Saturday, August 10, 2013

Burn, Baby, Burn! The Piano Workout

Which one burns more calories - dancing this waltz or playing it on the piano?

After playing the opening waltz of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales - a furiously exuberant whirlwind of a piece - I am heaving and sweating like a racehorse after a full sprint. This happens every time I play it, regardless of the weather or my physical state.

This led me to wonder, how many calories am I burning, after having played this 2 minute waltz? What about after the entire cycle of waltzes, which is about 18 minutes long?

I don’t sweat after some pieces, but with others, the physical labor required is undeniable. (Brahms’ Rhapsody No. 2, Op. 79, comes to mind.)

It’s not that I’m mindlessly pounding away at the keyboard, but a good deal of full-body effort is applied in the goal of drawing out the color and depth of the music. I can feel my abs engaging at the buildup to a climax, or in the control required in a sudden quietness. (I wonder if Suzanne Somers ever experienced that!)

After a quick search, I found that people have indeed tried to determine how many calories one burns with any sort of physical activity, including the piano. NutriStrategy has quite a list - it even distinguishes “Farming - feeding horses and cattle” from “Farming - feeding small animals.”

According to this list, playing the piano is wimpier than playing the trombone, but it trumps playing the cello on the calorie-burning scale. Upon seeing this, I couldn’t avoid the feeling that this was total absurdity. The exercise you get depends on your physiology, what you’re playing, for how long, and various other factors I’m sure.

I’m not suggesting that we consider playing the piano as a holistic form of exercise. There’s no substitute for getting out there and doing good cardio like jogging, dance, or other traditional ways of working up a good sweat.

And obviously, playing the piano is not about exercise, but wondering about the energy I’m expending in bringing certain music to life was worth the moment of curiosity! Not because I realized that I don't care how many calories I burn: Every time I play that Ravel waltz and feel my heart racing and my body warm, it is pure bliss on every level - musically and physically. And that’s what counts.