If you’re like me and love playing the piano, then chances are you practice quite a bit. Just like any other physical activity, the more you practice the more sweat can occur on the fingers. Have you ever found yourself practicing the piano and then struggling to keep it all together?
When my hands get really sweaty I tend to slide all over the place. That causes me to miss chords, hit wrong notes in a scalar passage and play unevenly.
Thankfully there’s several ways to combat sweaty hands when trying to play the piano. Below are a list of 14 tips for playing piano with sweaty hands.
1. Use A Handkerchief
The number one thing any pianist needs during a performance is a handkerchief. This is a must have if your hands get sweaty and it’s the perfect way to dry off your hands. Not all handkerchiefs are created equal though. I would stick with cotton based handkerchiefs like this one for the best results.
Cotton handkerchiefs are more durable, are machine washable, and are moisture-wicking. On top of that they give a professional look and are small enough to stuff into your pocket or sit inside the piano.
Alternatives to handkerchiefs would be small dish towels or even some basic napkins. The reason I don’t like napkins or paper towels is because they tear easily. As they get wet they begin to lose their form. These are also lightweight options, so if the performance space has a vent then it could easily blow around while you’re playing.
Regular towels and handkerchiefs are thick, heavy enough and do a much better job at holding moisture.
2. Turn Down The AC
Perhaps the biggest contributor to sweaty hands while playing the piano is the room temperature. For me anything over 75 degrees and my hands will sweat like crazy! On the other hand, anything below 70 degrees and it feels like it’s freezing in the room. Try experimenting with the temperature in the room until you can get a great balance.
All rooms are different too, and in general larger rooms will require cooler temperatures. You have to keep your audience in mind too so that they aren’t uncomfortable during the performance. These are all things you can practice beforehand at home and during a dress rehearsal for a recital.
3. Play Early And Late
I’m from Florida, so you can imagine how hot the afternoons get in the sunshine state. With that said I try to schedule all of my practice sessions during times when the temperature is not so extreme. The early mornings between 6AM – 10AM are when temperatures are cooler.
Because of this I don’t have to run my air conditioner trying to compensate for the changes. Once it gets into the early afternoon hours it’s usually a good 85 degrees outside. My practice room has a window in it, so as the sun rises and beams on that side of the home the whole room heats up just enough to make me sweat.
Another time I suggest pianists practice is during the evening hours. This doesn’t have to be when it gets dark, but somewhere near sunset and onward is perfect. Whenever you practice just be sure that others in the home are okay with the schedule.
4. Relocate Your Piano
Temperature control is important for many reasons beyond basic piano care. It can help you feel more comfortable while playing. If your piano is located in a room that gets really warm then you should consider moving it to another. I’ve already discussed why pianos should be on an inside wall, but having it in a room with no windows is ideal if possible.
Rooms with the proper ventilation to keep your body consistently cool. The piano should be faced in way where the air is not directly blowing into it; especially if you change the temperature a lot.
5. Take A Break
For some of us playing piano with sweaty hands is a direct result of intense practice sessions. This is why I suggest to my students to take frequent breaks when they practice. Usually every 20 – 25 minutes is perfect.
If any moisture has built up on the fingers then that’s a great opportunity to grab your handkerchief to wipe them off. Playing the piano is not much different than what an athlete experiences. The more your body works the more perspiration occurs.
6. Dealing With Over-Active Cooling
Some people can play the piano hours at a time without seemingly sweating at all. Then there are those of us who begin sweating almost immediately as if we’ve run a marathon. This is an example of an over-active cooling system; often referred to as Palmar Hyperhidrosis.
This condition doesn’t just affect the hands though. It can cause your feet to sweat as well! You won’t really know you have this condition unless you’ve been diagnosed by a doctor (if you think this is a possibility go get checked out!).
For those that do have it there’s many treatment options out there. ETS surgery for example is a rather minor procedure, but it will work for 98% of those who try it. Other treatments include using Botox, and topical treatments too.
7. Using Topical Treatments
Antiperspirants are really popular treatments for sweaty hands. There’s a wide range of brands out there to choose from, but you can’t really go wrong with Carpe or Sweat Block. These lotions are great for pianists because they are gentle on the fingers and non-irritating.
Before applying any treatment like this make sure that your hands are clean and dry. Don’t try applying this after you’ve already started sweating or it won’t work well.
I would give yourself 10 – 15 minutes before your practice session or recital and apply the lotion. If using Carpe just squeeze a tiny amount onto your hands and then rub in fully. These lotions are gentle on the fingers, so if you can apply it multiple times per day if needed.
