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A beginner’s guide to perfect piano posture

Good piano posture

The first thing any good piano teacher will talk about is how to sit correctly at the piano.  This is because it’s extremely easy to get it wrong at first and get into a bad habit. Correct posture, learning how to sit at the piano bench will lead to better piano playing, better hand position on the piano keys, and better more fulfilling piano lessons. Bad habits are simple to start but hard to stop, perfect piano posture is something that musicians work for their entire life.  Like anything about learning the piano, it’s worth getting it correct right from the start.  It’s much more difficult to fix bad habits later. Sitting correctly at the piano is really important as it affects everything about your playing, from moving your hands in the most natural way, to pedaling effortlessly.  So let’s go through the basics of good hand position and piano playing for all the keys.

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What is proper piano posture? 

The most important part of proper posture that all piano students learn is that how you sit influences your hand position. Posture and hand position are intricately connected. The proper piano posture involves sitting near enough to the bench that you don’t have to reach, but far enough away from the bench that you can easily extend your arms in either direction. Focus on this while you work on your warm-up exercises for piano. Your neck should also be at a comfortable angle to the top of the piano keys, where the sheet music will sit. Make sure you adjust your piano bench to achieve correct posture. What type of seat you use at your piano is extremely important.  

How to avoid injury playing the piano

Sheet music is a tricky thing to deal with while you play the piano. How can a musician sit a comfortable distance from the piano, maintain good posture while the front half of their body wants to lean forward and get closer to read sheet music? When you learn how to read piano sheet music, you will naturally want to learn forward. Good posture will naturally develop, but in the beginning make sure to pay attention to your body. Great posture includes having a neutral spine, the natural weight of your shoulder blades hanging off of your spine, arms calmly placed in front of you and the whole bench perpendicular to the piano. The natural curvature of the spine will allow you to sit up straight. These good habits will keep you in a comfortable position on the bench and play pieces that are above your skill level. This will allow you to play long hours and comfortably reach anywhere on the instrument, try and focus calmly on the correct way of how your body works. 

The key to having the correct piano posture

The correct way to have a beautiful sound on the piano is to have good piano posture, and to work on your hand posture as much as your shoulders or your aligned neck. Your pinky finger and other fingers should rest lightly on the top of the instrument when playing piano, and your posture and hand position should be correctly linked together. Good piano posture and finger positions when playing is simple, but can be difficult at first. However, correct piano posture should be relaxing. The right distance between your waist and the front of the piano should be about 10cm. The right distance should let your elbow fall almost directly in between yourself and the piano. Your feet should be resting quietly underneath your knees, directly in front of you, just to the right of the damper pedal. 

What piano bench height is best for beginners?

The type of seat you use at your instrument is very important. Knowing what the standard piano bench height is can be extremely important.  You don’t want to be sitting slumped in an armchair or sitting in an office chair that has wheels and armrests.  Know the exact height of the piano bench you want, and make sure it is not too short. These are not suitable if you want to know how to play the piano well and not get all sorts of problems with your back or neck. 

Next, you want to check that the chair or piano bench height you’re using is the right height for you.  Some piano bench heights are adjustable, with knobs at the side that turn to take the seat higher or lower.  The proper piano bench height will most commonly be used for professional classical performances, but there are just as many pianists who perform standing up at a digital piano, or playing on two keyboards at once. Make sure your fingers are relaxed and pushed into the keyboard, not staying far away.  You should be sitting on the edge of the height of piano bench, but not so far forward that you are close to falling off. 

Try this lesson on Skoove and watch the videos about where to place you hands and how to sit.

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The correct proximity to the piano

When you sit at the piano, you are not sitting at the dinner table.  You want to sit further back than you would in everyday life, with a good space between your torso and the edge of the piano keyboard, in front of the middle C.  This allows for free movement of arms and hands and a natural positioning. Make sure you’re not leaning forward, your upper arms and shoulders should cling off your body without stress. Try to position your body weight directly under your shoulders and neck to avoid injury. If you feel anything that is 

A good reference is that your knees should be just under the keyboard. If your knees are completely exposed, you’re sitting too far back.  If half your thighs are tucked under the piano, you’re probably too close. Since every piano player has a different body, their piano posture will change. There are several types of piano adjustable bench available on the market, from basic to very fancy.  What you buy you’ll probably live with for a long while, so choose carefully.

