How to Sit at the Piano
The first pages in most piano lesson books are dedicated to “How to Sit at the Piano.” Sadly students often skip these initial pages as they are eager to “get to the music” and start playing.
Often overlooked, proper positioning at the piano forms the foundation for how a student approaches the piano. This seemingly small detail can hinder a student's musical development at the piano.
Here are a few dos and don'ts when it comes to how to sit at the piano.
1. Sit on the front half of the bench.
Sitting on the front half of the bench enables you to use your body weight when playing the piano. Many students don't think of playing the piano as being an fully body activity, but it is! When it comes to louder passages, you will want the ability to lean into the piano, utilizing your body weight to create volume and intensity in your playing.
2. Properly adjust the piano bench. Place 3-4" of your knees under the piano.
Be like Goldilocks! Find the bench position that is “just right” for you. You will want the bench positioned so when sitting on the front half of the bench, only 3 to 4 inches of your knees are under the keyboard. This adjustment ensures you aren't sitting too close or too far away from the piano.
Bonus Tip: Every pianist needs the bench set at a slightly different position. So, if there is more than one pianist in your home, you will probably need to readjust the bench every time you practice.
3. Sit with a straight back and relaxed shoulders.
Sitting with a straight back empowers both your mind and your level of confidence. Keep the body relaxed yet strong. Keep your shoulders relaxed, not allowing them to creep up with tension. Allow your arms to hang loosely at your sides.
4. Make a "L" shape with your arms.
Keep your arms bent at 90-degree angles at the elbows with your upper arms mostly in line with the side of your body. Check to see if your forearms are parallel with the floor. If they aren't, adjust your distance from the piano or the height of your bench.
5. Keep your wrists level with the back of the hand.
You need to have wrist flexibility when playing the piano. To make the physical space for wrist movement, create a neutral "home-base" for your wrists by keeping your wrists level with the back of the hand and the back of the forearm. Allow your fingers to drape down from the hand to form the curved fingers required to play the piano.
As a teacher with over 20 years of experience, I have seen plenty of poor sitting positions. If you find yourself in one of these positions, make some alterations now!
1. Sitting too close.
If your belly is touching the instrument, you are too close! This results awkwardly bent wrists and tension in the arms. (I call this "T-Rex" arms!) Sitting too close to the instrument also makes it more difficult to reach the periphery keys.
2. Sitting too high.
When sitting too high, the forearms will form the shape of a slide. When the arms approach the instrument from too high, the wrists are held too high preventing the wrists from having the needed flexibility to play the instrument.
3. Sitting too low.
When sitting too low, the arms have to reach up to reach the keys. Again, from this position, the wrists won't have the flexibility needed. When approach the keys from below, the pianist also won't have power in the arms and body to create larger sounds on the instrument.
4. Sitting too far away and playing with straight arms.
If you sit too far away from the piano, you will have difficulty both reaching the keys and using your wrists while playing.
5. Sitting on the knees or with crossed legs.
Always sit with your legs uncross and your feet firmly planted on the ground. Sitting on the knees or cross-legged will throw off your balance and prevent you from having the power you need to play the piano.
6. Hunching over and playing with the arms supported by the legs.
Other than being unattractive, resting your elbows on your legs (in "toilet position") limits your arm and wrist mobility.
Adjustments for Young Students
If the student is too small to touch the floor, provide them with a stool for their feet. If they are correctly positioned on the bench they will feel unstable without being able to firmly ground down with their feet.
If the piano bench does not adjust vertically yet the student is sitting too low to reach the piano properly, provide them with something to sit on to increase their height. Sadly, gone are the days of phone books. Instead, use a thick book or a booster seat for the student to sit on.
Note to Parents
Parents, help your student think through these checklists as they practice. A quick observation and adjustment while they are practice might be all it takes to help them achieve the proper form. Their success at the piano might be dependent on this simple fundamental.
Happy Music Making!