The Power of Music Practice: 20 Minutes Improved My Mental Well-Being
What started as a practice session rooted in joyful anxiety, turned into a reminder of the power of music practice to improve my mental well-being.
It isn't often I sit at the piano to express my joy and excitement.
Usually, music beckons to me when I feel despair, grief, hopelessness, or sorrow. In those moments I lean into songs in the minor keys (my favorite). Something about them helps satisfy the yearning in my soul to feel seen and understood in my pain. It's as if the composer who wrote the songs sojourns with me into my emotional landscape in real-time while I'm at my piano bench.
Today was not one of those moments. Today I received big news. Exciting news. Potentially life-changing news. This news also represents a commitment to try new things. Things outside my comfort zone. Things I could fail at.
"How can this be? Wow, amazing! This is going to happen!"
I sent celebratory messages to a few deer confidants and then instantly went into panic mode.
"What if I fail? What if I can't live up to expectations? What if I can't do this?"
My head began to spin trying to solve non-existent problems. Thankfully, my mentor reminded me to pause, celebrate the win, and relish in the excitement of the opportunity before diving into the work.
How did I choose to pause and celebrate? By turning to the piano, naturally!
The Power of Music Practice
The piece of music I've been working on lately turned out to be the perfect piece for today. April, "Snowdrop," by Tchaikovsky is his fourth of the set of twelve character pieces entitled "The Seasons."
In the key of B-flat major, the song in 6/8 time is a dance-like, upbeat song with a sweeping passionate right-hand melody and repeated chords in the left hand, creating an underlying sense of urgency.
As I played, my heart soared with joy as the right-hand melody rose and fell. Yet in the background, my brain, in a state of unrest, repeatedly said "Can I do this?" in sync with the left-hand rhythm.
About twelve measures into the song I encountered the first challenging aspect of the piece. The melody switches back and forth between the hands in the inner voices, requiring the outer voices (on the weaker side of the hands) to carry the delicately placed background accompaniment of repeated notes.
Only a few weeks ago, this passage felt difficult for me, usually requiring me to slow down when I approached it. Yet this time was different. I played through these measures with ease, reminding me that I can in fact learn to do new and difficult things.
"Okay, self, lesson learned. You can learn new things. You can overcome challenges."
I played on.
The middle section of the piece contains turbulent ascending passages full of energy and playfulness yet with an air of gracefulness and lightness. The melody and flow of the passage remind me of a spinning top.
Again, music met me where I am. As a single mother of six, with my own business, a part-time job, a house, a yard, a family, and myself to care for, and dreams to pursue, I often feel like I'm spinning in circles, barely still able to stand. The music reminded me to let loose, play, find joy, and be okay with getting a little dizzy!
"This new opportunity is a chance to play and have fun! Embrace it!"
After a few run-throughs and time devoted to cleaning up a few sections, I decided it was time to practice this piece with the metronome. The tempo marking for the entire piece is "allegretto con moto e un poco rubato," which means not too fast with motion and with a little bit of rubato or robbing of time. Essentially, it is a quick piece, full of movement and energy, but also with permission to deviate from the tempo at will to let the piece breathe.
"Let the piece breathe. Oh, that's right. I, too, need space to breathe."
As I played it the next time, I allowed the music to have more push and pull with the tempo. Very clearly, I saw where the piece demanded a slowing down of the tempo and where it required speeding up. The music spoke to me.
"Sometimes you need to slow down and savor the beauty of life."
20 Minutes to Improved Mental Well-Being
Tonight's practice session was just that for me. It was a moment to take a breath. It was a chance to pause the overthinking, the pre-thinking, and living in fears and doubts. Tonight's practice session allowed me to rest, reflect, express joy and some anxious thoughts, but most of all pause and breathe.
"If the music needs it. So do I."
Music reflects life. Life reflects music. Life is music in a way. This song happened to be today's thoughts in black and white with dots on two sets of five lines. How poetic. How simplistic.
Once again, music brought me back to myself.
This piece reminded me that anxious thoughts are normal, yet can be relegated to the accompaniment of life instead of the main melody. It reminded me to find playfulness and joy in the situation. It encouraged me to remember that what once felt challenging now feels easy.
Therefore, I can learn new things and expand out of my comfort zone.
As I closed my music book, I looked at my timer. Twenty minutes had passed. In that short time, I learned new music, refined my playing, and refreshed my soul and mindset. I didn't necessarily have 20 minutes to give to music today. But it's clear, on this side of the experience, that I didn't have the time to not give those precious minutes to my piano practice.
I can't wait to see what insights I will glean from tomorrow's time at the piano bench.
Food for Thought:
What’s one daily habit you can include in your life that provides you with space to pause, reflect, create, and return to yourself?
Envision what it would feel like to have an established, daily habit that feels like “home” and provides you with an emotional outlet.
Try it out. Not sure where to start? Start small. Perhaps begin with a daily movement or journaling practice. As you engage in those activities, ask yourself: What activities did I enjoy as a youth, before the busyness of life set in? What activity have I always wanted to try but for whatever reason have not yet made it happen? See what comes up for you.
Then, set aside the excuses. Sign up for that class, check out a book, purchase the supplies, and set a date with yourself on your calendar to engage in the activity.
You may find more than a new hobby, you may discover yourself!
If tapping into the power of music to improve your mental well-being is on your list (or the list of someone you know), I would be honored to help in the journey.
It is my true delight to bring the joy of music into hearts and homes through personalized remote piano lessons that will help you grow as a musician and expand as a person.
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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