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#32766 - 09/21/04 09:57 PM Adults with stiff hands and fingers
JK Wong Offline
Regular Member

Registered: 10/10/00
Posts: 91
Loc: Seattle, WA, USA
Do you teachers have any adults students that will tense up when they play - with very stiff fingers and non relaxing wrist. What do you with them these adults? I appreciate any tips.

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#32767 - 09/22/04 08:24 AM Re: Adults with stiff hands and fingers
Susan Offline
Star Member

Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 2168
Loc: Texas
Great topic. I would love to hear other teachers' opinions.
What I do is work on 5 finger exercises, like pentascales. I have them play very slowly and relax after each note. I gently place my hand over theirs and rub, or massage very gently. (I can't think of the right word here. Someone help me out ) Andyway, it helps them relax. The faster they try to play, the more tense they become.
I don't nag them too much when they play pieces. The reason is, there is so much for them to think about and I don't want them to go crazy. Then they get even more frustrated. They can only think of so much at one time. I might just gently put my hand on theirs at the end of a piece to remind them to relax or help them roll (float) the wrist at the ends of phrases.

I also think the PA Technique books are excellent for teaching a flexible wrist, so I really spend a lot of time on that, and the "float".

It is a gradual thing, but if they stick with it, they do relax more. It usually takes 2 years if they are really tense, so don't expect it to be fast.

I know they like to zip through the pentascales to impress me, but I keep telling them that we are doing them just to learn to relax, so they have to go very slowly and relax the hand between EACH note. C relax D relax etc.

We do drops, like the bear claw drop or the supported 3rd finger drop. I drop on their arm and they drop on mine. It is hard for them to not control the arm and use arm weight.

I would love some other hints, if anyone has any.

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#32768 - 09/22/04 11:18 AM Re: Adults with stiff hands and fingers
Ginger Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 06/08/04
Posts: 277
Loc: Indianapolis, Indiana
I think that some of the reason that they are tense (for beginners anyway) is because they haven't been able to develop those small mucsules in their hands yet. I've found that they get really embarrased because they sound clunky and their fingers won't do what they want them to do. Susan, I think that you are right that it'll take 2 years to improve. I find that just doing pentascales works really really well at first. They think that it sounds impressive, and it really gets their fingers to work how they (and I) would like. Being able to relax really takes technique work for fingers and arms and wrists, and shoulders. I love the PA Technique Books. In the Adult book, I'm not too sure if it's mentioned enough (technique I mean) So I really make sure to reinforce the technique in their songs-as if they don't have enough to think about! But once they learn notes and note values well enough to where they don't have to think about it so much, then you can really talk and practice more and more technique things.

One more thing. I think that adults (mine anyway) are really nervous at first-so this tends to really tighten them up. To help get the nervousness out, I like to do a couple of stretching exersises.

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#32769 - 09/23/04 11:03 AM Re: Adults with stiff hands and fingers
Ginger Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 06/08/04
Posts: 277
Loc: Indianapolis, Indiana
After I wrote yesterday, I sat down to read a bit of "With your own Two Hands" by Bernstein. And would you believe it that he was talking about this very thing. First of all he explains that there is good and bad tension and how you do need a certain amount of tention to even move your muscles. Then he talks a lot about arm weight. For an experiment he wrapped some weights around his wrist (only about 3 pounds)and was able to play with more tone and more voice because he was able to shift all of his weight to his fingers. He says that when he uses it with beginners (even little kids) that he only uses one pound. Now I'm not completely sure what he wrapped around his wrists, I was a bit confused when he was explaining it. But I thought that it was of some value. \:\)

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#32770 - 09/24/04 03:59 PM Re: Adults with stiff hands and fingers
PFVTeach Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 09/17/04
Posts: 481
Loc: USA
I used to have adults rock their wrists side to side and then "air play" their fingers 1 to 5 and then reverse order one at a time as a stretch. Then I had them repeat it on the keys.
If they got "stiff" during the lesson again I would make them stop, repeat the exercise and then continue. Eventually they just relax. Some of them would just relax into a routine with me and the stiffness in fingers would go away, but sometimes you get adults who just cant seem to relax their hands and fingers. I think most of it is from nerves.

I don't teach adults anymore because they just don't have much stick to itness and longevity as students...but that is just my experience. Im fine with that though, I'd rather focus on children and teen agers anyway.

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#32771 - 09/28/04 06:34 AM Re: Adults with stiff hands and fingers
Susan Offline
Star Member

Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 2168
Loc: Texas
 Quote:
Originally posted by PFVTeach:
I don't teach adults anymore because they just don't have much stick to itness and longevity as students...but that is just my experience. Im fine with that though, I'd rather focus on children and teen agers anyway.


