I have been experimenting with different bench heights, to find one that gave me the most flexibility and freedom of movement in terms of hand posture and finger shape. For about a year I tried sitting a little higher so that my elbows were a couple of degrees above key level when my fingers were at rest on the keys with good hand posture.
Yet something was not quite right. So I tried sitting higher. That was plainly wrong — I felt restricted and lost some control over feel and arm weight. Then I started to wonder why a few pianists, most notably Vladimir Horowitz and Glenn Gould, sat so low at the keyboard. You can see how low Horowitz sits in the many videos of him on YouTube. Gould sat so low at the keyboard that if he got any lower he’d be under the piano.
So a couple of weeks ago I lowered my bench so that my elbows were fractionally below key level. It felt uncomfortable at first but very quickly I discovered three things:
- I had more freedom of hand posture and finger shape. In particular I found it helpful to sometimes flatten my hand and fingers because it gave me more control over dynamics;
- I had more control over arm weight;
- I had fractionally more hand span.
We’ve all read that pianists like Horowitz and Gould were freaks, and that their respective postures at the piano worked for them but were wrong as a rule. Well, after what I discovered, perhaps a more accurate rule-of-thumb is to sit low to the keys, but not too low, and experiment to find the best (approximate) height.
When I get back from the current business trip I’m going to experiment with slightly lower bench heights. Can’t wait!