It’s very important to instill good posture habits at the piano. Sitting squarely at the keyboard, feet on the floor (or on a low stool for children), with a straight back.
But once in a while, you need to break free and start testing the limitations of what else you can do with a piano. Fortunately, there are people willing to experiment and give it a go.
Piano Playing Upside Down
I teach a 7-year-old boy who is a real live wire. His energy levels are always incredibly high and sitting on the piano stool for 30 minutes is fairly impossible. I sometimes instruct him to run around the room after a period of intense concentration on a piece of music.
But the last lesson, on a whim, I decided to challenge him to play while sitting with his back to the piano. This completely got his attention and before I knew it we were on a journey to see how accurately he could play a simple piece he knew well, first of all sitting backwards, arms straight out behind him. Then hands crossed behind him. And then laying across the stool with his head under the keyboard with the left hand playing the bass and right hand playing the treble. Then with crossed hands so each hand had to play the part of the other.
He absolutely rose to this challenge and was coming up with other ideas himself. I think the physicalness of it – and not having to sit still – just suited him.
Others have done this over the years of course – and with practice, some people have got really good at it.
There are stories that when Mozart was little he sometimes performed blindfolded as well as upside down or backwards for royalty, upping the entertainment value.
Here are some of the best examples of pianists playing backwards –
Umi Garratt, aged 8, on the Ellen Degeneres show. Her performance begins around 1:20 but it’s worth watching the whole thing:
Umi Garratt, aged 10, with the Boston Pops Orchestra:
Simwayn Youtube channel playing Mozart Sonata in C upside and backwards:
Jason Lyle Black playing Scott Joplin’s “Entertainer” backwards:
The wonderfully entertaining “Dueling Siblings” duetting backwards:
Nate Hance playing Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca backwards and upside down:
Playing two pianos at once (two pianists) – “Dueling Siblings” again on “The Piano Gal”:
Talking of uncomfortable ways to play the piano – try 23 people playing one piano at the same time! This is something I did with my own piano students last summer. We tried for 23 of us playing one piece of music at the same time on one piano. We rehearsed in small groups for over three months. Finally, we performed with all 23 of us at our summer concert. It was hugely challenging, to say the least.
Finally, we submitted our video to the Guinness Book of World Records. Sadly, they couldn’t verify the number of pianists from our video, so we were not awarded the World Record. The record was 18 at the time, but then a group of 21 pianists performed a specially written piece and were awarded the World Record.
My students are not keen to have another go. It takes a tremendous amount of practice, everything needs to be carefully choreographed and it’s incredibly uncomfortable!
Here are the current World Record holders with their performance:
Playing backwards, upside down – or indeed in any unusual position – requires masses of practice on top of usual practice. But if you can get it down, you’ll have a really unique party piece and be one of very few to achieve this skill!