Piano students who move along the piano bench when they have to reach higher notes are not uncommon.  Moving around the instrument bench is completely unnecessary. You can prove this to yourself by sitting with correct piano posture in the middle of the piano, as described above.  Now play the bottom note of your piano with your left hand little finger and the top note of your piano with your right hand little finger. 

How to play large distances on piano

Leaning in toward the piano will allow you to play many more notes around the keyboard, without having to move around the piano bench while you’re playing. Most children can just about manage this too. 

If you are learning a song that jumps around a lot on the piano – just stay seated exactly where you are and move your arms to reach the notes.  It’s much easier, looks much tidier, and keeps the music flowing. If really necessary, you can lean to one side or the other, but it’s rarely called for.

Adjusting the angle of your arm 

Correct piano arm posture takes a little time to set up during your first lesson, but once you begin playing you will relax into this posture. Follow these simple steps: 

  • You want to make sure that you have a 90 degree bend between your forearm and upper arm and that 
  • Your hand should be slightly lifted, fingers curving down toward the keyboard. 
  • You should be able to balance something small, such as a coin, on the back of each hand without them slipping off. 
  • The inside of your hand should be rounded, as if you’re holding a ball

Get a friend or family member to check on the angle of your arm if you need, or position a mirror beside you so you can frequently check on your posture.  As you progress on the piano, you’ll get into the habit of sitting well at the piano and you won’t have to keep checking. But it’s worth being careful about it for a week or two until it becomes natural.

Keep your shoulders in place

You want to be sure that you’re sitting up with your spine straight, but relaxed. Make sure your shoulders are fully relaxed and not raised up towards your ears at all. Pay close attention to how your shoulders sit near your neck. If you spend an hour at the piano at the wrong height, with shoulders lifted up toward your ears, you’re likely to get shoulder, neck and even headaches. If you do this for a long time, it can cause long lasting problems with shoulders, spine and even eyesight. Do not underestimate the importance of good playing piano posture during your first lesson, especially if you plan to play a lot. If you plan to play a lot, invest in the best piano bench you can afford to be safe and comfortable.

Place your feet correctly

Some people tend to sit at the piano with one leg crossed over the other. This is bad piano posture for the piano and should be avoided.  If you’re using the pedal, both feet must be in front of the piano pedals for easy access, and if you’re not using the pedal (yet) then both feet should be firmly on the floor.  This ensures that your back and shoulders are aligned correctly and again, wards off aches and pains from sitting in the wrong position for a long time.

Beginners sometimes like to tuck their legs underneath them on the stool.  To encourage them to keep both feet flat on the floor – until they can reach the floor – a foot stool placed directly in front of the pedals works really well.

Where to place your sheet music?

Another thing to consider when you’re sitting at the piano is where your music sits.  Upright pianos tend to place the music right in front of your eyes, very conveniently.  Grand piano music stands tend to be higher and further away from you, which might mean sitting a tiny bit higher on your bench.  If you’re considering a new piano and you need some guidance check out our advice about acoustic vs digital pianos.

Make sure you have good light on your music stand.  There are some very good clip-on reading lights that work well clipped right onto the music stand.  Some work from both batteries and USB. Of course, if you’re reading from a device or using Skoove, this isn’t a problem.

More tips to help with your piano posture

Keeping proper piano bench height and posture is a key part of playing piano. As we’ve learned posture and hand position are completely tied together and your playing in relationship to posture can only improve the more you take it seriously. A list of things to keep in mind while you play: 

  •  Keep your wrists flexible
  • Relax and avoid neck tension and hand tension
  • Align your neck with your back
  • Engage your core muscles
  • Keep soft hands as you play
  • Allow your arms to be heavy, and play the keyboard with weight

Final words

Piano posture is something like good athletic posture that becomes invisible once you learn it. When watching someone run in the Olympics or swim in a race, their body movements allow their best performance. The same goes for when we approach the keyboard, and many of the best pianists can be identified by watching how effortlessly they approach the instrument, and how their hands float along the keys almost like they’re an elevated surface. Proper posture is the key to playing well, and avoiding injury throughout your long career playing! The best way to learn to play once you’ve got correct piano posture is by using the best piano learning app, Skoove! Start your free trial today and get playing! 

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Author of this blog post:


Alvin Shipp is a Multi-Instrumentalist Composer, Performer, Producer, and Educator from Portland, Oregon currently based in Berlin, Germany. He’s worked extensively in the USA and Germany, has released Over 15 Albums. He has been teaching upper-level students for over 15 years, and currently lives as a Freelance Composer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer and Teacher.

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