Mindfulness in Music

Book Review

Once upon a time, books were something very special – not mere repositories of bullet-pointed knowledge, but containers of true magic whose words could unfetter the imagination and conjure into being a genuine sense of wonder.

It seems to me that as the internet age comes to maturity there has been a concurrent if unexpected reappraisal and renewed appreciation of the tactile immersion made possible by a traditional, high-quality physical book.

Riding the crest of an exciting wave of publications crafted to the highest standard, and with a deliberate nod towards the publishing values of an earlier generation, comes a small but highly significant volume by Mark Tanner entitled Mindfulness in Music, published by Leaping Hare Press as an imprint within their ongoing series of mindfulness-related books.

The book is an inspirational delight from cover to cover (and including the covers themselves!) and I highly commend it to Pianodao readers as the “must-read” book of the season…

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The Pianist’s Motivations

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

  • What is it that motivates us as pianists?
  • Why did we start learning to play the piano? ..
  • And why do we continue to play?
  • What are our piano goals for the future? ..
  • And how do they excite us?
  • How can we motivate and inspire our students?

Ask these questions to a hundred pianists, and there’s a good chance you will hear a hundred different answers – but some common themes will most likely emerge.

In this article I am going to consider the many and complex motivations we all experience in life, focussing in on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and how each pertains to our piano playing.

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Stories of Recovery

Guest post by Simon Reich

Unless you lived in a humidified bubble, away from sharp objects and potential harmful items, injuries are part of life.

The response to my invitation for stories and anecdotes regarding incidents that may have curtailed your piano playing or ended your musical career altogether was overwhelming. As I was therefore unable to squeeze the material into one blog, I’ve been compelled to write a second part to You Can’t Stop the Music.

Just to reiterate, the injuries were not necessarily musically acquired, but things as simple as falling off a bike, crushing fingers between two bricks or hurting your back slipping down a flight of stairs.

Amazingly, after writing the first article, I found out my mum has some nerve problems in her fingers.

She told me that as children, her siblings would melt wax on their fingertips and when cooled to dry, play the piano as a fun alternative to the standard method! This was the way she described how playing the piano keyboard now felt. It hasn’t stopped her from performing but it’s certainly put a spanner in the works of eliciting dynamics and feeling to her performances.

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The Pianist’s Kindness

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

As I write this I am in India on a two-week yoga retreat, in which each day has started with a reflective discourse on the ethics outlined in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali, the classic text from which yoga theory subsequently developed.

The first, foundational ethic presented by Patanjali was ahimsa, which can be literally translated no harm, and intrinsically means be kind. Without kindness, there can be no true yoga. And yet, as our teacher rather decisively noted:

“There are plenty of people in this world who can touch their toes – but who are still basically arseholes!”

As usual, what is true in one field can equally apply in another, and certainly from my own observations of pianists – both in online forums and the ‘real world’ – there are plenty of very fine piano players and teachers who, it would seem, somewhat lack kindness.

So how can we encourage the piano community to be a kinder one? As always, the answer must begin with ourselves …

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The Pianist’s Generosity

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

In this month’s Pianodao reflection, being December and in keeping with the season, I’m going to consider generosity

Let me start by sharing this brilliant quote from my good friend Paul Harris, which nicely sets the scene for my thoughts on generosity:

“Performing is an act of giving.
If we perform with artistry and skill – at any level, and with unconditional generosity – then everyone is the better for it.”

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November Reflection

In this month’s Pianodao reflection, I consider the onset of winter, seasonal illness, and Studio Policies …

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October Reflection

Autumn is in full swing here in the UK, and the usually green city of Milton Keynes is now presenting itself in astonishing hues of yellow, orange, red and brown.

I’ve just returned from a walk in the woods (the wonderful Linford Wood, shown in my photo above, is just five minutes from my door on foot) with our puppy, Bella Bardóg. The best word I can think of to describe the vivid beauty here today is … invigorating. I’m not much of a photographer, but hopefully the picture captures it.

We sometimes think about Autumn as a season of decay, of decline, in which the weather turns drab, and the nights draw in. And for those of a melancholic disposition, the words seasonal affective disorder loom, an ominous spectre.

