The Pianist’s Emotions

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

Emotions are an essential aspect of our basic humanity. But when they are out of balance they can become dangerous, with the potential to leave us feeling shipwrecked and adrift.

The Problem for Pianists

Of course this is true for everyone – but for piano players (and for musicians and performers in general) there can be some additional challenges, and the swing from over-excitement to terrible disappointment and back can become our daily emotional currency:

  • We are exposed – even for hours on end – to powerful and profound emotions, communicated wordlessly by some of the most creative people in history
  • To play well we must engage with our own emotions, those of the composer, and in performance with those of our audiences
  • We work often in solitude, with few alternative emotional outlets other than our musical expression
  • The touring of the concert pianist, and the long (often antisocial) hours of the piano teacher can put additional strain on our physical and social wellbeing
  • The piano world is a hyper-competitive one (often in my view, destructively so) leaving many players with low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and a crippling sense of failure

We contend with all these issues as an added factor on our journey through life, which of course includes the same emotional challenges in our personal lives, family, security, and health that everyone else has to cope with.

It is little wonder that so many pianists sustain significant emotional damage and suffer from mental health problems.

A recent survey by The Stage reported 7 out of 10 musicians report mental health problems, while a study conducted in Australia by Entertainment Assist found that musicians are up to ten times more likely to have mental health problems than the general population.

What we need is “emotional wisdom” – the self-awareness that helps us keep our emotions in check, balanced and healthy.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Emotions

Simon Reich on Improvisation: Part 1

Improvisation – Can it be learnt?

Guest post by Simon Reich  (pictured)

People ask me, “can you learn to improvise”, and my answer is, “YES, the majority of musicians can be taught”.

If you have only ever played from printed scores, then surely at times you have heard music in your head? It’s just a matter of coaxing that out via the instrument.

Continue reading Simon Reich on Improvisation: Part 1

A Voyage of Discovery

Guest Author  Paul Harris  explores how lessons might best unfold.

A lesson is a journey.

A lesson is a journey. But a rather special kind of journey: more a voyage of discovery. And we, as teachers, are both pilot and guide, working alongside our pupils, sometimes planning the route together, with the ultimate intention of teaching them to guide themselves. And what makes each journey – each lesson – so exciting, is that we don’t necessarily know either the route or exactly where we are heading … until we get there! But, crucially, we need to ensure that the journey is both enjoyable and productive.

As a wise man once said – you may be able to predict the teaching, but you can never predict the learning; so, even though you might have some idea of where you want to go, the lesson may wish to go somewhere else!

We do of course have a certain amount of control over a pupil’s progress through a lesson. So let’s have a look at how learning really should work.

Continue reading A Voyage of Discovery

ABRSM Conference Report

ABRSM’s Teacher Conference has established itself as one of the leading events in the instrumental teacher’s calendar, providing an opportunity for colleagues to network, stay abreast of new developments in the music teaching world, and refresh teaching skills.

This year’s conference took place at London’s Grange Tower Bridge Hotel on Saturday 5th November, and took as its title and grand theme ”The Art and Craft of Performing. More than 500 teachers attended, including me for the first time.

Continue reading ABRSM Conference Report

The Pianist’s Solitude

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

Guest Post by Frances Wilson.

“The loneliness doesn’t worry me …
I spend most of my life alone, even backstage …
I’m there completely alone. I like the time alone …”

British pianist Stephen Hough, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs programme

Continue reading The Pianist’s Solitude

Breathing at the Piano

Piano Qigong Exercise

Are you sure that you breathe when playing the piano?

It might seem like an odd question – of course we continue to breathe while playing! But to what extent are we aware of our breath, and how it affects our technique, musicality and comfort at the piano?

Continue reading Breathing at the Piano