Piano Journal


Notes along the way . Please be in touch for any translation needed. Entries are in chronological order since start date Sept. 24, 2013, after sustaining a shoulder injury and being unable to play for 11 months. This was an opportunity to discover and face our shared corporeality, and adopt an objective sense of self. In turn I deduced specifics of my musculoskeletal functions, which improved my piano-technique approach, and more importantly, clarified my rehabilitation and recovery. Implicit are the psychological challenges that likewise had to be overcome. This affirms my guiding principle of Music, expressed in its purity of truth and heart – heals.

Keep scrolling, and receive whatever captures you. Many Thanks.


092413 (Sept.24 2013) Edmonton, Canada

Practicing has its own thought-set without the energy of a listening audience.. i.e., it’s OK to indulge in ‘the physiological-physical’ level
*Artist-On-Ward shift : being mindful of RH #5 double-jointedness was intrusive to playing… also, the act of SIGHTREADING MUSIC is intrinsic to the interpretation… so far foolproof: Reiki principles … also ‘channelling Love-energy’ to my own hands… finally, the Detachment happens on its own.. I cannot simply WILL the principle of “…not getting in the Way of the Music” — this happens after 2-3 preludial works, warming up with conscious repetition… and the Music ‘speaks’
in practice…. find fulcrum… rhythm is revealed
practice with metronome!! Why the heck not.

RH – leaps along keyboard landscape approach: ‘from below’
phrase shaping comes from // fulcrum in musical syntax [i.e., where does the phrase ‘hang’]

RH – fingers ‘popping’ – quick release of keys, sp. 8va chords w/bottom 3rds
shoulder: serves as an anchor to arm; for learning new complex passages, turn torso 45 degrees
Inductive Approach revisited: musical intention ; intuitive REIKI intent from the Heart – guides the intellectual/i.e., Deductive solutions… also are revealed in Intuitive timing
Pat-on-the-Back: yesterday’s Pilgrims performance- was able to ‘stop cold’ with timing for Brahms… fearlessly!!
Takeaway: when my intention is born and for the sake of perpetuating Love, then my piano playing will reveal this message – all Ego aside… it is the Universal Love working through my vessel as a conduit of Love’s Message

Playing Protocol
1) mental state = clean slate – tabula rasa
2) Reiki Touch/ breathing – connection at micro-level- full body breath
3) sound ideal : Inside Out

Interpretation Protocol: Listen and follow (Sing/Speak) anticipate possibilities but surrender to the moment

Step aside and Let Music Speak


Physiological ‘triage’ : finger #2 as fulcrum for centering; keep right arm as light as left; WATCH fingers and hands (i.e., not so score-dependent..)
Kinesthetic propinquity (the Blind way) : feel and learn key distance in relationship to fingers and leaps

attention to release of key and Energy – rather than ‘resting’ – Energy flow is maintained without interruption

RH wearing soft shoes – wrists flexible/biceps and triceps UNflexed… today’s analogy: a Tool; a Pen
Early Stage (aka “Swim stage”) for choreography, and physiological mapping
Performance – playing prep… Reiki – meditation – sprachgesang

AMM Technical ‘Toolkit’: Make your own.
WHEN IN DOUBT< LOVE< LOVELOVE , micro-Macro Levels
Reiki i) ‘listening’ to finer physiology involved in piano-playing:
ii) Universal E connecting physiological and musical resources
vision ideal: ‘setting piano hammers Free/ free-swing’
Zero-Position : playing from ‘gut’/’core’ Rh & LH both still and unflexed
RH Injury-proofing:
1) have LH assist in fingering/limit use of #4 and 5
2) ‘rest’, ie. moments of repose and stillness between phrases; and after playing full-handed chords
3) play ppp
4) support provided by #1 and #2
5) re-orientation from “Middle-C Position”
6) “YANG-Energy” resource – ie., flexing palm muscles for ‘comfort’

attend to large muscle postures and motions before fingering
-play from key, as if sound triggers finger to motion
-keyboard at waist-level
-connect lines i.e., ‘bowing’

practice energy release i.e., ‘exhale’


021016 Chicago

Some evolving title blurbs: “Holistic Piano” “Piano Wellness”
– for ‘Classically’ trained pianists: beginning is spent primarily in release & surrender .
Let it Go: Ego, ego, ego. Self-defeating patterns; former mentor aphorisms that no longer serve; ‘no-pain, no-gain’ paradigms; all forms and manifestations of Perfectionism. ‘Correct notes’ is an ideal , not the reality. Analogy: relating a spontaneous story. Speech patterns aren’t judged, including your own.

