Any musical instrument takes practice if you want to improve and eventually master it. Playing the piano is a physical activity, and like any sport/hobby, muscle development is required in order to learn and improve. This is where learning to do a few 'off-bench' piano exercises can come in handy. Off-bench exercises basically refer to learning or practicing music related tasks while not actually making music. In other words, playing the piano even when you are not sitting in front of one.
These off-bench exercises are perfect for beginners and they are still designed to help improve your overall skill and knowledge. Off-bench exercises can include both theory or stretching warm-up exercises.
Try these off-bench exercises that should help you improve and advance your piano playing:
1.Hand and Arm Stretch
Hand and arm stretches are useful to do both before and after practicing the piano.
To do this, stretch your arms out horizontally in front of you and slowly pull your fingers down until facing the ground.
You should feel the forearm muscles begin to pull. If not, lift your arms higher and try again and hold.
You can also extend one arm in front of your body, then with your other hand take your fingertips and gently pull them towards the sky. Do this for both hands. These to stretches should be pulling the forearm muscles on the top and stretching the muscles on the palsied area.
Even when you are not playing they will play a positive role in preparing you for your next practice session.
If you have a pool, or at least have access to one, then don't waste the opportunity to turn your swimming sessions into an off-bench piano exercise!
Swimming has a positive effect on your general physique and, of course, your piano skills.
Better yet, if you have a floating device (like a buoy, inflatable raft or lounger) use it to float your legs and swim around using only your arms. If you do not have anything to float on, a fun alternative is to try doggy-paddle.
The doggy-paddle uses nearly all of your upper body muscles as well as leg muscles, which serves as a great all round workout for your piano playing.
Never forget to give your hands a good shake for at least 5 seconds before you play. Shaking your hands increases blood flow to your hands and fingers allowing for optimal performance.
3. Rock Climbing
When trying to learn big chords and octaves, strong hands and fingers make reaching those complex chords that much easier. Not everyone is fortunate to go rock climbing every other week, but if you can it’s a very effective tool in building up strong fingers, hands and forearms, which will without a doubt make a big difference to how you reach those chords.
4. Stress Ball
A stress ball is a great (and not to mention a stress-free) technique that you can take with you anywhere and use anytime. Whether you are at work, in class or simply chilling at home watching t.v, having a stress ball to squeeze is an easy and convenient way to work your hand and finger muscles. A squash ball works just as well.
While it’s not necessarily a stretch, the constant squeezing will help improve the stamina in your hands, decreasing the chance of your hands and fingers getting tired while you are playing the piano. Don't forget to use it for both hands though!
It's important to warm-up and stretch your hands and fingers not only before practice but after it too. This will help prevent strain and also ease it after a long practice.
5. Finger Stretches
Place the palms of your hands together and allow your fingers to intertwine. Straighten your arms and hold them out in front of you. Then, slowly and gently (with your fingers still intertwined) turn your hands inside out so that you are looking at your fingers. With palms facing outwards, allow your fingers to stretch.
You can also hold your thumb with your other hand and give it a gentle pull, then release and spread your fingers as wide as they can go. Do this with all your fingers on your one hand, then swap to the other hand.
Another exercise is to place your fingertips together as if they were around an imaginary ball. Gently push each fingertip against fingertip until you can feel the pressure on the knuckles. Release the pressure and do it again.
Off-Bench Exercises Are Essential
There are many other hand and arm stretches that you can do to keep your muscles ready for piano playing.These off-bench piano exercises are especially useful because most of them can be done at almost any convenient time, whether you are at your desk, at work or at class
Constantly working and stretching your hand and finger muscles will help to greatly improve their strength and flexibility which will reshape your playing. But be careful not to overdo it, or the next time you practice you may find your hands straining rather than improving.
About the Author: Helen Baker
I am a freelance teacher and writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, I spent some time teaching English in Paris and, thereafter, returned to Ann Arbor where I was involved both in the media and academics. Currently I am a stay at home mom, working as a freelance writer and teacher. I love all my guitars and I also have an affinity towards old grand pianos. I love singing, traveling, reading, writing, watching films and spending quality time with my husband.