But I prefer to see the Autumn as a time of dynamic change and possibility, the old giving way to the new.

Any gardener will tell you that plants sometimes need a good pruning, and the spectacular feast of colour in Linford Wood today serves as a vivid reminder of nature’s inbuilt commitment to change, vitality and new beginnings.

What better time for us – as pianists, as teachers, and simply as people – to reflect on those changes that may be needed in our own lives?

  • Which “leaves” are turning yellow, and will soon need to drop off?
  • And in which areas of our activity do we enjoy evergreen successes?

Here are some questions which I am asking myself at present – you might want to consider them too, and will no doubt also think of others which are more applicable to your current journey…

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Milton Keynes & Me

To what extent does the place we live, and the community we are a part of, shape the person, musician and teacher that we become?

That’s a question that I have been reflecting on, prompted by the recent BBC documentary ’Milton Keynes and Me, in which documentary filmmaker Richard Macer returned to Milton Keynes to reflect on his childhood growing up here, and celebrate Milton Keynes’ 50th Anniversary.

Macer’s film was at times thought-provoking, informative, personal, historical, and moving. I didn’t agree with his sometimes negative perspective (and nor did many in Milton Keynes, it would seem!), but that hardly mattered. What was so much more important is that the programme inspired me to reflect on my own experiences of living here over the last nearly three decades.

We probably all wonder from time to time what impact we have made for the good. Hopefully piano teachers such as myself can recall students who gained a lifelong love for music, which sometimes defined their future. But this post isn’t about my contribution, but rather the imprint that has been made on me.

Having lived in Milton Keynes for 28 years – more than half of my life, and more than half of the city’s existence – how has this shaped who I am today?

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The Pianist’s Overthinking

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

“Leave your thoughts in a place you will not visit …”

Most of the pianists that I have met are easy to describe as “deep thinkers”, and I would argue that an aptitude for analytical thinking is an essential skill for the advanced piano player.

But the jump from analytical thinking to overthinking is a small one. And here’s the problem. In recent years, we have become increasingly aware that overthinking any problem can break rather than solve it, and can often lead us to bizarre conclusions. Overthinking is inextricably linked to anxiety.

If we overthink an upcoming performance, this can undoubtedly contribute to performance anxiety. And in the same way, if we overthink life in general, this can have a significant and debilitating effect on our whole lives.

A growing body of research supports our suspicions that many physical health problems are rooted in the activities of the mind. Overthinking can be associated with anxiety, fear, paranoia and mental instability, all of which can have serious physical as well as social consequences.

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The Pianist’s Handshake

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

Do you ever feel a bit uncomfortable about shaking hands with people when you meet them?

Concerned about hygiene, and all those germs you’ll pick up “pressing the flesh”?
Worried about having your piano-playing fingers crushed by the over-enthusiastic clench of Mr. Assertive?

Then read on, and I will go over a few points that might help!

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The Pianist’s Self-Compassion

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

Guest post by Frances Wilson

The life of the pianist is, by necessity, solitary (and I have written before about The Pianist’s Solitude). For many of us, the solitude is not an issue: we crave a sense of apartness to enable us to do our work and to create special connections with audiences when we perform, and we need quietude to allow time for self-reflection and evaluation.

The sequestered nature of the pianist’s life also calls for great self-reliance: we must  be self-starting, motivated, driven and focused to ensure our work (practising and preparation) is done each day. Most of us draw pleasure and satisfaction from knowing our work is done and done well, but without other colleagues and musical companions to interact with, it is easy for self-doubt to creep in, for us to question our role or our value, to ask “am I good enough?”. Continue reading The Pianist’s Self-Compassion

Piano Lessons: Dealing with Anxiety

I am sure that most piano teachers will be alert to the fact that some pupils coming to lessons are anxious. This post will look at some reasons for that, and offer some suggestions that might help normalise lessons.

The article is written for any player who has ever said – and any teacher who has ever heard – the words:

“It was perfect when I practised it at home this morning…”

Clearly, in order for student and teacher to make the most of any piano lesson we all want to move beyond this point!

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