Can You Still Learn The Piano With Arthritis?

Many people who suffer from arthritis feel as though they can’t play the piano. Perhaps they used to play when they were younger, or are a complete beginner and are looking to learn for the first time.

Well we personally believe at Millers that even if you do suffer from arthritis and perhaps have mobility issues within your hands, that you can still get an immense level of enjoyment the piano and in fact, whilst it won’t cure the arthritis, by keeping your joints as active as possible, there is the potential that you can keep the condition from setting in deeper.

How Arthritis Affects The Hands

Arthritis affects everyone slightly differently and there is an entire scale of severity of arthritis, so it is impossible to brand every condition or circumstance with the same brush. Some may find that their arthritis only slightly affects their movement in particular ways, others, it may feel incredibly painful or uncomfortable to grip or move the fingers continuously.

When this is applied to piano, the same can be said. Some may find that they are able to play with relative ease and perhaps just need a break every so often to allow their joints to recover, for others even just pressing a key with a certain finger may be agonising.

What Options Are There?

When it comes to finding the right piano for your playing, again, a lot of this is down to personal preference and circumstances. For those who do not feel the pain when pressing a piano key repeatedly, then an acoustic piano with a full weighted action is absolutely fine and should definitely be considered. Learn more about how acoustic pianos work here.

For those with a little more tenderness, a weighted action may still be just fine, however a digital piano may actually be a better option for you. This is because certain digital piano models come with weight sensitivity, meaning that you can make the touch of the piano as heavy (like a real acoustic) or as light as you require.

Whilst there are certain caveats to playing with a lighter action, in that you may lose a degree of expression or sensitivity within your play, this will still give you a working piano to express yourself on!

For those in the most severe cases of arthritis who struggle to push down even the lightest settings of keys, one potential option could be to consider using a keyboard with a spring loaded action. Generally speaking, we would never recommend these to those looking to learn ‘piano’ as they remove almost all expressiveness from the instrument, and we do not offer them at Millers, however they are still a gateway instrument that can help!

Not sure on the kinds of digital pianos available? Read our guide here!

Tips For Playing The Piano With Arthritis

There are a few ‘unconventional’ ways of playing the piano if you struggle with particular hand movements or changes. Whilst these methods are generally not recommended for those looking for ‘correct’ piano technique, they still allow you to play music to a degree of compliance. 

Use Hand Patterns:

The first tip is to use patterns wherever possible when playing. The most common example of this is your standard chord pattern, where the fingers do not need to move, just be placed two notes apart from each other. This pattern makes playing not only easier because the fingers do not need to move, but because the fingers are not moving, the wrist can instead be rotated to play the notes individually if needed.

Using hand shapes where possible can be applied to both hands and will still offer you a great selection of potential music to choose from, particularly those just getting started. 

Get Creative With Finger Placement:

For those who struggle moving particular fingers, never be afraid to get a little more creative with your finger placement if needed. Instead of worrying about perfect technique, use a fingering that is comfortable to you.

Whilst this may be a little difficult to begin or for those who are classically trained as it does go against all you are taught, again, all we are looking for here is to be able to still play and have fun with the instrument!

Just consider it your own unique playing style!

Rest The Joints Where Possible:

One of the leading reasons arthritis can actually get worse is by overworking the joints to a point where they become sore and worn, which is why it is important to take regular breaks when playing. Even if it is taking a few seconds after each line of music, keep your hands mobile, but not painful!

Hand Exercises to Help Arthritis

There are a number of ways to help your hand mobility if suffering with arthritis, however the first point of call should always be a medical professional. However, for those looking for a few easy exercises that you can do at home to activate your joints in preparation for a quick piano practice, try these!

*Note, it doesn’t matter if you are unable to fully clench your fists or stretch your fingers in these exercises, only move to a comfortable position for yourself and do not put yourself at risk of injury!

1) Fist squeezes: Place your hands in a fist, or as close to a fist as you can with your thumbs on the outside and gently squeeze your fingers together, imagining there is a small pebble inside of your hands. Hold for 5 seconds, relax and repeat 5 times on each hand.

2) Finger spreads: Hold your fingers as far apart from each other as possible and gently extend your wrists backwards towards the ceiling. Once you have reached your maximum range, hold for 5, relax and repeat 5 times on each hand.

3) Thread hand squeeze: Interlock your fingers together and start gently and squeezing your hands together by the palms. Hold for 5 seconds, relax and then reverse your grip by placing the other thumb on top. 

4) Hand push: Hold your arm out in front of you and let your hand flop down towards the ground. With the other hand, gently push your floppy hand back towards your body, this will place tension throughout the wrists.

Examples of Pianists With Arthritis

For many, arthritis is an inevitable part of life and getting older, however the next time you hear someone (or yourself) say that you can’t play the piano because you have arthritis, explore the story of Byron Janis, one of the greatest pianists to ever lived who played for the likes of presidents, conservatoires and royalty.

Janis suffered immensely with his arthritis, however it never stopped him playing the piano, he believed that passion for playing and the power of the mind could overcome the disease…and it did! Watch his story below!

So there you have it, arthritis is no longer an excuse to not learn the piano if you want to! When you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything! Want some expert advice on finding the right piano for you, our showroom experts may be able to help!

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