Advanced Piano Coaching Online

Powerful fingers, gymnastics and risk of injury

A good and stable piano technique
requires, above all, very strong fingers and the ability to properly manage the weight of the Motor Apparatus. As part of this chapter we will see how to strengthen the fingers through gymnastics without the piano.

Below I present my video including some exercises without using the keyboard, selected from those offered by Czesław Sielużycki (►Bibliography) in “The pianist’s hand”.

The value of exercises inspired by piano movements away from the keyboard is often overlooked or underestimated by many pianists. On the contrary, these exercises were popular and recommended to students by Chopin and Mikuli (according to the oral testimony of Raoul Koczalski, student of Ch. Mikuli), Liszt and Prokofieff, A. Michałowski as well as Johnen, Ching, Gat […] This concerns above all the fact that through special gymnastics, we can achieve the same results obtained after several years of regular exercises on the keyboard and that some pianists may not ever obtain.
Czesław Sielużycki - “The pianist’s hand” p. 322, PWM, Cracow 1982

Phone - open in a new window:
Exercises without the piano - part 1 (above)
Exercises without the piano - part 2

A pianist ought to be able to do the following gymnastic exercise: place his ten fingers on the floor and raise his body vertically.
Heinrich Neuhaus - “The Art of Piano Playing.”, p. 94, Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York 1973

Exercise 1 - EASY

Phone: open this video in a new window.

    ● Preparation:
Stand facing a wall, fairly close, and place all your fingers on it.
    ● Test:
Without removing your fingers from the wall, move backwards one or two steps and observe the pressure on the fingers - the farther away you are from the wall, the greater the pressure.
    ● Execution:
Do “vertical push-ups” in this position, moving away from and successively closer to the wall.

Exercise 2 - EASY (not to strengthen the fingers, but the shoulder muscles)
Professor Woytowicz recommended this exercise to improve the shoulder shaking technique.
As part of the daily gymnastics, after doing conventional push-ups where the amplitude revolves around ten centimeters, keep the same position and perform a series of “mini push-ups” with a low amplitude, but very quick.

IMPORTANT!   The following exercises can be dangerous!
The improper realization of exercises 3 and 4 can damage the hands. One must thus begin carefully by tests which consist of raising oneself up on the fists, in order to become accustomed to feeling the balance of the body and transmitting its weight progressively to the hands.


    ● Preparation:
Crouch down and lean on your fists to see if you can keep your balance. The closer you keep the feet and hands, the lower the pressure exerting on the hands, but the balance will be harder to maintain.
    ● Test:
Lean slightly forward in order to move some of the weight of the body from the feet to the hands clenched into fists (see the top photo).
    ● Execution:
Support yourself on your fingertips and lean carefully forward, then return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise several times, taking care not to overload your fingers. By pressing your hands against a scale you can determine the force being applied.


Phone: open this video in a new window.

    ● Preparation:
Watch the video above.
    ● Test:
Kneel down, support yourself on your fists and lift your knees slightly while paying attention to the pressure your feel on your hands.
    ● Execution:
Now support yourself on your fingers and lift your knees again.
A more advanced version of this exercise is to do push-ups while balancing on the fingers (and not on the entire hands, as is the case of normal push-ups).

INJURIES  - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

I take the liberty here of warning you, for during the time of my studies I received none:
Spare your hands and your spinal column!
They must faithfully serve you for at least fifty years.

    ● TENDONS - the most dangerous injuries!
You will find several simple tips that concern using the tendons in chapter The weight of the hand, point 4.4.

Concerning the spinal column, you will soon find advice in the chapter, currently being written, dedicated to the position at the piano. It is, above all, a question of keeping your feet in front, close to the pedals and not to “rock” your body while playing, as this excessively strains the lumbar region of the spine, the most exposed part. Easier said than done... :( :)
A special bench with a knob for inclination of the seat (to make it lower at the front than at the back) can be helpful.

    ● CARTILAGES - don’t play too loudly!

From my early years, I used my professor’s infallible fingering in bars 28-32 of the Revolutionary Etude: I hit the bass notes on the black keys with my thumb to bring out their power in this easy way. When I was recording this Etude for YouTube, in 2014, my left thumb hurt so much that I had to change my fingering.

Where did this pain come from?

In the X-ray below, I have marked the bases of the thumbs with arrows. On the RH, at the extension of the green arrow, you can see a distinct dark line. This is the cartilage between the bones. Its almost total lack at the base of the left thumb (red arrow) is the result of my playing octaves too loudly (also in my youth!), which is now the origin of sharp pains in certain positions. It’s incurable: the damaged cartilage cannot be regenerated.


Curious and disturbing
Promising young athletes are closely monitored by physiotherapists (who correct their postural defects and incorrect movements) and psychologists (who reinforce their resistance to stress). An experienced physiotherapist can, for example, see in advance and prevent a tendon damage observing tissue fatigue. But I have never heard of young musicians benefiting from this kind of care, even though they are subject to similar strains, both physical and psychological. And yet, few teachers consider these aspects in their work with students.

    ● How to move a piano? Every pianist may sometimes need to move a piano. Pulling a heavy instrument (and it’s the same for carrying heavy suitcases or screwing and unscrewing resistant bolts) causes harmful stretching of the joints, tendons and ligaments.

Here is a simple solution proposed by Professor Woytowicz: we push ourselves up against the piano with our “hindquarters” and we push the instrument effortlessly in “reverse” :)

Just carefully follow these few guidelines to avoid a lot of problems.


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