A MESSAGE FROM BARBARA LISTER-SINK
Dear Fellow Musicians,
Welcome to the official website for Lister-Sink Institute! I assume you‘ve come to this website because you are interested in finding some answers about piano technique, organ technique, or technique for any other musical keyboard instrument.
Over a decade ago, I produced the video Freeing the Caged Bird – Developing Well-Coordinated, Injury-Preventive Piano Technique. I created it both in response to my own journey through playing-related injury back to health, and to help clear up widespread confusion about technique in the keyboard world. It has always been my heart’s desire to help put an end to the tragic and unnecessary waste of time, talent and careers worldwide, and to help keyboardists worldwide maximize their own artistry. I also simply love the sound of the piano and wanted to help promote a renewed interest in the many colors and sounds available to us on the piano.
Since Freeing the Caged Bird was released in 1996, the music and medical worlds have accelerated their interest in injury-prevention. But, unfortunately, playing-related injury has not declined globally. There is still a great deal of confusion even about the definition of healthful keyboard technique, much less how to teach it. We are now better able to identity the causes of injury. Painful injuries such as Tendonitis, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Hypermobility Syndrome, Focal Dystonia, Tenosynovitis, Dequervain's Syndrome, and arthritis. Just as in the sports world, we now know the principles of good coordination and sound biomechanics in general. But we are not yet adequately addressing the preventive side of piano technique. We still urgently need to develop a universally acceptable definition of injury-preventive keyboard technique. And we need to develop consistent, effective ways of teaching it.
Put simply, healthful technique is the best coordination of the whole body with the instrument. This technique is based on several key principles of good coordination that we can learn from the athletic world:
Piano technique is not just about movement. It is about your overall alignment and the state of your muscles—the relative degree of contraction or release, and the ability both to sense and to control those things continually while playing.
These principles sound pretty simple. But learning them takes some sort of step-by-step, hands-on, systematic approach—from the simplest coordinations and most fundamental levels of sound production, to the most complex kinetic patterns. Also, well-coordinated piano technique is a neuromuscular program that must be layered, one step at a time, to be thoroughly learned.
If you are child, this is not such a challenge. The muscles are still supple, the spine can easily recover its natural alignment, and good habits are easier to build. Healthful piano technique can be learned from the beginning with the very first sound. But for older keyboardists who have played for some time, all sorts of inefficient and even harmful habits may have crept into our playing. Then retraining is necessary, from the simplest to the most complex coordinations and repertory.
Since the video Freeing the Caged Bird was released, I have been fine-tuning my own particular sequenced approach to teaching well-coordinated, injury-preventive keyboard technique. I call it, not surprisingly, the Lister-Sink Method. On this website, you can read about it and also see various updated video examples of the technical and musical results on a variety of levels.
The exciting news is that we have also developed a comprehensive program of study at Salem College here in Winston-Salem in the technique and pedagogy of injury-preventive piano and organ technique. It is for keyboardists from all over the world who want to develop a solid technique and make the most of their musicianship. Some are professional teachers and performers, and some are students between degrees. They all gather for a week, a month or a year or two to learn in a joyous, less stressful environment in the beautiful foothills of North Carolina.
Finally, as a performing musician, I believe it is essential to add that piano technique, however well-coordinated and injury-free, is not an end in itself. It is, most importantly, the means to greater artistry, allowing us to be fully available to listen, to fully control what we do at the keyboard, and to develop our full potential as musicians.
After you have explored the Lister-Sink Institute website, please feel free to contact us if you have further questions. I am excited to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed spending most of my music career helping other pianists and organists experience the joy I do in making music. Thank you for your kind attention and all best wishes to you for a lifetime of inspired, injury-free music making.