Why do adults give up so quickly? They always want to take lessons and then they just give up. When I decided I wanted to learn ballet as an adult, I took for over 5 years. The longest I have had an adult take is 3 years.
I think they find piano is a lot harder than they thought.

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#32772 - 09/28/04 07:07 AM Re: Adults with stiff hands and fingers
pianoc Offline
Star Member

Registered: 08/14/03
Posts: 1088
Loc: Goshen, Indiana
3 years doesn't sound like such a short time to me - at least for an adult student that never took piano lessons before.

I only have 4 adults right now, but they all came with specific goals. They needed a little help defining them - but they did have an idea of what they wanted to be able to do.

I do this with all my students - but even more with adults. I ask them how long they think they want to take lessons. I ask them if they have a specific goal - and they usually do...like to be able to play hymns, or play for offeratory at church, or a specific song they'd like to play, or chord to familiar melodies.

Then I lay out a plan with an estimated time frame, along with the type of practice committment I think they may need to accomplish that. I try to give them an extreme short/long scenario based on practice.

Along with what they say they want to do, I tell them what I feel is also important and why. Example - they think they only want to learn to read with their RH, and play a chord or something with their LH. I then recommend learning to read full grand staff while they're learning to read and show them the keyboard theory that I will want to teach them so they have a better understanding of what they're doing when they're just playing lead line.

I also talk in terms of, do you want to just barely be able to do something - or do you want to do it easily.

A purpose I have in doing this is so we have a sense of accomplishment and a chance to re-set goals if they decide to continue. I would much rather have a student - whether adult or child - end their lessons because they feel they can do what they set out to do - rather than discontinue because they've done it long enough - or the interest has just gone down - or a semester is done so they're just not going to sign up again.

Ending with a sense of accomplishment - even if it is a small accomplishment. I just think it's important. I also think it lends itself to more referrals of adult students that have always wanted to play piano - but are afraid of getting pushed into something they're not going to be able to complete. A student that ends feeling good - tends to recommend more. A student that ends feeling frustrated or "not good enough" tends to hide it from the world.

I keep looking at this post name - stiff hands and finger - I guess I went off topic. \:\)

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#32773 - 09/28/04 07:20 AM Re: Adults with stiff hands and fingers
pianoc Offline
Star Member

Registered: 08/14/03
Posts: 1088
Loc: Goshen, Indiana
I re-read again - so I'll get back on topic.

I agree with the adults feeling embarrassed. I think a lot of the problems with being tense and not being able to relax has to do with feeling like a kid - which is what I hear.

I think when they say this it's not so much they feel like an 8 year old, but they're no longer used to being in a situation of not knowing anything about "this".

Continuing education in a field you know something about is one thing - starting something from scratch that most people start when they're children - that's quite another.

Once you can get them feeling comfortable with you - and they're OK with all the strangeness of everything - most of the tenseness disappears.

When I've had an adult that just didn't seem to be able to stay relaxed - we would just stop. If they're playing a song and I notice they're tensing up - we stop and talk about it. Shake arms and hands out. Stretch a little. Sometimes we go back to the song - but mostly we don't. I give them something specific and achievable on the piece they're working on - and tell them they must stop and change songs if they feel themself getting tense at home.

I haven't had an adult student where I think the tenseness is a physical problem - it's been mental/emotional so far with mine. But I've only had adults that had no previous piano instruction before. I'm sure it's different with an adult that has already played the piano.

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#32774 - 10/08/06 12:41 PM Re: Adults with stiff hands and fingers
PATeacher Offline
Regular Member

Registered: 10/07/06
Posts: 57
I started an adult student in the Accelerated PA books about 2 years ago. She's in 3A of the basic method now, but when she plays her pieces for me she gets nervous and tenses up. We also have a problem with flying fingers. What I would do the remedy this problem is to have them relax so much that you can feel the full weight of their arms, on the fallboard flip their fingers one at a time, no other fingers should move when they're relaxed.

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#32775 - 10/09/06 09:11 AM Re: Adults with stiff hands and fingers
Arlene Steffen Offline
Star Member

Registered: 06/20/00
Posts: 2972
Loc: Fresno, CA USA
I work with a lot of beginning adults and the thing I find most helpful is to NOT do things like pentascales right away because they require those small muscle movements. Start with larger gestures, like open 5ths or clusters (black key works better because of the pentatonic sound possibilities).

Spend some time improvising so that they don't have to coordinate reading with finger technique right off the bat. Let them enjoy the sound of the piano and get comfortable with it.

I like to do a lot of rote pieces at the beginning. I'll do some of the songs I do with children, but change the titles.

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