Understanding your body can lead to better, easier, pain-free playing.
Playing-related injuries are a big problem in classical music. The majority of professional pianists will be sidelined by pain, muscle fatigue or tendonitis at some point in their careers.
However, the problem is not unique to professionals. As a teacher I have also seen intermediate and advanced amateurs struggling with piano-related injuries.
Mainstream medicine has little to offer a pianist with tendonitis, beyond a prescription for rest and anti-inflammatory drugs. If your goal is to eventually resume playing with the same intensity as before, those are not real solutions. Return to playing the same way and the pain comes back.
If you go to a live piano performance, you might see any number of things. The pianist could be sitting bolt upright and moving in the most precise, sparing ways, or they might be throwing their hands in the air, swaying from side to side and looking to the ceiling for divine inspiration.
There are different schools of thought on this. Many people argue it doesn’t matter how a pianist moves as long as they sound good. Some listeners find a lot of movement distracting or off-putting, while others feel it adds to the performance.
Playing-related injuries are rampant in the classical music world. If you’re a performer and have never dealt with one, you’re an exception to the rule. Surveys of classical musicians typically come back with numbers like 50-80% having dealt with playing-related pain or injuries. When I’ve written and talked about my injury experience, other pianists have come out of the woodwork asking for advice on how to deal with their own.
I often find myself in conversations about classical music with people who know relatively little about it. I love when this happens. I appreciate the opportunity to communicate about what I do to someone outside the classical music bubble, and to hear their perspective.
There is pattern I notice in a lot of these conversations. Usually, the other person is pretty quick to mention that they don’t know much about classical music. If they do have a personal experience to relate, sometimes it takes reassurance from me in order to make them feel comfortable talking about it.
Musicians often express supreme reverence toward Mozart, and with good reason. But to think of Mozart simply as the embodiment of musical perfection is not always helpful to performers of his music. There are times when we need to be flexible and creative, and maybe just a bit less reverent.
If the goal of a performer is to bring music to life in a way similar to what the composer envisioned, then playing a Mozart concerto exactly as written is not, in fact, a great way to achieve that goal. I’ll explain why.