How To (Correctly) Sit At The Piano

Stop your back pain now by improving your piano posture!

“But you just sit down and move your fingers, how is that remotely difficult?” I hear you ask.

The pianists among you will recognise the toll, both mental and physical, that playing the piano for long periods of time can take, especially if you do not have the right posture.

While it seems a relatively minor thing, good posture is absolutely crucial. You can learn all the piano notes, know how the piano is played, be an expert at piano scales, but if you don’t impose good habits now, you could be facing years of back pain and discomfort in the future.

To aid you on your quest to the perfect piano posture, we’ve created a helpful guide that will teach you how to sit correctly at the piano.

Step 1 – Adjust the height of the seat

The first step to piano-playing success is ensuring that your seat is at the right height. The seat should be high enough that, when you play, your elbows are above your wrists slightly.

Make sure that your feet touch the floor when you play to ensure you have the necessary balance to move your hands from one side of the piano to the other as the music requires.

Some seats will have adjustable heights, but others will not. If you can’t adjust the height of your seat (or if it’s still not high enough), you can always add cushions or mats to the seat. Don’t use a soft pillow, though, as this won’t add much height! You can also place a block beneath the seat legs to increase its height.  

Looking to buy a piano? Check out our guide on how to buy a used piano to answer all your questions!

Step 2 – Adjust the distance between the seat and the piano

The seat should be close enough to the piano that you can easily reach the pedals and the notes. It should be close enough that you can play the notes with your arms bent. If the seat is too far away, your hands will be straight when you play, which will create unnecessary tension. Your arms should form a 90 degree angle at your elbows.

If the seat is too close, your legs will get cramped. You’ll know when you’ve found the right distance as you’ll feel comfortable. This is good! Comfort is good!

Bear in mind that every piano is different; some will be bigger than others so every time you play at a new piano, be prepared to make some adjustments.

It might be worth investing in an adjustable bench if your piano doesn’t come with one. An adjustable bench allows you to play properly at the correct height (and other people if your piano is used by other family members or friends). Avoid using a chair as a substitute as it won’t let you adjust your height. Plus, let’s be honest, it doesn’t look as sexy…

Step 3 – Adjust your position on the seat

It helps if you sit forward on the seat, perhaps even on the edge. This is so you have more movement when necessary. You can lean forwards, backwards, side to side, etc.  This ability to move is key for when you want to play notes at either end of the piano.

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Step 4 – Keep your back straight

Not only does this prevent long-term damage, there are also studies that suggest you become more confident when you’re sitting upright.

Don’t believe me? Think about the bad-ass surgeons on Grey’s Anatomy…

A useful exercise to do if you want to find the perfect posture is to imagine that the centre of your head is being help up by a string. Like pinocchio! Except without the existential crisis… (you can have that when you start playing!)

Also, avoid hunching your shoulders as this creates unnecessary tension.

Piano, just like certain exercises, requires you to engage your core. If you can support yourself, you’ll hear an improvement in your tone as your arms should move with more ease over the keyboard.

Looking to improve your piano technique? Check out our 4 techniques to play piano chords.

Step 5– Relax your fingers

Tense fingers don’t play well! Completely relax your fingers. You can do this by shaking them out to get rid of any unnecessary tension. You could even go full-on hokey pokey if no one’s watching…

When you play, it should feel like your upper arms are doing all the work in supporting your fingers and wrists.

Step 6 – Relax your wrists

Just as you did before with your fingers, relax your wrists. Encore of the hokey pokey, anyone?

Your wrists should be in-line with your elbows as you play. This means that your elbows should move down the piano as your fingers do.

If you’re enjoying learning more about the piano, check out our interview with Yuri Matsuura – a pianist who specialises in writing sheet piano music for people with small hands.

Step 7 – Check your hand position

Learning the proper piano hand position is essential for both beginner and advanced piano players as not only does it prevent injury, it also allows a pianist to get better tone quality.

As a beginner you may think that the tone of the piano is unchangeable but in fact the position of your hands can absolutely affect the sound coming out of the piano.

Your hand should make a cupping shape over the piano with the knuckles being slightly higher than the wrist and the thumb and index finger making a slight “C” shape.  

Step 8 – Clear your mind

Now you’ve relaxed your body is relaxed, focus on your mind. Practicing is as much about your muscle memory as it is about your state of mind. Clear your head of other problems and focus on the music.

Now you know how to sit properly at the piano, it’s time to start practising! Check out easy piano sheet music or check out our list of movie soundtracks to play on the piano.

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About author
William Ridd is a writer based in London. After a messy divorce from the clarinet, William decided that playing music wasn’t for him, but he continues to appreciate it and likes writing about it.
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