On Adjusting the Height of a Piano Stoolby Mandar, 16 Jul 2017
As a pianist, the first thing I do when I sit at a piano is adjust the height of the stool so that I am comfortable while playing. A simple step, but one of paramount importance: too low, and my hands would start to ache midway through the performance; too high, and my legs would bump into the front of the piano while pedalling.
Piano stools are usually very tedious to adjust. Older stools have a release mechanism consisting of a lever system under the seat. To adjust the height of the seat, one must reach under the seat and pull the lever while not having one’s weight on the seat: quite a clumsy-looking process. Newer stools have knobs on the sides of the seat which you can rotate to move the seat up or down. However, adjusting the seat using the knob mechanism is very slow, and it can take ages to get the right height. So, adjusting the height of the stool is not something you want to do in front of an audience, as it breaks the ‘flow’ of the otherwise formal and ‘elegant’ (for a want of better words) performance.
Generally, I adjust the height of the stool on the day of the concert, just before the audience arrives. Concerts with multiple performers usually have more than one stool so that performers can pre-adjust the height (performers with similar heights use the same stool; minor adjustments can be made during the concert).
I was performing at a concert a few weeks ago. The stool was set at the perfect height after the rehearsal at 5:30 PM. The concert started at 7. I arrived on stage, took a bow, and sat down. Lo and behold, the stool is too low! I ended up having to adjust the seat in front of the audience anyways. Now that I think of it, this wasn’t the first time this has happened. In fact, at nearly every concert I’ve performed in (that I can remember), this has happened.
Why does this always happen? The first thing that came to my mind was that I had changed my clothes after the rehearsal: I wear jeans and a T-shirt while rehearsing, and change into formals right before the concert. But the difference in the thickness of jeans and that of formal trousers is too minute to matter. Also, if the thickness in my attire were the culprit, the adjustment I had to make during the concert would be pretty much the same every time. However, the adjustments I had to make were in no way consistent: sometimes the stool was too low, sometimes it was too high.
The only other possible conclusion I could come up with is that the problem is psychological. When one performs, one is usually in a different state of mind as compared to when one rehearses. Maybe the feeling of ‘nervousness’ or ‘sensitivity’ changes what one perceives to be a ‘comfortabe height’. Maybe the rush of adrenaline changes one’s posture in some slight manner. Maybe it just affects me and not other performers.
I suppose any of these could actually be possible. But then it just doesn’t feel like that. It feels as though the stool which was perfect during rehearsal just wants to be adjusted in front of the crowd.