Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Relax While Playing Your Musical Instrument

Discover the benefits of relaxing while playing

In this video, Robert talks about the importance of relaxing while practicing and performing.

Released on April 29, 2015

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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

Welcome to and I am Robert Estrin with a very important subject today, "How to relax while playing your musical instrument." This is a very important subject for a myriad of reasons. First of all, if you're relaxed you can technically play better. More than that you'll get a more beautiful sound in your instrument but there's another thing that's equally important or perhaps even more important which is, over time you will be able to play longer without injury because if you play with tension over time you can do damage. So this is a very important subject.

Now this translates to all instruments. Now we're going to cover this in two aspects. One aspect is if you have enough strength, you can play in a more relaxed manner. Think about it if you're struggling to play with weak fingers on the piano or you don't have much embouchure on a wind instrument, you're going to be pushing just to get any sound out and of course you can't play relaxed if you don't have the strength to play your instrument. So one of the things is just spending enough time playing your instrument and practicing to develop the strength where you can play in a relaxed manner.

Now we're going to get to the other part. In the other part it's preparation, there's two components. The preparation you have when you first sit down or standing, if you're a singer or other instrumentalists standing, you want make sure consciously that your shoulders are relaxed and your neck. That you completely go limp. Take a nice deep breath and feel that relaxation go through you. This is vital in a public performance when you're maybe nervous because it's so easy to succumb to the tension of the moment unless you consciously make an effort to relax. Not only that, I've discussed this before, you must prepare in advance for that moment when you think about relaxing consciously at the moment of performance.

So these are some techniques. Now, what about when you're playing whether it's in a performance or even in your practice? You must take every opportunity within the music to consciously relax. That's right. On a wind instrument for example, before a big phrase let all the air out comfortably and then take all the time you need to take the breath. You don't take a quick breath as you do in the middle of a phrase. Take that opportunity to take the air in when you have the time. So then you can play the whole phrase and then the subsequent breaths even if they're short at least you start with a full breath.

On the piano, sitting make sure, of course in any instrument, you set the bench, the seat the proper distance from the piano. If it's a wind instrument set up. If it's a saxophone, the strap in exactly the right position because it can make a huge difference. If you are not exactly in the right position, if you play a wind instrument also the embouchure must be placed precisely or you can be fighting the instrument tremendously the entire time you're playing.

Another technique that is incredibly important is to be able to relax on the spot during the performance. My mentor and teacher Ruth Slenczynska at the age of 90 is still performing all around the world which tells you something about her relaxed play. One component of course is that she's always practiced a great deal and has phenomenal technical assurance so she has never has to struggle. Working with a metronome one notch at a time and all the rest of it but there's another technique I've seen her do and I recently helped her celebrate her 90th birthday in New York City and I always noticed that when she plays, right between phrases she'll end a phrase and when she's done, I see her do this and what is that about?

Well, that's her way of relaxing. So she gets done playing any phrase like for example, the beginning of the Opus 10, number 3 Beethoven Sonata. That little moment right there before going on. The piece goes right ahead after that fermata A Octave but she takes the opportunity wherever it is to relax completely. To go totally limp. It can make a huge difference in your playing. With other instruments you can also take that moment. For example, if you're a violinist and you have just a brief moment, you can rest the instrument here instead of under your neck. Just to relax your neck for a moment. Relax your shoulders because it is taxing holding up a violin.

Wind instruments, let the air out if you have a measure rest and just relax your diaphragm for a moment. Take these mini vacations right during your performance to completely relax and in that tiny moment of time is an eternity of relaxation and you can build a performance built upon these moments between the moments of playing where you completely relax. Great singers like Frank Sinatra, you could see they do that. So this is my recommendation to you.

To recap you want to build strength so you have something to work with. Otherwise, you'll be struggling. Make sure you're sitting or standing in the right position. So your embouchure is placed properly so you don't have to fight your instrument, and take these moments of relaxation throughout your performance and you could have a long career or a long lifetime of enjoying playing music on whatever instrument is you play. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Robert Estrin here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Chris de Brauw * VSM MEMBER * on April 29, 2015 @12:08 pm PST
Great advice! Thank you so much!
Deborah on April 29, 2015 @9:50 am PST
thanks so much...very valuable hints and suggestions
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