brain concentrating on multiple things

Learning to play piano or keyboard has many benefits that are well known and often written about.

Some of the more commonly highlighted benefits of learning to play piano include:

  • Boosts self-esteem
  • Increases self-discipline
  • Provides a medium for self-expression
  • Helps with learning at school
  • Makes you smarter
  • Gives you a life-long social and leisure skill

All of these are of course true. But perhaps the greatest benefit of all is one that is rarely if ever mentioned — the development of split concentration.

I first become aware of it in my younger days when I was a student learning to play Chopin’s first Nocturne in B flat minor.

What is unusual about this piece is that for every six or twelve notes played by the left hand, the right hand moves with freedom in patterns of seven, eleven, twenty, and twenty-two notes.

For students attempting to play the two hands together for the first time in a piece like this, it is simply not possible to slowly play with both hands step by step in the usual fashion until you have figured out which hand or hands play at which times.

In this piece, after learning each hand separately, one must enter a Zen-like state of “no mind” where each hand, though utterly different from the other, is able to play in perfect coordination.

As a piano student and young composer, I was already fascinated with coordination challenges and achieving a higher state of awareness, so for me, the discovery of this aspect of Chopin’s music was a life-long blessing.

Even before one reaches this level of advancement, there are of course many other subtle ways that musicians, especially piano and keyboard players, begin to develop the ability of split concentration.

Ever wondered why some concert pianists appear to be concentrating so much when playing a seemingly simple passage of chords? This is, at least in part, because they are not only focusing on each chord, but on the multiple melodies within the sequence of chords.

Let’s say, each chord has four notes. In the pianist’s mind, they are thinking of each chord as though it has been orchestrated for a choir of Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass singers. They are shaping and following the melody line created by the bass notes (as if sung by a Bass singer) as much as the top (Soprano) melody. And at the same time, they are shaping the internal melody lines of the Alto and Tenor ‘voices’ within each chord. So they are not just playing chords, they are creating and shaping (in this example) four melodies simultaneously.

Another skill that learning to play piano (with the right teacher) can give you is the ability to simultaneously listen to the sound of your playing ‘close up’ (how someone in the front row of a concert hall hears it) and 'far away' (how someone in the back row of a concert hall hears it).

There are many other examples of ways in which learning to play piano will over time help you develop various forms of split concentration, both in terms of physical coordination and in terms of being able to listen to and for several things at once, and this in my view, is one of the most underrated benefits of learning to play piano.

Speaking from personal experience, these skills have helped me in many ways throughout my life.

As a quick anecdotal example, some years ago, I was performing at a charity dinner to raise some funds for a local school. I was one of a number of performers, so I only had to play once piece – Chopin’s Etude in C minor Op. 10, No, 12 (the ‘Revolutionary’ Etude).

This is a great party piece — extremely showy, full of intense emotion, and technically very demanding.

As I walked out on stage, took a bow and sat down at the piano, the audience went quiet with anticipation. And just as I was poised to start playing, a woman at the very back table in the venue started talking loudly to her friend. And, even though many of the other audience members turned to look at her, she continued talking, apparently blissfully unaware of the loudness of her own voice.

From the stage, I sat perfectly still, looking directly at her for several moments but she still continued. So without taking my eyes off her, my look morphed into a glare directed right though her, and I steeled myself as I began to play one of the most passionate, fiery pieces ever written from start to finish without once glancing at the keyboard or taking my eyes off her.

My attention was literally fully focused on her and simultaneously fully focused on the piece I was playing.

Granted, I was showing off — perhaps it was the arrogance of youth — but I did it to make a point, and because I could, thanks to the training I had received through years of piano lessons.

Some weeks later, a well-known priest who had seen that performance was kind enough to remark that it was “the most incredible display of split concentration I have ever seen”.

While it is doubtful that I could perform such a feat now (as my days of really serious piano practice are behind me), back then I was able to do it quite easily, not because of any inherent special ability or talent on my part, but simply as a result of the skill of split concentration that all students who learn how to play piano acquire over time.

Learning piano is quite simply one of the best forms of mental training there is. And in particular, the Musiah piano lesson course encourages the development of split concentration through pieces that are designed to challenge the student’s coordination in ways similar to the example of Chopin’s Nocturne in B flat minor mentioned above.

As you progress through the course, Musiah will have you playing completely different things in each hand simultaneously in a variety of rhythmic styles that are great fun to play.

To experience the life changing benefits of learning to play piano for yourself, I invite you to take our free trial through which you can learn to play piano FREE for 14 Days.

You have nothing to lose, and many life-changing benefits — including the ability of split concentration — to gain.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment.

Til next time,

Brendan Hogan L.Mus.A, A.Mus.A.
Piano Teacher & Musiah Inventor

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