10 Tips To Help Develop Arm Weight


By Melanie Spanswick

Producing an attractive, pleasing sound when playing the piano is key to good interpretation. When we perform a piece of music, we want our audience to enjoy the moment with us and this usually involves teasing a beautiful sound from the instrument – even if the actual instrument we are playing is not to our liking. Arm weight is key to developing and honing this important factor. Here are a few suggestions to incorporate into your practice regime.



  1. To ‘feel’ the necessary weight of your arm, drop both arms down by your side as you sit on the piano stool. Shoulders must remain relaxed and in their natural position. Swing your arms from your shoulders allowing them to be totally loose; they should ideally feel ‘heavy’ as your muscles relax, and you are able to experience the complete weight of your arm in its rested, natural state.
  2. To help use the full weight of your arm, the wrist needs to act as a ‘shock-absorber’, ‘cushioning’ the sound produced. Practice forming a circler movement with your wrist, that is moving only the wrist, keeping the arm, elbow, and hand fairly motionless. You can do it mid-air or away from the keyboard. To do this, firstly move the wrist up and down, keeping the hand and arm still, and then side-to-side, before connecting the two, forming one circular movement, which could be either clockwise or anti-clockwise, it doesn’t really matter. The larger the movement, the easier it will be to add it into the upper body’s whole mechanism when you play a note.
  3. Now play any key with your right hand third finger. Keep the finger attached to the key – as if holding down a note for a long period of time – and move your wrist slowly in a circular motion. Aim to keep it loose as you form the circular movement, also known as a wrist rotation. You can practice this movement using a table top if preferred.
  4. Find a comfortable note to play! Take your third finger again – this time in both hands, but starting with the right hand, and find a suitable position on the keyboard; middle C, for example, might be too near to your body, so perhaps C an octave above is a better note and position to choose.
  5. Ensure your finger is placed on its tip on the key and pay attention to your hand and its position. Try to keep it relaxed and loose. When the first joint of a finger is in a ‘hooked’ position and is anchored to the key, remaining firm, it’s capable of supporting the heavy weight from your arm – this point is key. 
  6. Play your chosen note, and before the finger depresses the key, prepare the wrist to start its circular movement.  This is so that as the finger descends into the key bed, sounding the note, the wrist will be in a lowered position at the bottom of the circle, providing a cushion for the dead weight of your relaxed arm, and, therefore, that heavy weight is now placed behind your third finger. This will help produce a warmer sound without any harshness. Fingers must be firm for arm weight to be successfully implemented.
  7. It can be helpful to practice the motion with the finger remaining on the key having played the note. As you do this, learn to relax the hand, wrist and arm, using a ‘dropping’ sensation – almost as though you are dropping your whole arm on the floor, relaxing every muscle and ligament! This is tricky to do as your finger is kept anchored to the key and you might need to hold that finger with the other hand to stop it dropping away from the keyboard. After a while you will learn to adapt to this sensation and find a way to keep your finger attached to the key whilst dropping or releasing any tension in your upper body. If you do this optimally, you should experience a wonderfully relaxed arm, hand, and wrist, as your finger remains attached to the key. It’s this feeling which will help you to ‘let-go’ of tension and is the key to developing the use of arm weight.
  8. As the key is played, it should feel as though the arm and hand have ‘dropped’ into the note. As soon as that key has sounded, you should ideally be able to further relax or ‘release’ the arm, wrist, and hand. Tension is needed, of course, to play the note, but as soon as this is done, relax the upper body. Note how your body feels as you play – this is also vital; it must feel free from tension especially after you play the note.
  9. Once accustomed to sounding a note in this manner, you can experiment by employing gradually more weight from your arm. The motion required is almost akin to ‘swinging’ the arm into the key via a relaxed circular wrist motion with firm fingers.
  10. Resist the urge to push down into the key. Using the natural weight of your arm is crucial and nothing should feel forced, uncomfortable, or tense in any way.  

It might take a while to acquire this feeling and, as a teacher, it’s one of the most demanding elements to teach requiring one-to-one coaching for the best results, but it’s worth persevering as the use of arm weight will seriously improve your piano playing. 

Melanie Spanswick

© Sarah Barnes