Balance at the piano

Balance control is hardly ever discussed in connection with piano playing. And yet, in my experience, it occupies a far more prominent position than is commonly believed. Poor balance may be reflected in problems in other areas of playing. (On the subject of balance problems, cf. Junttu 2010: 156-159: Kokonaisvaltainen pianonsoitto apuna motorisissa vaikeuksissa [Comprehensive piano playing as a remedy in motor-skills problems])

Sitting at the piano and playing as motor action requires accurate control of muscles and posture. Perfect balance is of fundamental relevance to relaxed motoric activity. The playing posture being seemingly static, players must be able to move the trunk and limbs as freely as possible. The organs of equilibrium control muscular elasticity (the capacity to flex and relax muscles at the right moment), which creates the prerequisites for the gradual automation of motor skills. If these organs do not function accurately or are underdeveloped, complete body control becomes problematic.

The player’s eyes and body muscles (the proprioceptive senses in the musculature) also serve to maintain balance.  The organs of equilibrium thus further control the eye musculature, which should, automatically and effortlessly adjust the eyes both vertically and horizontally, as well as the perception of distance as required in various situations.

As already noted, the refinement of posture control is a lifelong process requiring awareness of one’s own situational balancing skills.

It is activated whenever new circumstances are encountered. In the course of this development, significant modifications in the sensory system seem to be related specifically to the utilisation of available information and to learning to sort data received from various sources. The auditory sense also affects the pianist’s posture.

Insufficiencies in young pianists’ posture control may be attributable to muscular factors and faults in sensory feedback, or inadequate interpretation of it. Poor proprioception and balance are often closely connected to problems in the reading of music. In order to maintain a certain posture, human beings make abundant use of their vision to avert looming imbalance. This requires a fixed point at which to correlate the corrective body movements. If the fixed point moves from the sheet music to the keyboard and the hands, the eyes may find it difficult to adapt to the different distances.

Disorder in the development of motor skills is characterised by an excessive reliance on vision and the use of the muscles of the middle region of the body to maintain balance. Poor balance may cause visual-perception problems such as an inability to differentiate text, dislocation of the fixed point, or sudden eye fatigue. If a young player troubled by poor balance closes his or her eyes and the balance is disturbed, the big torso muscles will automatically be employed to redress it. Hand movements will stiffen and all energy is spent on maintaining balance. The playing becomes distressing, difficult and uncomfortable, but the child cannot specify why. It cannot detach its eyes from the score or the hands without immediately losing balance. Consequently, it is not able to fix its eyes on a moving target, such as the hands on the keyboard, let alone move its eyes from the music to the hands and back again. Children thus afflicted probably also face problems in fine-motor activities, needing their eyes plus the large muscles of the central body in order to restore balance. Players who have problems maintaining their posture primarily spend the energy required for playing on posture control. At that point, they may feel that their hobby is unduly demanding.

All sensory activities should be geared towards coordination. In the context of piano playing the aim could thus be the comprehensive development of sensory perception to facilitate the conscious coordination of input from the various senses rather than its differentiation. Many young pianists are still so dependent on their vision that detaching their eye from the keyboard may be overwhelmingly difficult. Refining both the kinaesthetic and tactile senses is thus essential to pianistic progress. Playing with closed eyes is excellent practice in terms of integrating sensory input and counteracting the dominance of visual perception.

When negative experiences such as anxiety or fear trigger escape reactions the field of perception shrinks: the child’s senses of touch, hearing and vision deteriorate. Emotional aspects thus occupy a very prominent position in the learning process, and the child will choose information that it knows will provide pleasure. Motoric inconvenience triggers negative experiences, often leaving the child unable to express its feelings in words. For this reason, it is essential to clarify the nature and location of the problem and help the child better to understand its body. Even slight motoric problems may undermine the self-esteem of children, especially of competitive boys.

Does this subject interest you?

Read more (research results with source references). Junttu 2010 pp. 142-144

( / /raportti.html)  


     pianotools          contents           videos          articles          links          contact