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Calories Burned Playing The Piano – A Deeper Look

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As a musician, finding time for other things. This is especially true for pianists like myself, who spend many hours practicing, trying to perfect a piece as well as they can. Working out and doing something with fitness can be incredibly challenging. Sitting at a piano all day can sometimes spark fear in pianists wondering if they’re gaining weight by not being active enough outside practice. 

I wondered about the calories burned while playing the piano. There’s a lot of info on this online, but I wanted to get into the data and figure out just how much I was burning and for which type of pieces I burned the most calories playing. 

You can burn between 6.5 – 11.5 calories per minute playing the piano. The median range of burned calories is 12.6 calories per minute. Low to moderate piano music ranges lower on calories burned, while high-intensity piano pieces burn almost double the calories. 

How you practice greatly impacts the number of calories burned while practicing. Not only that, but the type of music you’re playing plays a role. Rather than take what others on the internet said, I got in and did the research myself to help pianists around the world get a good feel for how much energy they can realistically burn while playing this wonderful instrument. 

Let’s get into it! 

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Real Data On How PIano Playing Impacts Calorie Burn

As I mentioned, many blogs discuss calorie burn with no real data. I’m all about data, so I experimented with this. Besides, we all have different body types, and how many calories one burns won’t be the same. However, I hope this data can give you a general idea. You can make some relative conclusions about how many calories you can burn playing the piano and what kind of music generates more burn. 

To do this experiment, I purchased a FitBit Charge 5. I chose this watch because it’s relatively accurate in monitoring heart rate and calorie tracking. I set the watch up and started adding my info, such as my height and current weight, age, and gender. 

After that, I set up a workout and decided to experiment with three types of pieces:

  • Schumann – Arabesque In C major
  • Chopin – Berceuse in D Flat Major
  • Schumann – The Smuggler

I categorized the pieces as Low, Medium, and High-intensity workouts at the piano. My original hypothesis was that although The Smuggler was the shorter of the pieces, it was also the most technically challenging and the fastest. It works up a good sweat when performing it. 

I was curious about the Low and Medium pieces. Chopin would be considered the Low piece due to its overall speed, and the Arabesque would be medium because it moved along more. 

Now, to the results:

As it turns out, the music that burned the most calories overall was the Chopin Berceuse, with 46 calories across 4:30 of time! While that was the most calories burned, it was also the slowest-moving piece (we’ll talk about this briefly). 

Next up, we have the Schumann Arabesque. This data is the most interesting because I consider it a Medium piece. There are many interpretations of this piece, sometimes at a playful quick speed and others more subdued such as Arthur Rubinstein’s recordings. 

According to my FitBit Charge 5, I burned 36 calories. The rate was around 7.2 calories per minute. My average BPM was 107, but I went way up to 124 BPM at its max. The image below shows the general location of the music where things rose. This is about 2 minutes into the music, and understandable. The dynamics are much louder there, and you have to play bigger chords, so it all makes perfect sense. 

And lastly, we have the other Schumann piece, a fiery piece that lasts about 2 minutes long. This one burned around 13 calories. Note that the heart rate was considerably higher overall but for a shorter period. That contributed to it not burning as much as I thought. 

What All Of This Means For Pianists Looking To Burn Calories Through Playing

A few key takeaways from my experiment can help put the data into perspective and explain why my original hypothesis was a bit off.

Practice Intensity 

So, the way pianist practices can greatly impact how many calories they burn. It’s not just a simple fact that more intense pieces burn more calories per minute. But rather how you approach them.

For example, I could implement “slow” practice techniques on The Smuggler and lower my calories burned per minute. This is a real thing that pianists do anyway, and something to keep in mind if this is one of the primary ways you practice. 

Or I could focus heavily on a set of measures with many scale passages for a long time. Something like that could cause me to burn more calories too. There may be a series of octaves that I play slower, but because of the technique I use, such as dropping the weight in the arms heavily, the extra energy burned plays a major factor. 

For example; this section of The Smuggler by Schumann is where my heart rate went up the most. Not only did that occur, but the average calories burned increased.

I could also do practice intervals where I do fast playing followed by slow playing. Or even do short practice bursts. This brings me to my next point.

Timing Affects The Calories Burned

In my experiment, I played the pieces in the following order:

  • Schumann – Arabesque
  • Schumann – The Smuggler
  • Chopin – Berceuse in D Flat Major

But why is this important? 

I started with the Medium piece, so I came into the Smuggler with a higher heart rate. This meant I was already in an accelerated phase of calorie burn. Then, with no break in-between, I went right into The Smuggler, which raised my heart rate as high as 141 BPM. 

Although my average BPM dropped to 119 for the Chopin piece, it was clear that because I took no breaks between pieces, I came into that piece past my resting heart rate of 67 BPM. So, this certainly skewed my results a bit. 

What does this mean for you, though? 

It simply means you can mix the types of pieces you play and the intervals between them and increase your burn rate. It also means you don’t have to force yourself to play at a high-intensity level for the duration of your practice sessions. Rather, you can mix some of those pieces with lighter works. 

This makes the practice much easier to attain and reduces the risk of injury when playing the piano. It also shows that your pieces don’t have to be these big long, elaborate phrases full of octaves and crazy leaps to get a good workout. 

The Takeaway

I hope that your takeaway is this one crucial point. Playing the piano, indeed, does. Burn calories. Not only does it give you relatively decent calorie burn, but you’re in total control of how much you burn. 

While playing the piano is not a substitute for regular exercise, nor does it replace a jog around the park, it does something. 

And trust me, I get it. It’s easy to find yourself sitting at the keyboard for hours, banging away and worrying that it’s not benefiting you physically. 

However, it does. 

I recommend getting a fitness tracker and trying the experiment for yourself. Everyone’s results will vary, but the relative data is something you can use and make actionable choices from that. You’ll start to gain a feel for which kind of playing style and pieces cause you to get the best workout at your instrument.