Surely at some point, you’ve asked your teacher “how high should I sit at the piano”? Sometimes that question gets answered in words, and other times it’s demonstrated to you without much explanation. I’ve decided it would be a great idea to break down proper piano bench height while sitting at the piano so others can get the best playing experience possible.
Below is the process to determine how high you should sit at the piano
- Adjust the bench so that your forearm and elbow are mostly parallel to the keys
- Sit at the front edge of the piano bench; not the center
- Make sure your knees are not jamming into the front of your piano
- Lift your arms so that your hands rest comfortably on the keyboard
- Your wrist should be slightly lower than your knuckles to form a gentle curve
- Make sure your feet are touching the floor and able to reach the pedals
Now that you know how high you should sit at the piano, there are a few other things to consider when your bench isn’t an adjustable one. Let’s talk about that next.
What If My Bench Is Too Short
One common issue you’re going to run across as you play different pianos is finding the right bench height. All benches aren’t made the same, and all pianos aren’t either. At home, you might adjust the bench to be a certain level and then get to your lessons only to find that doesn’t work! Your adjustments should be relative to what bench is being used, the height of the piano and so forth.
As you adjust your bench height there’s a good chance that it might be too short. I find that younger students run into this issue a lot and need a bit of help to get into the best position to play. In this case, I would add something to the bench to help prop them up; a book or even soft padding or pillows work just fine.
Some benches are better than others, and any quality piano bench is going to be an investment. Some of the best benches out there offer you really soft padding, a large range of height adjustment levels and plenty of real estate so both kids and adults can use them. I recommend checking out the Songmics piano bench; it’s got great plush padding and can adjust anywhere from 18.5″ to 22.4″ which is perfect.
The other bench I really like is the adjustable duet bench by CPS Imports. For those with piano students, it’s a better solution than just pulling up a separate chair. Even if you’re a parent with multiple kids taking lessons this allows them to play the piano at the same time. It also adjusts up to around 22″ in height.
How Tall Are Piano Benches?
The average piano bench is somewhere between 18″ to 22″ in height. Some benches even go as far as 24″ when fully extended. Many of them are around 30″ wide which is plenty big for people of various sizes.
In the past they were not really adjustable, so you were stuck with whatever height the designer produced. These days they have simple knob adjustment mechanisms that allow us to change it to the height we need.
Piano Bench Height Affects Freedom Of Movement
With the right bench height and distance, you’ll be able to move around as needed to be creative musically. When the bench is set too low or too high that’s when problems usually begin to form.
Many method books teach the same basic bench height procedure I just described above. It’s not an exact science though, so I recommend that you look at it as a place to start. Young pianists especially might feel that if their arm ever falls or raises beyond a certain point that they’re doing something wrong. With further investigation though it almost always comes down to not have the correct posture; something that bench height helps tremendously with.
As you play, some repertoire might require you to dig deeper into the keys or even approach the keyboard from a different angle. Pianists do all sorts of natural movements from hovering over, leaning back and even moving side to side as they play.
As you perform it’s a good idea to experiment with feeling free. Your forearm, elbow, and wrists should feel as relaxed as possible. This helps you achieve a good sound as opposed to being tense in your playing.
The main reason I suggest sitting parallel and relaxed to the piano is that if gives you the best chance to play your music accurately. When you sit up straight and everything is balanced from a height perspective, you have the ability to see everything much more clearly. If a piece has large octave leaps and sudden shifts to another register you’ll be able to accomplish that much better with the proper bench height.
The distance you sit away from the piano is a really important part of making all of this work though. You could be sitting at the perfect height and still be too close to the keyboard. A good indicator of being to close is when your shoulders feel shrugged and your elbows appear condensed.
When the distance from the keyboard is too great what you’ll experience right away is the inability to move around freely. This not only affects your finger speed but also your note accuracy and things relating to tension. I’ve had a lot of students think that if they just sit high enough on the bench and get really close that it’ll cure all of their problems. What they don’t realize is that they are actually creating more.
Where To Sit On A Piano Bench
Another common issue I see young pianist have is trying to sit in the middle of the bench. There have even been times I’ve seen them sitting at the very back of the bench! All of that factors into the distance factor.
Since benches come in all shapes, sizes, and lengths the back or middle of one bench might be much different than another. This makes it tough for any pianist to be consistent with their distance; unless they bring their bench everywhere with them.
