Ergonomics for Pianists
Gravity is a relentless force in our lives…always present, pressing down on us; it would push us to the ground,
if we let it. We do not want to fight gravity, but we want to learn to use it as our ally, not see it as an enemy.
Posture is about aligning our body with gravity; positioning our self to reduce the adverse effects of gravity.
This is one of the key concepts of ergonomics.
• Scoot forward so that you are on the front half of your chair, and sit up tall.
• Plant your feet flat on the floor.
• Feel the pressure of your sitting bones down into the bench or chair.
• Draw your navel inward.
• Roll your shoulders down your back.
• Gently, tuck your chin straight in.
• Lengthen your spine as you grow tall through the crown of your head.
• Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath.
• As you inhale, accentuate the growing tall
• As you exhale, relax muscular tension
• Now, imagine that you are sitting at your piano.
Now, relax and return to how you were sitting.
As we just experienced, proper sitting posture is a big part of playing the piano stress-free.
Dr. Anna Haberman an orthopedic physician, who holds a diploma in pianoforte, has created an ergonomic
piano bench that helps to align your spine.
The following information was provided by Dr. Habermann.
The spinal column of people who play keyboard instruments is subject to static and dynamic stresses in which
pratically all the muscle-tendon structures of the body are involved.
For this reason, pianists frequently suffer from strain in the regions of the neck, the shoulder blades and the
The performer may then suffer serious pain caused by fibrosis. Even if this can be helped by specific
gymnastics and or by physical therapy, these pains reappear as soon as the performer returns to playing his
All this is mainly caused by the posture which the performer maintains at the instrument and which is, in turn
depends on the shape of the bench on which he is sitting.
The pianist must be able to:
• freely move his arms with agility, ease and strength
• freely move his feet to use the pedals
During his performance he is continually shifting the weigit on his pelvis around his lumbar vertebrae.
As you can see from the first figure, when the traditional bench is used the sitting position is towards the front
of bench without asuitable support for the back and the weight of the body lies only on the ischiatic
protuberance, thus keeping the pelvis in an instable position.
As a result, all the physiologic al curve s of the spinal column are compressed thus increasing the lordosi
lombare, the lordosi and the antiversione cervicale and the dorsal cifosis. (Figure 1)
The movement of the feet further increases this imbalance because of the decrease in the support of the
hip-bones which causes a stiffening of the upper body and a strain on the trapezium muscles which then
contract to keep the spinal column immobile. This causes pain in the regions of the shoulder blades and
cervical dorsal muscles. (Figure 2)
The solution to this problem consists in the use of a seat equipped with a sloping surface which creates a
difference in height between the front and rear levels.
It is an ergonomic seat which helps to solve the problems of static on the spinal column by making the weight
of the trunk completely lie on the protuberances of the hip-bones and the lower limbs. The posture which the
performer assumes on this seat furthermore fosters the freedom of movement of the upper lumbs and
especially their force of impact on the keyboard.
Furthermore it helps to reduce spinal curvature and to eliminate muscular strain even during movements of the
feet which are then in the optimal position for using the pedals. (Figure 3)
Dr. Annarnaria Habermann, the designer and patent-holder of the new “LINEA®” bench, is a surgeon with
specializations in orthopaedics and traumatology.
This bench has been endorsed by Dr. Anthony Cicoria, orthopedic physician, pianist and composer;
Carol Holmberg, a pianist in Colorado, says, “the bench helped me to sit straight and my whole back felt fully
supported. When I am asked to play piano somewhere else, I bring my own bench.”
Professional Italian pianist Amedeo Balestrieri reports,
“Thanks to the new body position and balance, the pain problems of my spinal column, shoulders and neck
have been eliminated. More than that I have the strong impression that my playing is much easier and virtuoso
technical passages are going even easier to the pleasure of my audience and myself!”
This principle, of course, can be applied to sitting while playing any musical instrument.
Check out this youtube video: Shows Vladamir Horowitz in slow motion...pay attention to his excellent
postural alignment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzOl_kyE65A&feature=fvst
Another key element of ergonomics is fitting what we do to our body, not the other way around. This is not
always easy to do in real life, because the world isn’t necessarily designed to fit you. Often you have to fit
yourself to your world. For example, most musical instruments are traditionally designed to fit adult men. Young
people and women will have to accommodate their bodies to fit the instrument. This can put undue physical
stress on your body.
In recent research at the University of Nebraska, scientists found that a smaller keyboard (7/8th size) decreased
physical stress and created greater comfort, better accuracy and better technique among piano players with
Check out this video: Shows how researchers proved that a smaller piano keyboard puts less stress on small
Proper ergonomics is essential to playing your instrument freely and avoiding Playing Related Musculoskeletal
Disorders (PRMD’s) and Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI’s). Here is a link to the North Texas University Center for
Music and Medicine http://music.unt.edu/tcmm/
Risk Factors for developing PRMD’s:
1. Playing > 4 hrs/day ~ I know you all practice a lot. When I studied music at Indiana University, I
complemented the lead jazz pianist and he responded, “that’s what practicing 6 hrs a day for 15 years will do.”
2. Forceful playing ~ Improve your playing technique and avoid forceful playing
3. Playing octaves and difficult chords ~ Balance your playing of difficult and easy pieces
4. Poor ergonomics ~ Posture, proper chair or bench, proper positioning body relative to instrument, and
Statistics of PRMD’s:
• 75% of players suffered from finger and/or hand pain • Of those, 30% had tendonitis; 20% muscle problems,
10% joint disorders, 15% neurological disorders, 25% had elbow and forearm disorders.
How to Avoid Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI’s):
1. Warm up properly
2. Maintain proper posture
3. Maintain a healthy shoulder and wrist position
4. Improve playing skills and techniques
5. Take regular breaks (5 min. break every 30 min.)
6. Relaxed body and mind
7. Good instrument fit
8. Specific exercises for posture & stretches to reduce tension (see basic stretches below)
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