How to Life Life With Ease: One Important Life Lesson From The Biomechanics Of Piano Playing
Learn how to live life with ease as you loosen your grip on what you can't control.
My student, Rachel, beautifully played for me a diligently prepared piece of music. She included excellent dynamic range along with accurate notes and rhythms. The only thing I noticed was that their eighth notes sounded uneven. Instead of each note taking up the same amount of time, the first in each set of two notes was longer than the second - sort of like Morse code (dash-dot, dash-dot).
As we worked together on the measures with uneven notes, I noticed tension in her hand. I had a hunch about what was going on. So I asked a question.
"Rachel, when you are playing, do your hands and fingers feel tight like you are gripping a ball tightly?"
“Okay, here’s what I want you to do. Relax your hands. Shake them out. Now, hold them loosely. Remember what that feels like. Keep that sensation as you try playing that passage again”.
This time when she played there was an evenness to her eighth notes! Little did she know, we had corrected her uneven notes with science!
What!? Yep! Understanding how the body works changes everything about how the pianist approaches the piano (and life).
Not to get too far into the biomechanics of playing the piano in this essay, I’ll briefly share with you what I explained to her.
The Biomechanics of Playing a Piano Key
The finger has three roles when it comes to playing the piano. Each of these actions requires the muscles and ligaments of the hand to work in a coordinated effort to:
1. Depress the key
2. Hold the key down
3. Release the key
Often students struggle to move quickly across the keys, as Rachel did, because they tense their hands as they seek to control the downward motion of the key into the key bed. They then mistakenly retain that tension in their hand as they maintain pressure on the key while holding the note for its full duration.
Here’s where the problem lies. If they hold the key down with significant pressure, creating tension in their hands, the fingers struggle to lift the fingers off the keys. This increased finger tension results in uneven fast moving notes.
Proper playing barely uses any tension with the hand which enables the fingers to lightly and quickly move around the keyboard.
You can experiment with this idea yourself. Pretend you are holding a ball and grasping it tightly. With that tension in your hands, try moving your fingers out from the center of your palm. What do you notice about the way the finger moved? They weren't easy to move.
Now, relax your hands and try pulling your fingers up and away. What do you notice this time? The fingers lifted effortlessly.
Applying this concept to playing the piano, releasing the note is easier to do when starting from a tension-free and relaxed setting.
As I demonstrated this concept to Rachel, I again saw parallels to life.
To move through life with ease, I must be willing to loosen my grip.
Letting Go: A Life Lesson
This axiom hit me hard. Laid back aren’t exactly two words used to describe me.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been a busy and driven individual. There are always things “to do”, goals to achieve, more to learn, and schedules to manage to make it all happen.
I especially remember my early parenting days, when I tried to control our home environment as much as humanly possible so I could provide my children with everything I wanted for them. As good as my intentions were, the results were disastrous.
Unexpected deviations from our plans brought me anxiety, anger, and feelings of despair. Life felt out of balance in those moments. Since life, especially with young children, rarely sticks to the schedule, everything felt unmanageable. There was no ease in my life.
Thankfully, the past few years have taught me to hold life with a looser hand. It’s odd–life is in many ways harder now than it was back then. The demands on me are greater, the responsibilities heavier, and the support system smaller.
Despite it all, now I move through life with greater ease. I’ve loosened my grip and now seek to control less in my life, which has given me the ability to move more gracefully through the moments of crisis and peace. I still move through my life with intentionality and structure, as is also important for the pianist to do as they depress a piano key. The problem arises when I hold on too tightly to the things that I was never meant to control or ever had any power to influence.
Going back to the biomechanics of playing the piano. I didn’t mention this one key component of playing the piano yet. Once the note has been played, the pianist can’t do anything to alter the note after it has been played. They can’t add vibrato or a crescendo (increase the volume of the note). They can’t even influence the speed at which the note decays (decrescendos). All the pianist can do is control when they release the note.
For the pianist, putting tension into their hands while holding the note does nothing to influence the note except to make it harder to release the note.
Powerful huh? The tighter I hold onto life, the harder it is to release. The looser I hold on to life, the more effortlessly it will be to move, flow, and live life with ease.
The Lesson Applied
What does this look like for me? I’m learning how to view the world through a lens of compassion. I’m choosing to embrace my humanity instead of demanding perfection from myself. I’m attempting to create more margins in my life that allow me to flex and alter my schedule to accommodate hiccups in my day. I’m choosing to put fewer things on my to-do list and allowing more things to go undone each day.
Most importantly, I’m prioritizing being over doing and love over fear. These two mantras changed the landscape of my life.
I remain a dreamer, a creator, and a driven go-getter. These core truths about myself haven’t changed. I still live by a schedule, a routine, and checklists. AND I also allow myself the space to release my grip so that “being” and “love” reign supreme in my life.
Food for Thought:
Where is one area in life where you can loosen your grip so you can move through life with greater ease?
Envision how it would feel to be able to release without effort.
Then, give it a try. Not sure where to start? That’s okay! Trust your intuition to lead you. Ask yourself questions, such as, “Why is it important for me to control things?” or “What do I fear will happen if I loosen my grip?” Then map out a new vision for your life. What words do you want to describe your life and your life force?
Once we know where we are coming from, what fears shape us, and what dreams live in us, we have more knowledge to bring about the change we desire.
This is the work of the mind and the heart. This is the work of life.
If you are looking to find ease in your piano playing, I would be honored to help you find your way.
It is my true delight to bring the joy of music into hearts and homes through personalized remote piano lessons that will leave you feeling inspired and accomplished.
The process is simple:
1. Schedule a call to talk about your goals.
2. Select a lesson time.
3. Take your first lesson!
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