Monday, December 5, 2011

" Why do my wrists hurt when I play piano? "

A viewer to my YouTube channel posed the following question "Why is it that sometimes when I play the piano for over an hour my wrist hurts,especially when I play that song [a Clementi sonatina]? Most of the times I play once a week. Are the pain in my wrists normal? I am 38 years old."  

I have suffered from short-term wrist pains once in a while.  For me there are only three causes:
  • Hitting the piano too hard.  Many years ago I accompanied an operatic society chorus singing 'With cat-like tread' from Gilbert & Sullivan's 'Pirates of Penzance', which has sudden loud chords.  I was playing a Steinway in a large theatre, and I hit the chords harder than I would on smaller pianos, and had a wrist-ache for a month afterwards!
  • Sitting at the piano at the wrong height.  I always play so that my lower arm rests very slightly lower than the top of the keys.  Others will like different heights.  I am very particular about getting this right, else I certainly would suffer from a wrist ache after only a short practice session.
  • Having stiff shoulders.  I like to play with the whole arms - there is a balletic aspect to music making whatever instrument you play.
If you think about each of these points maybe you will find the answer.  Wrist pain is certainly not normal at 38.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Is every piece of music a song?

Looking at the comments on the (mainly classical) pieces recorded on my YouTube channel, I am struck by how common it is for young musicians to refer to every piece they play as a ' song '.  A common comment I get is 'I'm learning this song', and a teenage violinist called me the other week to ask if she could rehearse with me some 'songs' she was learning (they were all classical pieces).  This is a very recent linguistic development, and probably stems from marketing blurb for digital downloads.  For example, the iTunes website has the following: "The music you love (and have yet to discover) is just a click away. You’ll find millions of high-quality, DRM-free songs on the iTunes Store all for just 69¢..."  (my emphasis)

So, for many, music = songs.  Perhaps the late Henryk G√≥recki saw this coming when in 1976 he subtitled his 3rd symphony 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs'!  There is no harm in it at all but it maybe shows that people are losing sight of the context of music they listen to or play.  The lack of contextual knowledge often shows up when I accompany student violinists at music festivals.  They will typically announce their piece like this: 'I'm going to play Concerto in A Minor by Vivaldi' - when actually they are only playing a single movement from a three-movement work.

For those going on to study music as a profession at universities or conservatories, it must be a steep learning curve to get the background knowledge needed to write dissertations, programme notes etc., when it does not seem to be provided in many schools (certainly in UK).