Article

The Zen Aspects Of Learning And Playing Piano

11 April 2012

There is electricity in the air tonight. All eyes are on you, but your eyes are closed as you look inward taking a deep, calm life-giving breath. And as you exhale, your eyes open and you embrace the palpable suspense of the audience sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the first note you are about to play. The performance begins not (as many wrongly believe) with the first note but in that powerful moment as your hand leaves your lap on its graceful, suspenseful journey towards the piano keyboard to play the first note. It’s just a single moment, but it has the power to make or break a performance. And, as your finger, hand and arm sink into that first note, if you’ve done it right, the audience gasps a sigh of relief, their suspense alleviated as you transport them on a journey to great beauty they were never expecting to take but so very much want to go on.


Believe it or not, I once had a three-hour lesson on nothing else but how to do this. The piece was Oiseaux Tristes by Ravel, and the lesson was not on how to play the piano piece, or even how to play the first note, but how to move my right hand from my lap (my starting position) to the first note of the piece in such a way that would take the audience on a journey before the first sound was even made. This is the true beginning of every performance.


This experience is just one example of the many ways in which learning and playing piano have enriched my life, and how it develops extremely heightened awareness of both of oneself and others (such as your audience). As you progress on your musical journey, many such life-changing discoveries await you.


And, as an excellent place to start, your posture is one very fundamental aspect of your personal development that I highly recommend you become more aware of. While it might seem like a basic notion, good posture is anything but. Good posture facilitates proper breathing, alertness, focus, concentration, good health, and so much more. Bad posture causes the opposite. Slouching, for example, leads to frequent loss of concentration and focus, sugar cravings, stiffness and pain in your back, neck and limbs, lack of awareness generally, and poor piano technique.


Monitoring and where possible improving your posture is a lifelong endeavour, but one well worth undertaking and making a habit. Not many non-musicians know this, but a great many musicians and performers all over the world — pianists, violinists, singers and actors — use an Australian technique to help them improve their posture and perform at their best. My piano professor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music was an ardent fan and master of this technique, known as the Alexander Technique. You can read about the technique for improving posture HERE or by simply Googling "Alexander Technique".


Many books and courses are available on this technique, but until you’ve had a chance to investigate the Alexander Technique further, you might like to check out the How To Sit Correctly At the Piano video in our new How To Videos page. It covers some good ergonomic basics, and is just as relevant to office workers and students doing their homework as it is to pianists.


On your path to hopefully becoming a great pianist, I suggest starting with the basics (the How To Sit Correctly At The Piano video), and work up from there. The Alexander Technique is the next level, and it will teach you not only how to sit correctly but also how to correctly stand, walk and much more. Then you will be ready to approach the Zen aspects of learning and playing piano.


Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment.

 

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Til next time,

 

Brendan Hogan

Musiah Inventor

 

 

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