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How to sit: a few things you’ll need for piano lessons to work

Pianos are made for the largest adult males. When the rest of us play without proper equipment, pain and injuries can result, silencing important musical voices. Young children are especially at risk of developing habits that can inhibit their music making. It doesn’t matter what you’re paying for piano lessons. If your setup isn’t optimal, the value of the lessons is reduced.

Here are a couple of things to consider in order to play piano in a healthy way that feels and sounds great.

Bench height:
Most benches do not allow students to sit high enough for good leverage. Wrist strain and back pain result. When playing, tips of students’ elbows should be level with the tops of the piano keys (while elbows are hanging freely next to body, and shoulders are down). In the past, teachers would have young students sit on books to compensate for benches that are too low. This is not so helpful, as books do not feel supportive. Having them sit on a folded blanket can be a good temporary solution. For a more permanent solution you will need a way to support the bench from underneath the legs, or a new bench.

  • Carpet squares under bench legs are a cheap effective option to get the bench higher.
  • If you don’t have to adjust height often, furniture risers like RaiseIts placed under each bench leg work well ($22 as of 5/20). These come in packs of 8. Each Raiseit lifts the bench about an inch. They’re cumbersome to move, so this is not an ideal solution when there are multiple players of different sizes in the household.
  • Another option if you don’t have to adjust height often is a bench that’s designed to go higher. Here’s one for $116 as of this writing. 
  • And here’s a higher quality bench with quick-adjust mechanism. Necessary if you have multiple players in the household. $244.

Foot support:
Once we’re sitting at the proper height, we’re often presented with another problem: dangling feet. It’s important for players to have two feet planted in front of them, with weight on them. Dangling feet means no balance, and that makes it much more difficult to play the keys we intend to play.

There are a couple of options to deal with this:

  • Here’s an easily adjustable footrest with no accommodation for pedals. It would be better if it allowed for use of pedals. Even without that it can be suitable for young kids in their first year or two of lessons. And it’s easily adjustable which is useful for families with multiple kids playing.  $113 before shipping as of this writing.
  • For students past their first year of lessons, they’re going to need to be able to access the pedals. For that they will need a PE-2 Pedal Extender. Cons are that it’s heavy and cumbersome to move and adjust. It’s also more expensive than one might expect. Pros are that it’s exactly what kids and smaller adults need to be able to both balance on their feet and use the pedals. So…you gotta have one if feet don’t easily reach the floor. These are about $275 shipped, but I have seen them go on sale occasionally.  There are cheaper versions of pedal extenders available, but craftsmanship is not as solid. The PE-2 is the gold standard.

If you are going to be paying for piano lessons, you owe it to yourself or your child to invest in a setup that’s conducive to good habits and good playing. A proper bench with proper foot support should not be afterthoughts. These things should be in place before kids (and smaller adults like me) begin formal study.

Please let me know if you experience any broken links in this post.

 

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