If you have had the opportunity to walk along a practise-room corridor of a music college or university, you may have noticed mirrors in the rooms. So why do the rooms have mirrors? I think we can safely say that checking our hair is probably not the primary reason! Rather, practise mirrors frame our technique, enabling us to improve our physical health, our listening skills, and our quality of sound.
For some of us, the idea of improving posture at the piano may seem as though we are forcing ourselves into some form of ‘correctness’ – something that feels constricted and unnatural. This, by proxy, may seem anti-individual or even anti-creative: after all, it’s not how we sit at the piano.
Now, let us imagine a successful athlete who has poor posture. The idea seems absurd: and for good reason. I wonder how well, say, David Beckham would have performed in his football career had he had poor posture? Would he have been using his physicality to the best of his ability? Would he have had a good view of the field? How would he have appeared to spectators? What would his manager have said? How would his training have developed his posture? We often learn a lot by imitating those we admire, and so getting into the mind-set of a respected athlete is certainly one way to improve.
The most common postural problems at the piano are: sitting too close to the keyboard, sitting too far back on the stool, raised shoulders, and a slouched neck and back. The crux is that poor posture manifests itself over time in technical limitations, pains, and injury. Good posture, on the other hand, sets the foundations for good technique and puts us on a trajectory for continued development.
For example, if we sit a little further back from the keyboard, we avoid 'T-Rex syndrome' (constricting the length of our arms by sitting too close to the piano). As a result, we make better use of our arms (producing a richer tone), our hands are at a comfortable angle (reducing tension), we have a better view of the keyboard (easier movement across the keys), and we have better awareness of the acoustics (we can judge our tone appropriately). Conversely, if we sit too close, our physique becomes constricted and tense; and so does our sound.
There are and have been, however, many great pianists who have adopted
‘poor’ posture: Glenn Gould being amongst them. Indeed, Gould's incredible musicianship cannot be faulted despite our postural considerations, but the merits of developing good habits and free movement at the piano outweigh Gould's exceptional approach. We may also bear in mind that the portrayal of musicians such as Gould will have focused considerably on their artistic merits rather than the aches and pains they probably suffered as a result of their posture.
The nature of the piano can lead us to assume that posture is an unimportant consideration: after all the piano produces the sound for us, doesn’t it? It is all too easy for pianists to become detached from the sound since, unlike a footballer or a singer, there is a mechanism already between us and the outcome. If anything, we must become more aware that this is the case, and ensure that what we put into the mechanism is good. As they say in the tech world, ‘Garbage In – Garbage Out’, and at the piano, this starts with posture.
In short, good posture facilitates good technique which, in turn, enables good sound.
The practise mirror enables us to observe our posture and self-correct so that we can form good habits which become a natural part of our approach to playing the piano: the benefits of which should keep coming over the course of a lifetime!