Breathing : emphasis on oral exhale, from lower abdomen. Focus: must be light, not intense [wandering mind ok, I.e., meditation]. [Semi-consciousness induced: Not unusual to have flashes from most recent REM state dreams.]
Attitude: be gentle to one’s entire being, on all levels.
But not to be maintained during music-making; only ‘checked’.

Practice preparation exercise (can be applied to performance)
Grounding. Feel energized connection on soles of feet and palms of hand. Go through a few to several slow inhale-exhale cycles, preferably through the nose but depending on energy state, exhale through the mouth. Gently squeeze ears shut for a few seconds. Keep Focus soft.

“Zero-Position” : As in ‘Shavashana’ pose, use visualization to go through point-to-point muscular relaxation; beginning with facial muscles and sequentially following to throat, shoulders, elbows, all the way to tips of fingers. Absolute tension-free is impossible; however body is close to its natural position, and poised to co-create music.

Key-strokes: key prompts the finger to motion, not vice versa. Goal/ideal is to be a channel for music to be allowed to ‘guide’ the fingers. Not ‘strike’, but ‘stroke’ the keys.

Legato-connection. As in bowing a stringed instrument, fingers align with notes to connect ; traditional piano classification as percussion – reframed , I.e., instead of vertical (strike) shift perspective to horizontal (connecting, linking, slurring). Traditional piano training emphasizes muscular and athletic development to piano technique. It is challenging, if not contradictory , to generate and express a true ‘singing’ voice, as needed for a meaningful and communicative interpretation.

Tension-checks. Checking while playing during rest-points of either hand, the hand, arm and shoulder is fully at rest. Skill that develops from practice to becoming instantaneous. Check[TC] also applies to attitude – any residual self-harming ‘rackets’ must simply be turned Off.

handwritten entry: “White-light visualization exercise” : visualize oneself within a cloud of white light, at the piano, playing how you wish to play,fully expressed technically and musically – free. Use this conceptualization as a daily reference.
{Passage for demo: LVB Bagatelle No.1; RH scales}
Today’s installment – “Correction of ‘false’ notes. I.e., I didn’t mean to play that, I meant this; ” a note isn’t wrong until the next few follow. My challenge was to work around the traditional perfectionism that goes with interpretation of the classics. There is a degree of ‘undoing’ that has to be acknowledged and released from the old-school approach of piano teaching. Wrong notes do not mean ‘bad’ playing. Wrong notes are detectable, but in the best sense; if anything this acknowledges the innate musicality of the listener [which is the majority of humanity, and this is a GOOD thing]. So what does this mean, in the re-creation and interpretation of works within the classical canon? moreover, what does this mean in an instrumentalist’s practice ? [for the sake of this discussion, the Piano is the designated reference] In learning a new work, there is a necessary ‘linguistic’ predisposition of the music that must be uncovered and developed; a ‘sensitivity’ to the nomenclature of music and its intrinsic communicability. Repeated exposure to classical repertory, in all media, both conscious and semi-conscious, is the optimum path to developing, expressing and mastering musical sensitivity to its inherent linguistic nature. Music must be integral to the student and musician’s existence either equally or beyond the level of human language. To the musically-inclined, this is redundant , in all social milieux.
I have witnessed this impact, from firsthand experience with working with vision-impaired students. They have the capacity to express music, even a simple melody, at the level of master interpreters. Perhaps because they have an intimate auditory connection, they are able to ‘play’ the notes in a very natural hierarchical logic, the idealized form of expression that can require tremendous effort and time for a sighted instrumentalist to develop. From my work with the vision-impaired and special needs students, I have learned that the traditional ‘perfectionism’ that is implicit in classical music training – must be abandoned in order to be truthful in musical expression. Arthur Rubinstein commented that note-perfect performances left him “cold” and wishing for “…a drop of blood” [i.e., the value of risk-taking at the service of a performance] As in linguistic communication, the intention of the message in music is the guiding beacon for the interpretative process. In this context, a ‘wrong note’ can be paralleled in public speech for a verbal ‘pause’, ‘disclaimer’ , .. I believe there is no inherent sense of ‘error’ in this because the message takes precedence over delivery . This is very apparent and audible; correction ‘attempts ‘* are… forgiven ! * Retraction: re-statement of phrase fragment – but with the correction, and the correct note ’emphatically’ stated, both dynamically and hierarchically-correct.. any humorous allusions are acceptable and encouraged.
Real-Deal Practice: Slow-practice run-throughs, with physiological focus to determine specific solutions for technical execution. Repetitions , ‘reps’ depend on individual reinforcement needs. From first person, this varies according to a multitude of factors.. first-minded: time of day, energy level, caloric input, psychological state, quality of instrument; audience factor – neighbors, colleagues in practice rooms, concert hall, recording studio…personally, it is my momentary mood and state that will determine if I need to do 2 reps or 200. It is imperative that artists learn this self-objectivity for their own productivity. But the slow-rep is imperative to articulate the musculoskeletal realization of the passage, including points of ‘rest’. [Again, These points vary with each individual hand; as determined by its sense of balance and interdependence of each finger’s strength]

