How to Practice Piano When Your Hands, Back, or Arms Hurt


Should you reduce or alter your piano practice if your hands, back, or arms hurt? Here are some guidelines to follow from Rosedale, MD teacher Theresa D


Practicing piano can be a very enjoyable experience for most people, but what if you are in pain or it is difficult for you to play? If you are learning how to play for the first time or if you just want to keep the music under your fingers, regular piano practice is important. But as you get older your body doesn’t always allow you to do so. Keep in mind that you should listen to what your body is telling you. You may want to edit your routine or how you are playing to make practicing more enjoyable. Here are some ideas for possibly eliminating the pain altogether if it is related to how you are playing piano.

If your hands are tired or sore, you may want to check your hand position. Your wrist should be off of the keyboard and not resting on the instrument. Wrist should be straight and relaxed. Your fingers should be rounded as if you are holding a ball. When you play with straight fingers, they will be slower and get more tired faster than if they were curved. A good way to make sure that your fingers are in a relaxed curve is to try holding your hand in the air straight in front of you and relax all of your fingers as if your hand is limp. Your fingers will naturally rest in the best position to play piano.

Stiff arms usually mean that you are either too close or too far from the piano keys. Adjust your seat so that your elbows are about a 90-degree angle (when both hands are placed in C position).

Back issues can be the result of many things, but here are a couple suggestions that you can try if it is bothering you:

  • Sit up straight with relaxed shoulders.
  • Try using a chair with a back, but no arm rests. They will only get in the way later. You can even use a lumbar support if needed.
  • Stand (if you are using a keyboard with an adjustable stand). Raise the stand so that the keyboard is about waist-high, give or take an inch or two. As mentioned before, if you stand, make sure that your wrists are straight and relaxed.
  • Take a stretch break. Get the blood flowing in your arms, shoulders, neck, and back. Sometimes we tense up when we are playing without realizing it, making our bodies feel tired or sore. Try rolling your shoulders, bending down, or even twisting from side to side.

Breaking up your practice into shorter times gives your body a chance to relax between practice sessions. Instead of practicing for an hour at a time, try practicing for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, but more often. Remember that it is not how much you practice, but the quality of the practice that matters most.

Using Practice to Help You Heal

If you have a hand injury, one way to heal faster is to increase blood flow. Playing piano exercises like scales or even just the first five notes of the scale can be beneficial. For example: with either hand or both, use the fingering of 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 and repeat. This can also help when trying to relearn how to use your fingers and regaining dexterity after an accident or injury.

If you have physical limitations, you can still play the piano. I taught a student in the past who did not have feeling in his left hand pinky finger. The solution for him was to learn to play only using the other four fingers. We changed fingerings to suit his physical abilities. For example, instead of the scale fingering for the C scale as 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1, we changed it to 4 3 2 1 4 3 2 1.

“Hey Doc, It Hurts When I Do This?”

It is amazing that one small thing can affect so much. For instance, changing a pair of shoes can eliminate a pain in your back or neck. Just by having the right support you can save yourself a lot of other issues. Pay attention and remember… If it hurts when you do something, don’t do it. Find another way and don’t give up.


Theresa D. teaches piano, guitar, percussion, and more in Rosedale, MD. She has been teaching for the past 18 years. Learn more about Theresa here!

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