6 Things You Should Know About Piano Players

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There are many misconceptions about piano players circulating on the internet. And honestly, it can be quite frustrating sifting through many opinion-based answers about pianists to find the right answers. So I did the hard work for you. Here are the answers to six common questions about piano players that you should know.

Why are pianists skinny?

Many pianists are skinny because skinny people usually have thin fingers and arms. Having thin fingers and arms as a pianist allows you to play much easier and with more dexterity. 

The truth is, not every piano player is skinny. In fact, there are some successful piano players who are considered chubby or fat. One renowned piano player in the late 1950s, Fats Domino, played the piano proficiently, although he is considered overweight. 

However, I must admit that many pianists are slim. Being a slim or skinny piano player comes with some benefits.

The first benefit is you’ll have much thinner fingers if you are skinny. And this can help you fit your fingers in-between notes and play chords you wouldn’t normally be able to play if you had big fingers. 

What I mean is, if you have to play a white note in between two black keys, a skinny pianist with thin fingers will play it much easier.

And also, because you have thinner fingers as a skinny pianist, you’ll find it easier to improve your finger dexterity. 

This is not to say a pianist with big fingers can’t improve his finger dexterity — they definitely can. But a piano player with skinny fingers will find it easier.

Secondly, a skinny pianist will find it easier to perform the “crossing hand” technique. It’s easier to move your arm across the other more freely and faster if you are skinny. 

A pianist with big arms and forearms will find it relatively challenging crossing their arms when playing.

However, something to note is you don’t have to be skinny to be a great pianist. As long as you practice, learn the right techniques and posture, you can be an excellent piano player regardless of your size.

Why do pianists lift their hands?

We have all seen it or watched videos where piano players, especially concert pianists, raise up their hands after they hit a note or a couple of notes. But why do they do that?

Pianists lift their hands to express emotion and to make their performance much more interesting to watch. Piano players also lift their hands to release any tension on their wrists or hands during performance.

This is quite a common practice among classical pianists. However, lifting hands does not have any effect on the music itself. If you were to listen to the audio recording of a classical piano performance, you wouldn’t be able to tell when the piano player lifted his hands.

And quite frankly, if the piano player hasn’t mastered the piece of music, he is playing, lifting of hands can be a distraction. A piano player can easily derail his performance by lifting his hands. How? He can hit a wrong note when he lowers his hands to continue the performance, and secondly, he can forget the section of the song he is he has reached when he gets carried away.

However, when the pianist has mastered the piece and is very conversant with playing, hand gestures can make his performance much more interesting to watch, and the audience will enjoy it more.

There is nothing wrong with playing a musical piece without any gestures. However, gestures such as the lifting of hands can improve your showmanship and make your performance interesting. 

You can think of a piano player lifting his hands as headbanging done by rock and metal musicians. It doesn’t contribute anything to the music, but it certainly makes the performance really cool.

Not only is lifting hands good for the aesthetics of a piano performance, but they also reduce tension in the wrist. When you are playing the piano, depending on how quickly or hard you hit the notes, your wrist might get tensed and begin to hurt you. This is quite common, and I often experience this as a keyboard player.

Lifting your hands while performing will instantly release all the tension in your hands and wrist, allowing you to continue your performance pain-free. 

If you want to use this technique, keep in mind to lift your hands in the section of the music where you are not supposed to play. You don’t want to stop abruptly and lift your hands while you need to be playing.

Why do pianists sway?

There are many reasons why pianists move and sway so much when they are playing.

Firstly, playing the piano doesn’t only involve your fingers but your entire body. Playing the piano is just as much of physical activity as swimming or soccer.

Why do I say this?

To hit some notes or chords on the piano requires you to position your body in a certain way. 

Depending on the notes you’re playing, and how hard you have to hit it, you need to move your body a certain way to get support from your back, arm, or forearm muscles.

Sitting steadily while playing the piano can be very distracting and quite challenging, honestly. And although some people can play without moving so much, for most people to play the piano proficiently, they have to sway to give their fingers the needed support.

Many pianists also sway to express their emotions towards the piece of music they are performing. Most of the time, the pianist doesn’t move intentionally as a way of emoting to the piece of music. The swaying and moving of their head back and forth occur naturally without the pianist even being aware of himself.