I typically advise students to sit towards the very edge or front half of the piano bench no matter whose it is. from there they can make adjustments, measure their arm extensions and adjust the height. If something is off they simply move the bench backward or forward rather than scooting their entire body. Especially for shorter students whose feet can quite reach the pedals yet, it’s really important to sit at the edge for that reason alone.
Not only is the distance tougher to measure in the middle or back of the bench, but it’s also going to put pressure on your thighs and end up with some serious back pain after a long practice session. Sitting upright on the edge of the bench applies the pressure to your pelvic bones. The weight is also distributed through your legs and feet. Since there is less pressure on your back now when you play it’ll be much easier to move around freely and transfer weight between your arms as needed.
Should My Knees Be Under The Piano?
Each piano is designed differently and will directly have an impact on how high you decide to sit at the instrument. Some pianos are propped up on wheels and some are not. Typically those on wheels lend themselves better to taller individuals with longer legs. This means the keyboard bed will likely be high enough so that you can get your knees underneath it comfortably.
If you’re a tall guy like me that’s really important. Other times the piano won’t be on wheels which leads to my knees actually jamming into the keyboard bed. For a shorter individual that works better because they can work with a lower bench height.
Then there’s those of us who fit somewhere in between. In that case, you have to consider the bench height and even sitting further back to be able to play the instrument effectively. This is what I mean when I say that the bench height you might use in one location doesn’t mean much when engaging with another piano.
My general rule when it comes to distance is to make sure that my arms can extend fully no matter what movements I make. While I don’t play fully extended it helps to have that extra space for when I need to explore the different registers.
Sometimes I end up sacrificing some bench height to ensure that I can have more freedom of movement. Parallel arms and elbows are the ultimate preference, but occasionally you’ll need to make the adjustments necessary to perform on a case by case basis.
Quick Tips For Adjusting Your Bench Height
Over the years I’ve developed some quick ways to adjust my piano bench height so that I could be comfortable. Even if it was a different bench or different piano, doing some of these tricks can help you be more consistent. It’s not an exact science so always take your measurements with a grain of salt. Here’s my process.
- Feeling The Knees – Once I’ve adjusted my bench to the proper height I always stand at the piano bench with my knees touching it. I look and remember the feel of where the top of the bench was touching. After a while, you will internalize the feeling and can walk to almost any piano bench and replicate this any time.
- Using Tape – Using tape is kind of corny but it works. It works similarly to the knee idea but utilizes the keyboard instead. I place a slip of tape onto the front of the keyboard and then measure the bench against it. If it meets its mark then everything is ready to go. If not I keep adjusting.
- Counting Rotations– The last method I use is counting the number of rotations I make to my piano bench. Usually, when I hit a certain number the bench is at the exact height I need it to be. For this to work you can adjust the bench in either direction. If starting from the bottom I make sure the bench is completely lowered and then count up. From the top, I do it in the reverse. This is a simple way to help young students learn how to adjust their benches systematically.
Should I Sit Low At The Piano?
I figured this might be a pressing question so I’ve decided to finish this article addressing it. Many pianists, even famous ones like Glenn Gould were known for sitting low at the piano. Pianists in particular that are really tall tend to do this, but it’s not merely for show. In most cases, they actually have too so that their legs have somewhere to go. Other times these pianists have really long torsos, so having a lower bench actually aids them.
I remember a college classmate of mine who was notorious for sitting really low at his piano bench. I used to think that there was no way he would be able to play until I heard those roaring Beethoven sonata octaves coming out of the Steinway. So my answer to this question is a simple “maybe”.
What To Do Next
What I hope I helped you understand from this article is that you need a starting point. There’s no better place to begin than by going with a position that allows you as the pianist to be as parallel and horizontal to the floor as possible. Eliminating all of the weird angles is the first thing.
After that, you can start to play a bit and see if you’re feeling any discomfort. If your back is hurting then perhaps you’re sitting too far back. Maybe your knees aren’t fitting under the keyboard and perhaps your sound is a bit weak. Listen, it’ll probably take you several weeks to really get down a comfortable bench height for you at the piano you use the most.
The next step is to take what you’ve discovered about the piano you play all of the time and translate it to performance. Different benches, differently sized pianos and more shouldn’t scare you away. After a while, you’ll be able to apply some basic troubleshooting principles to the whole situation and make sure you’re sitting high enough no matter which piano you choose.
I hope this was helpful to you! If you have any questions just leave me a comment.