The Pianist’s Overthinking

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • Feature by ANDREW EALES
Setting our Piano Journey in its Living Context.


“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

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • Feature by ANDREW EALES
Setting our Piano Journey in its Living Context.


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 Emotions

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • Feature by ANDREW EALES
Setting our Piano Journey in its Living Context.


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.

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The Pianist’s Anonymity

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • Feature by ANDREW EALES
Setting our Piano Journey in its Living Context.


As I write this, it’s been another eventful week in celebrity land, with tabloid headlines screaming the latest sordid news about Angelina, Brad, Jennifer, Jonny and others. There’s a common theme here: celebrity can be both a magnet for narcissism and unhappiness and a force that knocks lives off balance.

In the world of piano playing, albeit on a smaller scale, being well-known brings its own challenges, with exposure to conflict, malicious gossip and the envy of those who are less successful or unfulfilled.

So should we basically pursue anonymity?
Can a wise balance be found?

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The Pianist’s Lineage

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

Until quite recently it never occurred to me to consider who my teacher’s teacher’s teacher’s teacher was…

But then I realised (somewhat inadvertently while looking into the history of piano teaching) that my teacher’s teacher’s teacher’s teacher was none other than Franz Liszt, perhaps the greatest and most influential pianist of all time.

At which point I decided it was time to give the matter more serious thought…

Now let’s get this bit over with quickly, because (as we shall see) I’m really not about to claim my “lineage” endows me with any special status or ability. But here it is:

  • My final teacher at college (in the 1980s), Joseph Weingarten (1911-1996), was a student of the great pianist and composer Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960).
  • Dohnányi had been a student of István Thomán (1862-1940) and Eugen d’Albert (1864-1932), both of whom were students of Franz Liszt (1811-1886).
  • Liszt, incidentally, was a student of Carl Czerny (1791-1857), who in turn was a student of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827).

T H U D !!
There’s the sound of some pretty heavy name-dropping!

And if you are interested in tracing your own legacy, this information on Wikipedia is a helpful resource.

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