Believe it or not, swaying also brings life to the musical performance. When a pianist begins to sway, he expresses his emotions through the music he is performing as well.

However, some pianists exaggerate this movement to make their performance more dramatic and interesting. Sitting still while performing a piece on the piano is not the most eye-catching experience. And pianists, especially concert pianists, know this. So they move and back and forth to make their performance engaging.

Here is a video of Lang Lang, one of the finest Chinese pianists, performing Fur Elise. Now imagine how this performance would have been if he wasn’t swaying. 

Something you should know about swaying is it’s very common among musicians, not only pianists. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s usually involuntary—musicians swaying on stage as they perform a sign that they are really enjoying the music.

Why do pianists make weird faces?

There is no one size fits all answer to why piano players make weird faces. But there are three main reasons why pianists make weird faces when playing. Let’s take a look at them.

Playing a piano piece, especially a very challenging piece, demands a lot of concentration. When a pianist is highly focused on the piece of music they are playing, the brain automatically prioritizes this activity over all the activities going on in the brain and uses nearly all of the brainpower to process the performance. This is a function of the brain known as efficient selection.

When this happens, the pianist loses focus on things like body movements and facial expressions. So, during the performance, the piano player may be making weird faces without him even being aware of it. 

This is why you may notice a pianist move their mouth, raise their eyebrow, and make unexpected, weird facial gestures when they are performing. Most of them are not even aware they are doing it until they see a video of their performance.

In such situations where the piece of music demands concentration, trying to keep a straight face while performing may actually hinder the performance, and the piano player is likely to make mistakes.

You can compare these pianists to bodybuilders lifting a very heavyweight. Similarly, because the weights they are lifting are extremely heavy, their brain focuses all of its processing power on lifting the weight. That’s why bodybuilders also make weird faces without even realizing it.

However, once the pianist practices the musical piece multiple times and becomes very comfortable playing it without much concentration, they can play through the music with a straight face.

Also, some pianists express their genuine emotion toward the music by making faces. As you may already know, one of the best ways to show emotions or your state of mind is through facial expressions. You can tell when a person is sad, happy, surprised, angry, or bored through their facial expressions.

Pianists, or musicians in general, can have different emotions in different sections of their performances. And they express that emotion with their facial expressions and body movements.

The last category of pianists makes weird faces to make their performance interesting. I’ve personally encountered piano players and even bass players intentionally practicing weird faces so they can pull it off when they are performing. They are not many piano players who intentionally make weird faces to put on a show, but trust me, they exist.

Why do pianists have veiny hands?

Pianists, especially professionals, practice for many hours a day. And when you play the piano for an extended period, blood flows into your hands’ increases. This causes the hand veins of many pianists to be more prominent.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, playing the piano is as much of a physical exercise as lifting weights. Pianists, especially professional pianists, practice every day for hours. Before they got to the current skill level, many professional piano players had to practice for 8 hours every day. As they become more proficient, they reduce their practice time to 3-4 hours a day.

Practicing the piano for many hours is like exercising your hands, forearm, arms, and back muscles. And just as any exercise, this increases blood flow into your hands, forcing the veins in your hands to be pushed closer to the skin’s surface.

If you haven’t played the piano for long, the veins on your hands will disappear a few hours after you stop practicing. Professional pianists who have been playing and practicing the piano for many years will have hand veins that are more visible and prominent.

Another reason why many piano players have veiny hands is partly that most of them are skinny.

According to Healthline, people with less fat on their hands have very prominent hand veins. As we have already discussed, many piano players are skinny with less body fat.

Do pianists have strong forearms?

In short, no. Many pianists don’t have strong forearms. Although playing the piano involves your forearm muscles, it is not a vigorous activity enough to make the forearm strong.

There is no denying the fact that the forearm is very important in playing the piano. There is a muscle in the forearm known as the flexor digitorum profundus. This muscle is responsible for flexing your fingers and is very crucial when it comes to playing the piano.

The strength of the flexor digitorum profundus muscle can be improved by performing some grip-building exercises such as the Farmer’s Walk or the Reverse Curl exercises. 

However, playing the piano is not an intense exercise for this forearm muscle. This simply means playing the piano does not strengthen your forearms enough. 

If this was to be the case, many professional pianists who have been playing for years would have strong and well-defined forearms.

Also Read: Bass Players: 5 Things You Should Know