Robert Estrin - piano expert

Can You Strengthen Your Hands With Mechanical Devices?

Learn how you can "practice" with your hands without actually playing your instrument!

In this video, you will learn how you can "practice" with your hands without actually playing your instrument! Watch the video to learn more.

Released on November 19, 2014

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, and welcome to virtualsheetmusic.com and livingpianos.com. I'm your host Robert Estrin. Today's question is: 'Can you strengthen your hands with mechanical devices?' This is a really good question, and a lot of people want a short-cut to gaining strength. They think maybe there's some contraption that can help. Well, let's kind of break it down for you a little bit. I guess what comes to mind when I hear this question, the first thing I think of is Robert Schumann. And the tragedy that he faced in his life, because indeed he tried to strengthen his fourth finger specifically, which as you know is the least independent finger. And I don't know if he used weights, or pulleys, there's different stories about what that technology was, but he destroyed his hands and was never able to perform again.

And this led to all kinds of emotional problems for him later in life. But that's a whole story for another video that we'll get into. But are there any devices that can work? Well, you know sometimes on vacation I will take one of those spongy balls that you squeeze. Just to keep my hands in shape. So there are things you can use, but you want to use something that provides some resistance, but I would really caution against using anything beyond something where you're using the own strength of your hands. And that's where the real key is. So the best thing of course is to practice your instrument. There's no substitute for doing that for developing strength.

And of course being, using a lot of common sense. Don't just sail into it if you've been away from it on vacation for a couple of weeks. You don't want to sit down and play the hardest music you can play that's virtuosic and all that, and fast. But playing and building up and playing as much as you can will build strength. As far as mechanical devices I would be very cautious. If any of you have any routines that you rely on, any kind of equipment that you find...you know, I've seen those things you squeeze with springs you know, as long as you're not overdoing it, you could perhaps try some of those things.

But the spongy balls I know are a safe bet because they come in different squishiness factors. I'm sure there's a better word for that. But a lot of the physical therapy places utilize these. In fact people who really have like trauma, and are getting over surgeries will sometimes use the squeezy sponge balls in water, in a bath situation. So that everything is relaxed and limber. So that's the important thing, is don't do anything that is taxing, that makes sudden jerky movements. And I would certainly completely avoid anything that is an outward device, weights, and things of that nature.

All right. Well that's the question for today. I hope this helps you. Any of you have insights please post to comments and maybe it will be helpful for all of us to learn more about this subject. Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at virtualsheetmusic.com and livingpianos.com.
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Michael Verive, MD * VSM MEMBER * on November 20, 2014 @6:36 pm PST
As a physician and classical guitarist, I am often asked by other guitarists about "strengthening" their fingers, when what they're really looking for is control. Control comes with practice, so that the brain learns how to control each finger in 3-dimentional space, and recognizes patterns which are stored for later access.

As anyone who has ever heard a small child bang on piano keys or guitar strings knows, it doesn't take a lot of strength to make a lot of sound!

Strength training may be important for someone who has developed muscle atrophy or weakness from lack of use, but cannot take the place of appropriately supervised, disciplined practice.
reply
Robert - host, on November 21, 2014 @11:55 am PST
You are right - a great deal of playing technique relies on learning how to control muscles. However, there is also the essential component of building strength which aids in the process. Just getting a lot of sound out of an instrument doesn't take much strength, but negotiating specific techniques can require specific finger and hand muscles that are rarely used otherwise. So, learning how to control these muscles is aided by having the resources of additional strength to work with.
Michael Verive, MD * VSM MEMBER * on November 21, 2014 @1:54 pm PST
Since specific techniques may require muscles that aren't used often, then the best way to strengthen those muscles is through practice, guided by a knowledgeable instructor who can pinpoint areas of weakness. The advantage with such directed exercises is that not only does the student gain strength, but simultaneously develops control.

"Generic" exercises can help prevent disuse atrophy and improve overall strength and endurance, but are likely to be counter-productive if applied *instead of* practice (e.g., when a student is looking for a "short-cut" to developing strength).
Tony Lockwood * VSM MEMBER * on November 20, 2014 @6:23 am PST
Robert, although I use a different instrument, a clarinet, I have watched you videos for some time, and done the back catalogue. The are refreshing and pertinent to all instruments, in the main, and I thoroughly enjoy them and have learned a lot.
Now to MY problem. Timing - I am in trouble! When listening to music I can identify the the rhythm/beat and foot tapping adds to the enjment. I find that, when playing, I can either tap or play - never both.
So to my question. Is there a teaching/learning method where, perhaps, I can train my brain to count as I am playing my clarinet.
Thanking you in anticipation
Tony Lockwood

PS Regards to your wife, who I have seen on a couple of videos.
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on November 19, 2014 @2:08 pm PST
Spongy balls are great for arthritic hands. They also make great cat toys, according to my cat!
nads on November 19, 2014 @4:49 am PST
Hello. I have a question. What is an Ossia and how do you play it ?
Thaks
reply
Robert - host, on November 19, 2014 @12:06 pm PST
Ossia sections in the score are alternative versions you can to play or not. Sometimes they contain music from earlier editions. Other times they are easier or more difficult versions of the same passage. So, take your choice and play either either staff available.
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