When I was a teenager, I used to soak my arms in hot water before playing. I remember the experience didn’t go very far since I was accused to try to impersonate Glenn Gould. Yes, Glenn Gould is the iconic pianist who used to soak his arms, but that’s all. At least it doesn’t mean more for me. And the first accusation is a good example of syllogism, I think. The cat has four paws. Isidore and Fricot both have four paws. Therefore Isidore and Fricot are cats. And I am not trying to impersonate Ionesco with this brilliant syllogism from Rhinoceros. So, back to our topic, I stopped soaking. And I started again a few weeks ago. Let’s explore the soaking process to know why.
First, before speaking of all the benefits, let’s speak a little about technique. What you need: a sink, hot water and your arms. Very practical when travelling: You carry your own arms, and hot water and a sink can be found everywhere. You fill the sink with hot water and put your arms in it during 15-20 minutes. Easy.
The benefits of this were not very clear to me at the beginning: although I completely understood it would warm up my muscles and articulations, I didn’t see other benefits. After a couple of days, I really felt the difference. And not only on a physical level.
You have twenty minutes for yourself. I noticed that after these twenty minutes I was fully focused on music and psychologically ready to play. I have time to think about the goals I want to reach in a practice session or remind me, before performing in a given venue, the changes I made while rehearsing.
The feeling of warmth in your arms calms you. If you feel a little nervous, soaking is great. At least for me. Doing nothing with my arms in hot water relaxes me. But maybe, any ritual will do the same, not just this one.
It improves sound. Again, from my point of view. I noticed I had a lighter, cleaner and more precise sound after my twenty minutes in the sink.
No need to warm up. My fingers and arms are ready to play. Exit cold hands, lazy fingers and so on. Some of my colleagues complained that their fingers were weaker or less precise and were unable to play at their best. I didn’t and it enhanced my performances.
Suppress frustration. Everyone knows the first 15 minutes of playing are like a living hell for a pianist. I used to hate myself, feel very frustrated and sometimes even didn’t get through the first 15 minutes without being deeply depressed by my playing. Well it doesn’t happen anymore: I enjoy every single minute at the piano.
As you can see, soaking has many benefits for me. It is not just a whim but has real effects on both your body and your mind. Maybe it had the same effects on Gould, and that’s why he religiously did it during his whole life. I really wonder why I waited that long to do it!