By Jacob Stockinger
So there I was, practicing a Bach prelude and fugue, and my thumbs began to hurt, to ache.
Had I used them too much that day? Had I practiced too long?
A couple days later I went to my piano lesson and asked my teacher about the problem.
“Funny you should ask,” he and his pianist wife both said. “We were just talking about that.”
Turns out that it’s normal for many people as they get older to have some osteoarthritis, (the normal, ager-related kind, not the severely debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that is more of an illness, an auto-immune disease).
Are the thumbs a particularly vulnerable part of the hand in piano playing?
Was I practicing wrong?
Playing a wrong piece?
Not really, they said. Just play more off the tip of the thumb rather than playing flat or near the knuckle.
The human thumb it seems just wasn’t designed by evolution to be optimal in playing the piano.
Should I practice less or play different pieces?
Not really. In fact, they said, sometimes not playing makes the thumbs feel worse. Sometimes just take some Tylenol or ibuprofen or some other pain reliever. And use common sense.
One thing you can do, they agree, is to go hear an expert on hand injury for pianists who is coming to Madison to perform a recital and give two free lectures.
Barbara Lister-Sink (right) will perform a free public recital on Friday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program includes Schoenberg’s Three Piano pieces, Gershwin’s Preludes for piano, Ravel’s fiendishly difficult “Gaspard de la Nuit” and Mendelssohn’s “Variations serieuses.”
Then the next day, Saturday, Nov. 7, she will often two lectures that are free and open to the public.
At 10 a.m. in Morphy Hall. she will discuss hand juries and how to prevent them.
Then at 1 p.m. in Morphy Hall, she will discuss problems of performing in public.
Both sound like great sessions by a pianist who has won awards and tours the country speaking about these issues.
Lister-Sink, artist-in-residence at Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was formerly keyboardist for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and has performed as soloist throughout Europe and North America, including collaborations with Guarneri String Quartet first violinist Arnold Steinhardt, former principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Doriot Anthony Dwyer and the late American mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani.
She has appeared at the New Hampshire, Skaneateles, Brevard and Chautauqua music festivals and has collaborated with notable composers such as Gyorgy Ligeti, Leon Kirchner, Vincent Persichetti and Witold Lutoslawski. She was a member of the artist faculty of the Eastman School of Music from 1979 to 1986 and has taught at Duke University and the Brevard Music Center.
Lister-Sink’s critically acclaimed video “Freeing the Caged Bird — Developing Well-Coordinated, Injury-Preventive Piano Technique” won the 2002 MTNA (Music Teachers National Association )-Frances Clark Keyboard Pedagogy National Award and was praised as “a monumental work” by pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. She has given numerous presentations on the subject for national and international music organizations and has written articles and reviews for leading music journals.
Have you experienced hand or finger injuries in playing an instrument?
Which ones and what kind?
What did you do?
What suggestions do you have about technique and repertoire to prevent or cure injuries?
The Ear wants to hear.