We need space in order to be creative. Piano practice is not an exception.
Clutter is a source of constant stress. It dominates our minds and brings on our ‘radar’ thousands of different things simultaneously. Such pressure inevitably kills our creativity, our enthusiasm and our positive attitude, making us feel overwhelmed, exhausted and even depressed.
In our fast and challenging modern times, productivity – no matter if we talk about building a company or learning an Etude by Chopin – is about focus and the ability to get rid of distractions.
Sit at your piano (in case you have a piano or at least a weighted hammer keyboard at home) and look around you. What do you see?
All the things you see - no matter if you want it or not – are reflected in the quality of your practice.
When I was little, I used to practice in a room full of books – a real old-fashioned library full of great books that my father collected during his entire life. The bookshelves were everywhere – even on the wall above my piano.
As a result, for several years my practice consisted of 2 things: playing piano and looking at countless book covers in the process. Was it a good thing? Maybe – this way I had access to many inspiring books on various subjects: arts, philosophy, history, science and so on. As a kid, I didn’t understand all these things (I was only 7-10 years old back then), but the books surely encouraged my passion for reading and supported my innate curiosity.
At the same time, the fact that I was seeing all these books in front of me inevitably slowed down my practice rhythm!
Even valuable books can be considered clutter in certain circumstances. All the things that surround you while you practice create an invisible (yet dominating) pressure, directly affecting your mental and emotional state, your ability to focus and, as a result – your productivity.
During your piano practice, you can be affected by 3 types of clutter:
1. The things you place on your piano.
2. The things you can see in the practice room.
3. The things you have on your mind.
Generally, I would put the mental clutter on the first spot on such a list. However, learning to declutter our mind is not so easy. Start small – by doing simple things you can control! The changes made in your immediate environment will be inevitably reflected by your mental state as well.
Let’s face it: even if you manage to achieve a good focus during your practice, all the objects cluttering your room are still present in your peripheral vision, being unconsciously ‘recorded’ by your mind, slowing down your ‘RAM’ and therefore – your productivity.
What happens in such circumstances? Instead of spending 2-3 enjoyable hours at the piano, you may be forced to practice 5-6 hours per day. At the end of your practice, instead of feeling energized by your progress, you feel frustrated by your questionable results.
The solution is to declutter your practice space. Even if your piano is situated in your bedroom or in the living room (or even in your sibling’s room), it’s in your power to keep the area clean, organized and to transform it into an open space full of air, light and unlimited possibilities.
During many years of interacting with musicians, painters, actors, writers etc., I noticed one thing: many of them have the tendency to fill their living space with different objects which – in their opinion – are related to their art or are being used as a ‘source of inspiration’. Among these objects of questionable value I could name just a few: musical posters, statuettes and figurines of all styles and sizes, many paintings (again, of various sizes and questionable artistic value), postcards, family pictures, etc. and so on.
All this ‘art’ – which often is nothing but kitsch – is just another form of clutter! Instead of inspiring you, it simply stresses you, depleting the air, the inspiration and the free flow of creative energy from your room and your mind.
Ask yourself one question – why do you keep all this stuff around? Because it reminds you of your past? Because you think you may need it one day? Because you’re scared of throwing away your memories?
Learn to let go and enjoy the freedom it brings.
Yes, having a good memory is wonderful. However, let’s not forget about the healing powers of oblivion. Forgetting is the natural way of our mind to declutter itself. By letting go of physical clutter, we can forget about it and we can let go of all the memories that it triggers, this way creating mental and emotional space for growth and creativity. By getting rid of 100 unimportant things, we create space for 1 or 2 things that are truly meaningful, having the power of changing our life!
If you think about your mind in computer terms – what’s the point in having 500 or more GB on your hard drive if you have a very weak RAM? What’s the point in having so many reminders around you (pictures, postcards, figurines etc.) if they don’t allow you to live in the present moment, if they affect your productivity, your state of mind and ultimately – your happiness?