Sweat Block has a similar effect, but it utilizes antiperspirant pads instead. They aren’t just for the hands as you can use them on the underarms and other spots too. With either one of these products the best time to apply the treatment is overnight. This is when the sweat glands are a lot less active and the ingredients can settle in better for the following day.
8. Using A Fan
Another place you can move the piano is into a room that has a ceiling fan which is a great alternative to lowering room temperatures. I like fans because the blowing air works well for keeping your fingers dry. If moisture ever starts to build up the moving air will help cut back on any build-up on the fingers.
Not every room has a ceiling fan, so a portable fan is a great option. The one I have is O2COOL desktop fan. It’s a small 5 inch fan, but it operates at 2 different cooling speeds to give you precisely what you need.
This portable fan is great for pianists who need specific cooling angles and may want to tilt the fan. I set mine up on top of the piano so that it blows downward on my fingers. Another option is to set it on a near by table where metronomes, pencils and sheetmusic might be.
9. Playing Slower
Sometimes sweating can occur in the middle of a concert. In that case there’s no time to apply any ointments or dry your hands while trying to play 16th note passages! In these scenarios my number one tip is to slow everything down.
This can’t be a drastic slowdown and should be strategic. When your hands are sweating the chances of slipping off keys and messing up entire passages is much greater.
Slowing down gives you a chance to stabilize the fingers and bridge of your hand and to quick calculated decisions. If you’re prone to sweaty fingers in performance then a good practice is to start pieces a little under tempo.
10. Calming Your Nerves
Sweating while playing the piano can sometimes be a direct result of nerves. We all get nervous when playing the piano in some way or another. How we react to those nerves varies from person to person.
Calming those nerves can have all sorts of benefits. That includes reducing shaking fingers, lack of tempo control, and of course sweating. There’s plenty of reading you can do to calm your nerves as well as changing your practice habits.
My method of choice is simply to record myself playing on a video camera. This gives me a great simulation of what the recital would be like and I can work through any sweating and shaking nervous that normally occur. Playing for people more often is also great practice.
11. Cut Out The Sugars
What you eat and drink has a profound impact on sweating. Eating hot meals for example before practicing will raise the overall body temperature. If you practice in the mornings then your first instinct might be to make a hot cup of coffee.
Coffee is a really hot drink though and for me at least it contributes directly to my sweating. Foods that contain a lot of sugar and caffeine should be avoided; sodas, berries, and cookies to name a few.
Caffeine is a stimulant, so the effects of it on your body are quite great. Consuming caffeine increases you heart rate and causes you to sweat. It’s also a good idea to stay away from fried foods and greasy meals.
12. Eat Sweat Reducing Meals
Cutting out the sugars is one thing, but eating right is another. There’s actually a couple of foods you can eat that will help reduce the amount of sweating your body does when it gets active. Below is a list of foods to incorporate into your piano diet.
- Fruits (watermelon, orange, mango)
- Almonds and Oats
- Sweet Potatoes
13. Wash Your Hands Before Playing
One thing I like to do before playing a piano concert is to wash my hands. You don’t need any soap for this to work, just some water. Doing this and wiping my hands off allows them dry out completely; to the point where you can see my hands are dry. This works really well for me. If you want drier hands then add in soap.
14. Baking Soda Treatment
I’ve spoken with many pianists over the years, but one of the more unique methods I became aware of was using a baking soda treatment. It’s a simple prep that you can do before doing any sort of practicing.
Pour a bowl full of warm water and then add in a bit of baking soda. You don’t need a lot, maybe three or four tablespoons worth. Mix the baking soda around with a spoon and let it sit for 2 minutes. Next dip your hands into the baking soda mix and let them soak for half an hour. The alkaline qualities of the baking soda will effectively rid your palms of sweat.
Everyone Deals With Sweaty Hands
Listen, sweaty hands are nothing new, especially when it comes to piano playing. It’s a physical activity and perhaps the most physically intensive instruments to deal with. Your hands and arms do the bulk of the work, so it’s only natural that the sweat glands will get activated.
Start off by cooling the room down and getting a fan going to keep the air dry. If things get too bad definitely try out some of the antiperspirant creams. Ultimately the sweat is going to come whether you want it to or not. Knowing how to deal with it when it’s among you is the real key here.
The best thing way to deal with hands that are actively sweating is to regulate your tempos, laser focus and try to get a grip on your technique. Solid technique is usually the first thing to go when playing piano with sweaty fingers, but if you concentrate you can handle the sliding and gripping issues that sometime arise.