The Pianist’s Self-Care

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

At the time of writing, most of us are feeling uneasy. We are, after all, in the midst of a global pandemic, concerned for ourselves, our loved ones, our finances, and fearful of what our world might be like in a few months time.

But as we spend more time away from our usual routines, we might also discover a deeper unease. A rock has plunged into the pool of our lives. The ripples are still clearing, and a lot of mud has been churned up. As the waters settle again, we are coming to see things that were perhaps unclear to us before.

As pianists we might hope to see glimpses of answers to life’s most profound questions sat before our piano, absorbed in our playing. And certainly, as I’ve written here before, piano playing can provide a sanctuary from all else that is unfolding around us.

But while some presently find they can use their piano playing as an escape from grim news, many others are experiencing frustration at their lack of motivation, focus and inspiration.

In this entry to The Pianist’s Reflections Series I will consider some basic elements of self-care from a Daoist (Taoist) perspective in the hope that readers will find some helpful suggestions, and that each of us can enjoy a piano journey that reflects an easier, more connected and settled experience of life.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Self-Care

Meanwhile outside…

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party!’”

Robin Williams

The month of May seems to me to be one of the most magnificent of the year, at least here in the UK, where the lingering spring blossom gives way to an explosion of early summer abundance.

The temperature strains upwards towards ideal, but the mornings retain their wonderful freshness. It’s really quite magical!

Continue reading Meanwhile outside…

Your Story: Garreth Brooke

photo copyright Lana Yanovska, used with permission.

Your Stories

Garreth was born in Hereford, UK, moved to Wales as a child, before going on to study music at the University of Oxford. He now teaches piano to a full studio of international students in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and releases original music for solo piano on 1631 Recordings using the pen-name Garreth Broke. His writing about suicide prevention has been published on Huffington Post UK.

Here’s his story …

Continue reading Your Story: Garreth Brooke

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.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Overthinking

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!

Continue reading Piano Lessons: Dealing with Anxiety

“The Black Dog”

Guest Post by Simon Reich

Being a creative musician is a dangerous profession. No, I don’t mean getting your fingers slammed by the piano lid, or a Steinway falling on your head. I mean the proportion of suicides compared to statistics in the general population.

Every time I hear a story informing me of another person who has taken their life, be it a celebrity or “man on the street”, I am deeply touched and realise how close I have come to being another statistic.

I knew from early childhood that certain things affected me profoundly. When I heard certain songs or chord progressions, I felt butterflies inside me and sometimes it made me cry. When I would see injustices to class mates or in movies, I would feel deep empathy. Obviously I was quite a sensitive person and music gave me a chance to enter a creative world of my own making.

Obviously I was quite a sensitive person and music gave me a chance to enter a creative world of my own making.

As positive as these traits were and still are in me, they also have a dark side. Having only recently gained some wisdom on how these thought patterns have affected me, I stumbled on unknowingly through my life, eventually culminating in a breakdown which really forced me to learn more about the subject and about myself.

Here are some of the key points I have learnt about how I tick.

“People Pleaser”

I realised I tried to “please all of the people, all of the time”. This is an impossible task, and ended up causing a massive gap between my expectations & reality.

“Setting Boundaries”

I had a tendency to place clients higher in the pecking order than my own family, so partook in some pretty crazy overtime hours. I would take bookings for gigs, even though I’d promised to do things with the family. This caused massive frustration on my part as I danced around trying to please everyone. Inevitably I pleased no one and hurt myself in the bargain.

“Learn to love yourself”

I have only just started to hear my negative self talk, and have realised how destructive it has been all my life. I remember listening to a relaxation tape that was meant to be part of your nightly regime. One of the first things the speaker asked you to do, at the end of each day, was reach up behind you and give yourself a pat on the back! He would then go onto say “You did the best you could today with the information you had.”

“Surround yourself with supportive people”

At times I thought I was the only one who felt these thoughts. When I discovered others were in the same boat as me and were willing to help each other out, I rejoiced! Friends who understand your condition and are willing to talk with you are a gift from heaven.

Living with anxiety or depression is not an easy thing, but I have to wonder, “what if I didn’t have this condition? Would I be as productive as a creative artist?” The fact that I have felt the lowest of lows, means I rejoice all the more when I feel the highs.

If you are experiencing these types of feelings, then take solace in the fact that you are not alone and that a helping hand is just a phone call or key stroke away.

Simon Reich

Simon is a pianist and award-winning composer from Victoria, Australia. Further information : Simon Reich Music


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