing the piano is a very physical activity, and like any physical activity, stretching plays an important role in keeping your muscles flexible and at their prime.

Not only this, but as any practiced pianist knows, the intense mental focus required for a good practice tends to make your body feel tired after a while.

In the article below, I’ll be outlining a few off-bench piano exercises and stretches that will help increase your flexibility and activate your muscles prior to playing.

Some of them are good for your full-body and mental health. Throughout all of these piano exercises, be sure not to over-stretch. Instead, only do as much as feels comfortable without strain.

5 Off-Bench Piano Exercises to Try

1. Arms Out, Palms Up

Simply put your arms out horizontally to your sides and slowly pull your fingers down toward the ground. You should feel this immediately in the muscles surrounding your elbow.

If you don’t feel it, try slowly lifting your arms up and stretching your fingers downwards. I love this piano exercise and do it fairly consistently. It also looks hilarious to anyone watching because it doesn’t look like you’re actually doing anything.

2. Extend Arm Forward, Pull Back on Finger Tips

Place one arm in front of your body with your palm down, take your other hand and grab the fingertips of the extended hand, then slowly stretch your fingers toward the sky.

This stretch helps increase flexibility of the forearm below the wrist on the palm-side. Repeat for both hands.

This piano exercise is similar to the “Arms Out, Palms Up,” but works different muscles. Rather than stretching the elbow and lower forearm, this exercise stretches the upper forearm.

3. Go Swimming

Seriously, this is probably one of the best exercises a pianist can do. Not everyone has access to a pool, but if you do, (and have a few extra dollars laying around), pick up a buoy.

You can use the buoy to make your legs float and focus solely on swimming with your arms. This is excellent for stretching your arms out before or after some intense piano playing.

Swimming works nearly all upper-body muscles, which makes it ideal for pianists. Additionally, a great workout may substantially increase your ability to learn faster. Check out this article for some insight.

4. Try Rock Climbing (Every Once in a While)

Rock climbing is really great for building strong hands and fingers. This is especially important for composers, like Brahms, who often composed music with big chords, octaves, and so on.

A few of my friends at school rock climb consistently and have incredibly strong fingers, which works great for some of the pieces they’re playing. However, rock climbing does cause your forearms and hands to get really tight for about a day afterwards.

If you’re going to start rock climbing to try to build your finger strength, I recommend you only go once, maybe twice per week at most. Anything beyond that becomes counter-productive and results in tight and fatigued forearm and hand muscles.

5. Finger Tips of Both Hands Together

Curve your hands and connect them fingertip to fingertip around an imaginary grapefruit (or softball, baseball, etc.) depending on your hand size. Apply very slight pressure to each fingertip and force your first knuckle to remain firm and not collapse.

Slowly lift one fingertip at a time (for instance, lift both your 2nd fingers off each other) then reconnect them to each other. Feel the pressure on each fingertip.

Repeat this process for every finger on your hand, and eventually start doing two non-consecutive fingers at a time.

This piano exercise is tricky and takes some practice, but the main goal here is to activate the muscles of the hand prior to playing. It’s actually a really great warm up too!

Your Turn!

These piano exercises and stretches are designed to help you warm up or recover from some serious piano practicing. I hope that they help you as much as they’ve helped me!

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions / comments, please feel free to post them below and I’ll respond as soon as I see them!

Photo via Pawel Loj

Post Author: Ryan C.
Ryan C. teaches piano, ear training, and music theory. He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a B.M. in piano performance. Learn more about Ryan here!

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