How to sit at the piano
Sitting at the piano may appear like a science, a strict checklist of do and do nots. The reality is it is more of an art than we tend to give credit for. Our bodies are unique to us and how we sit on a piano bench needs to accommodate that.
Your goal is to be seated in the best way that works for you and is comfortable. It is to make your movement up and down the keys easier. To help prevent tension and injuries from being rigid and inflexible.
To quote my 8yr old, “That’s easy you bend your legs and sit on the bench.”
This bottom up (pun intended) approach will help you find that comfortable seating position.
Sitting on the bench
Starting from your bottom, seat yourself slightly forward on the bench. Not so far that you are perched on the edge, but just enough that your thighs aren’t encumbered by the bench. Your knees should just come to the edge of the piano with your thighs being roughly parallel to the ground. Knees should be at an angle slightly greater than 90 degrees and not tucked under the bench in my preferred seating style.
If you find your feet dangling you’ll need to put something down for them to rest on. Whether that be a small stool or a stack of heavy books. Avoid lifting your leg to play leg to play the pedals. Keep your heel on the ground, in line with the pedals and press them with the ball of your foot catching to catch those notes.
To play your best you need to be stable so that you are able to play up and down the keys with confidence.
Back Straight, Shoulders & Arms Relaxed
I should have paid more attention to my mom repeatedly telling me to sit up straight. We do want to sit up straight tilting slightly forward at the hips. Not the military standing at attention straight but enough that we are elongating our backs. Our head and neck should be in line so we can read the sheet music comfortably. Hunched over we cause strain in our necks and shoulders we want to eliminate.
Speaking of shoulders, relax them allowing your arms to hang loose. Properly playing the piano is done with the weight of your arms and relaxed shoulders helps free your arms up to play tension free.
Elbows should not be tucked in directly beside you or behind you. They should be slightly in front of you, as if you were standing and letting them dangle next to you. Your arms extend out to the keys with your wrists in line with your arms. Wrists should not be drooping loose into the keys or bent backwards in the way people often type on their computer. You risk injuring yourself by putting unnecessary strain onto your wrists.
Your fingers should be slightly curled, just naturally, by relaxing them. Just relax your hand and take a look at it, it curls on its own. That is all you’re looking for, not grabbing a ball or anything that forces it into a curled position. But just relax, and then play deep in the keys amongst the blacks. Avoid the beginner temptation to only play at the edge on the keys but get them in their nice and deep. They’ll be stable and help you connect with the instrument allowing you to get a better tone and natural sound in your playing.
The Foundation for Proper Posture
It does seem like a long laundry list of items for proper posture when playing piano. But once you straighten your back and sit comfortably a lot of the other nuances fall into position naturally. Give yourself a stable base and free yourself up to play your best.
Just starting out, you may not be able to hold the position for your entire practice. Maybe only for the first few minutes before you forget and go back to your old ways. But if every time you start out correct, eventually it will become the default posture you are looking for.
Unless you’re Glenn Gould and his unique approach to posture…