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pianomap: Pianists' Injuries

Movement Retraining is the Key to Recovery

By Thomas Carson Mark

  1. Introduction
  2. Four Causes of Injury
  3. How Injury Develops
  4. Cure of Injury
  5. Why Many Pianists Do Not Recover
  6. Two Obstacles to Understanding
  7. Conclusion

6. Two Obstacles to Understanding

The sports analogy.

In our sports-oriented society, comparisons with sports are everywhere and they can be very harmful. Playing the piano is not actually very much like an endurance sport, and building a technique is not a matter of building muscles. The amount of physical strength required to play the piano is very little, and endurance is not an issue if one is moving efficiently. The weight of the forearm alone is ample to push down the keys. Making this weight available as needed is a complex skill; we need to move rapidly and efficiently. But it is not a matter of strength.

The sports analogy infects our ways of dealing with injury; we may say "no pain, no gain" when our arms are sore, and continue practicing in the same way. If our hands feel weak--a frequent symptom of injury--we think the answer is to do strengthening exercises. In fact this may only make the problem worse. If a structure is injured, working it harder will not promote healing. Some (very few) comparisons of piano playing with sports may be useful, but for the most part the sports analogy is misleading and harmful.

Arguments from authority.

I have in mind the invoking of a famous pianist or teacher as a justification for some element of piano playing. "Horowitz did it this way" or "Vengerova taught such and such." One reason to be suspicious is that we often have no way of knowing whether the claims are true--especially with historical figures. More important, though, is that the authority of a famous pianist or teacher does not make a movement efficient. What makes it efficient or inefficient are facts of anatomy. Some famous pianists have moved very efficiently, others have had techniques that included inefficient ways of moving (as is shown by the famous pianists with injuries). We need to have the knowledge to recognize stressful movement, and if someone tries to justify a stressful movement by saying "so and so did it that way," we need to reply that if so and so really moved that way they were risking injury, and if they taught that way of moving they were putting their students at risk of injury.

>> 7. Conclusion

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