Exercise : Learning one’s hands, at the moment. Approach [refer to earlier entry] eyes closed, go through a tactile ‘brainstorm’ of the piano keyboard; freely stretching the palms and fingers; expanding and contracting hands. Continue to leaps between fingers #1 and 5; #2 and3; etc. Try trills. Move to larger motions, from elbows, and shoulders. Only go to the extent the body feels comfortable. There is no need to ‘push it’. THen return to zero-position. With repeated practice of this exercise, one will inevitable discover and and learn individual characteristics and fingering preferences.This is a catalytic tool for mental practice.

Mental Practice . Often , it is valuable to have an accurate sense of engaging in ‘mental practice’. The initial reference are any works of current projects. For the more visual-literate oriented, visualization of a score is a good starting point. A good beginning would be to work-through ‘hands-alone’. This is dependent on each individual style and stage of learning. The reverse is a possibility , I.e., beginning with the tactile and referring to the literal/visual. As needed, a mental overview of the musculoskeletal motions helps reinforce the practice.

Piano Psyche.

Yoga reference:
pre-practice-prep: Awakening-Centering-Creation-Reflection-Surrender

In fairness, this cycle varies individually and contingent to stage of artistic development. Personally, the final (Surrender) precedes the first (Awakening). Following the sequence until each phase is understood helps in the mastery of these states. These states assist in the music practice process, and point towards the development of total detachment- surrender needed for performance. The Artist-Ego must step aside in order for the music to happen according to the spontaneity and energy of the moment. A digression towards the role of the subconscious must be made: it is possible to have a certain degree of ‘control and navigation through the semi-conscious, I.e., while in sleep-state, so any music-practice reference made can be realized more immediately during conscious-state practice. Further, during conscious-state, while at the yoga-cycle of mind-states, it is possible for any subconscious memories, I.e., dreams, to ‘pop’ up. Personally, this means the Ego is successfully out of Music’s way.

031016 @ UChicago
The piano is organic. There is enough music-making around for all musicians, and not enough for the spirit of the world. I will disregard all the surrounding practice ‘clutter’.
Instrumental phrase-line: transcends physiological realization and awareness – inward and toward inherent expression of musical message.
Facial demeanor: calm and detached , ‘zen’ state.
‘Sing’ through lines; this guides the body
Fitness reference: acknowledgement of ‘core’ – abdomen, root and solar plexus
R.H. chords: allow keys to ‘lift’ fingers. Use #2 and 3 as fulcrum reference to keep skeletal balance. Keep muscles UNflexed. Release keys immediately

JSB: play detached articulation first before deciding slurs
To develop accuracy: find ‘think-as-you-go’ tempo where all notes are correct, hands together. Hands alone to determine vocal line and check fingering possibility. Hands together is most critical, in order to learn the physiognomy of the passage (I.e., black and white key landscape and distances between hands and among fingers)
Keep seeking for the vocal line, and learning the instrumental landscape. Surrender bodily /material ‘heaviness’ and allow tones to resonate into the Universe.