Get rid of all these things! Instead of 10 cheap kitsch paintings, it’s better to invest in one great painting of real value. If you can’t afford it, simply let your wall (and yourself) breathe freely! Or, instead of 20 or 30 different figurines and statuettes, it’s better to have a plant or – again – one sculpture of real value that can truly inspire you.
Postcards (if you insist on keeping them – which is not advisable) belong in an album, and so do family pictures (or, even better, in a folder in your computer). Print only one or two pictures if you truly want to. Then, instead of hanging pictures on your walls, it’s better to pick up the phone and connect with your loved ones more often. Or even better – pay them a visit! Real life is priceless – avoid substituting it with pictures, postcards and other related memorabilia.
In decluttering your practice space, do not allow yourself to feel discouraged by the apparent ‘impossibility’ of the task. Take it one step at a time:
1. Start by decluttering your piano (yes, the surface of your instrument). A lot of people like to keep stuff on their pianos. They manage to put various objects not only on common vertical pianos – I’ve seen even cluttered grand pianos!
Keep on your piano only a few scores – the pieces you’re currently working on. That’s it!
All the other scores belong elsewhere – in a drawer or on a bookshelf (hopefully not in the immediate vicinity of your practice space). Figurines, pictures and other forms of ‘art’ (which I already mentioned) should be mercilessly removed from your piano!
When you practice, you should have in front of you only your score. If you plan to work on a Fugue by Bach for 2 hours, that’s the only thing you should see before you!
The wall behind your piano should be clean and empty of any distractions as well. If you want to place a good painting on the wall – do it, but make sure that the painting is not depressing, violent or extremely colorful. After all, you should focus on your practice, not on other forms of art!
You can also place a vase with fresh flowers on the piano – nature is always calming and inspiring. However, considering the fact that you can accidentally spill the water from the vase and inflict irreversible damage on the piano mechanism – I advise you against it!
2. Declutter your practice room. Nowadays, you can find online many wonderful decluttering tips. I will not repeat them here. Instead, I will direct you towards one of my favorite websites – Zen Habits. I strongly advise you to read Leo Babauta’s article Zen Mind: How to Declutter (and other articles as well – they will surely help you to find simplicity and happiness in the dizzying kaleidoscope called ‘modern life’).
3. Declutter your mind. Before sitting at the piano, think about what you want to achieve today. For example, you can warm up for 15-20 minutes (a few scales or some difficult fragments from a piece you’re currently learning). Then, you’ll probably want to work for 30-45 minutes (or even an hour) on a certain piece. Then, depending on your goal, you may want to switch to another piece.
During your practice, these are the only things you should focus on! In rest, allow yourself to be free from all the thoughts and emotions that usually disturb you.
Turn off your phone and your computer (or at least hide all your gadgets in another room). Make sure that you’re not hungry or thirsty. Breathe deeply, relax your mind and your body and check your state of mind – it should be calm, confident and positive.
Your practice time is yours alone – it’s a ‘time out’ that you deserve! When you practice, nothing can affect you!
Here is a trick that I use all the time: when I practice, I imagine that time has frozen and all the worries of my daily life have been postponed.
Everything – no matter how urgent it is – will simply HAVE TO WAIT until you finish your practice!
Decluttering your mind and focusing on the essential becomes easier if you compensate your daily practice routine with other activities. Breathing exercises, meditation, physical workouts, spending time outdoors and a healthy diet will also contribute to your ability to stay calm, motivated, strong and positive.
With a little practice, you’ll be able to apply the same decluttering principles to all the areas of your life. You’ll declutter your entire home (not only your practice room). You’ll learn how to focus on the task at hand (no matter if you’re cooking dinner, vacuum cleaning, taking a walk, going out with your friends or studying for an upcoming math exam). You’ll start to ENJOY the stuff you’re doing (including your piano practice) because your mind will be savoring the present moment, not worrying about the future or regretting the past.
This will not only increase your productivity – it will make you look at your life from a new perspective. By creating open space around you, you’ll be able to fill it with everything you want and you’ll discover new sources of happiness everywhere around you.
You cannot pour fresh water into a full glass. Make room for your present and future achievements!
You can subscribe to PianoCareer by liking my Facebook page – I just created it!