Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Sit at the Piano

Discover the best piano sitting position

In this video, Robert tells you how to properly sit at the piano.

Released on February 1, 2017

  
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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, I'm Robert Estrin here at livingpiano.com with a very important message for you today about how to sit at the piano. Now you wouldn't think that this would be a big deal but it really is a tremendously important facet to piano playing. I also play the French horn and my wife is a flutist. And with these instruments, years are spent refining what's called the embouchure. The embouchure is the placement of the mouthpiece on the lips and the position as to how it's placed. On the French horn, for example, it's generally accepted that two-thirds of the mouthpiece should be on the upper lip and one-third on lower lip. And there were books written about it, Philip Farkas wrote books with pictures of all the great French horn players and exactly how they approach the mouthpiece of the instruments, so great studies taken with that.

On flute also there are many different methods of how do we set up the instrument to hit the correct trajectory of the air into the flute. Well, what about the piano? Sitting at the piano is analogous to the embouchure on a wind instrument. Or my daughter is a violinist, years are spent refining just the right position of holding the instrument and the bow. It's no less important on the piano to sit properly. So it's worthy of some discussion here.

Okay, have you ever looked at somebody who's never really played the piano, and they pull up the bench, this is what you usually find. They pull it right up to the piano and the bench is close as possible and then they play. And I say, "What? No, that's no good." Now, why is this no good? Well, what people may not realize when they're first starting is that you have to reach all the keys with both hands and your arms become whacked. They hit each other. So the first thing is to distance from the keyboard and keeping your legs free, notice the space in front of the bench. You do not ever want to have the bench right up to the knees because you can't move properly because you never slide on the bench to get from one area of the keyboard to the next. You always lean, so you want to be where you can lean easily.

One method you could see if you're at the correct distance is by putting your hands on the floorboard. And you notice that this is about the right distance if your hands are just like this at a right angle on the floorboard, you're probably in the right place. Of course, you want to sit in the middle, and the middle of the piano is not middle C. If you were to count all the notes from the top and the bottom going inward, you'd find that between E and F above middle C is the exact center of the piano. So that's where you should be centered. Centered where the arms straight and the wrists bent like this.

And now what about the height? The height is extremely important, I can't tell you how important being at the right height is which is why having an adjustable artist bench is really a godsend in performances. And I even have difficulty because most of my height is in my legs. Sometimes I'll have an adjustable artist bench all the way up and I'm still not high enough, particularly pianos that are on those spider type of dollies are slightly higher and I run into issues. And you know what, I will always take the time to find a pillow or some big books or something to sit on to get at the right height. It is so critical because if you're too low you end up working harder because you don't have the natural weight of the arms helping you, so you're fighting trying to get strength out of the piano. Being too high is also no good because you have an uncomfortable angle to the fingers. So what is the right height? The right height is one in which your arms are straight. They shouldn't go up and they shouldn't bend down. They should be straight across. This is very comfortable.

So to recap, sitting at the piano, have an adjustable bench or find things you could seat at to get at the proper height. Your arms are straight. And sit with your legs not locked into the bench but with room to maneuver so you can easily get from one register of the piano to the other. The distance from the keyboard approximately with the arm straight and the wrists bent is just right then you could play with great comfort. You will be surprised if you have been sitting in a disadvantaged position how this will help your technique, your sound, and your ability to sustain long practice periods comfortably. Try it out. Experiment with your bench. It's really more important than you ever would have thought. Thanks for joining. Robert Estrin here at livingpiano.com
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Jan Booth * VSM MEMBER * on February 15, 2017 @5:09 am PST
What would be the best adjustment for a very tall man to sit well without his knees pressing against the piano or needing to tilt the legs when using the pedal? The bench heighth seems good for him.
William Campbell on February 5, 2017 @10:40 pm PST
Hello Robert,
Now I know why my back hurts after a few hours sitting at the piano.
Thank you.
Juan Manuel * VSM MEMBER * on February 1, 2017 @8:02 am PST
Dear Robert, I agree with your advise about the correct height of the bench in order to achieve a comfortable and correct position of the forearms. However, it is interesting to note that both Vladimir Horowitz and Glenn Gould, great pianists with a terrific technique, used to sit very low. I always wondered how they could play so well while sitting that way. Any thoughts on this ? Best Regards.
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on February 1, 2017 @6:44 am PST
Quite interesting about the center of the keyboard. Mine is also between the E and F, however the Yamaha name is centered over the D sharp, maybe because the block of wood on the left side of the keyboard is wider than the one on the right side? And I remember very well that my mother's piano was different, the very center was the C, with the lock below it. I am also fairly sure that on the left side it did not start with the A, maybe it started with the F, and I don't think it ended with a C on the right side. Is that possible? or just a slip of my memory? It was made in Italy and the last time I played on it was in 1979.
reply
Robert Estrin - host, on February 2, 2017 @12:24 pm PST
Some pianos from the late 19th century had 85 keys ending on high A instead of C. That would make the center of the piano around middle C.
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on February 2, 2017 @5:06 pm PST
Thanks, it refreshed my memory. That piano was from about 1925. Her first one still had two elaborate candle holders!
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