JSB: uncover ‘punctuation ‘ of phrases; the articulation follows. In response to Stephen Hough’s FB post on practicing: very practical and user-friendly reminders/tips. He suggests that the role of a pianist while practicing is analogous to an Engineer, and during concert performance, a Pilot. On the blog is a sample from Schumann’s Fantasie, pencilled in with his handwriting and classification of a specific passage [1 total beat, all leaps in dotted rhythms]. I recall devising a similar analytical system for Prokofiev Sonata No.7 and for JSB Cm Toccata. The analysis served as an end in itself, but didn’t serve the end product, i.e. playing the work with complete freedom. At this point it’s tempting, as referred to in my conversation with Tina today, to ‘blame’ or to be fair, ‘associate’ this type of thinking to the Male mentality paradigm. [it is still how the entire world operates, ALL organized religious and societal systems inclusive] Anyway, I approached JSB Dm English Suite with the intention of applying some of Mr. Hough’s suggestions, specifically his tip for the importance of consistent fingering for muscular memory. Unsurprisingly, I resorted, and continue to default to my own adage of “heart first, heart first, heart first”. This approach has opened the possibility and state of ‘humility ‘ and detachment’ to allow for the music to reveal its own language, and most hopefully, suggestion of its own message. In this case, practicing is more likened to the role of a sleuth, or linguist , spelling out the message of the music. Fingering is incidental.* Perhaps I’m too far-gone in my ‘ways’ but, as soon as I deliberately assign and ‘reinforce’ a pre-determined fingering pattern, the passage was subject to complete collapse, as evidenced in recording takes (now deleted). I do like the Pilot ideal for performance. One that is loving, and liberated.

TBD: incorporation of a general instrumentalist approach , from technical lessons on the violin.
* The entire physiological body and mechanism must be free and responsive for ‘dancing’ to how the music realizes itself at any given moment, practicing or performance, with or without a listening audience. Fingering is subject to change according to this spontaneity .
Video review : tendency for fingers, RH particularly,and wrists to be ‘thrown’ at keys. LH releases keys more readily than RH. Note on overall video experience: when LVB passage was recorded in order to determine what needed to be ‘fixed’, the passage ‘fixed itself’ upon recording – in fact, the best thus far (however, still not quite where it wants to be)
Also, a wider dynamic range needs and wants to be established.

Piano Yoga Technique
I. Establish Breath- soft focus
Deep breaths in preparation to allow for the heartbeat to stabilize. The soft focus opens the path to ideas residing in the subconscious .
II. Immediate tactile release of keys
Once the piano key is depressed, the ‘job’ of the finger is realized. No energy is required for ‘pressing’ or ‘holding’ the keys. The finger can simply ‘rest’ on the keys for the duration of the tone, with the assistance of the pedal, as needed.
III. Find Finger Fulcrum (either #2 or #3)
Fingers #two and #three serve as an anchor for the hand, in any given passage
IV. Gross motor ‘technical summary ‘
Before attempting to determine fingering, a gross motor muscle summary serves as a basis for technical planning. For example, in a long sequence of parallel arpeggios, moving both arms, with attention to the lower body [vd] in the direction of the arpeggios without playing any of the notes gives an instant physiological summary and a range of the energy required.
V. Both hands assist the other
VI. Keys prompt fingers, not vice versa
VII. Physiological, and harmonic ‘deriviation’
An expansion of IV, the role of the entire body for the realization of a virtuosic passage can be articulated by giving simple attention to its involvement. Adjustments can be made according to ideal comfort and alignment of body


010217 Bremen-Frankfurt

Translation of piano-specific to general instrumental approach:

– Ego Transcendent

– Physiological Transcendent (i.e., music is instilled into musculoskeletal and cognitive subconscious)

Sight reading: fluency of literacy as guide, + anticipation – eyes read ahead and body follows with a singing mind and heart

Caution-Care: attention to physical energy deficit degrading into pain. With too much focus on delivery and mechanics, the music message and intention are obscured. Solution: return to breath. Re-center body – stretch and breathe. Re-center mind: think of Nothing.

* Artist-On-Ward Position: Qulaified Musicians visiting and playing for both bedside and community gathering spaces at the University of Alberta Hospitals and affiliate institutions

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