Being a pianist is not an easy job. Being a professional pianist who’s always trying to conquer new peaks is even harder. Many hours of practice per day, lots of stress, many powerful emotions – positive and negative, many intellectual challenges… and the list can go on!
The lifestyle of a good musician doesn’t involve only playing beautiful music on prestigious stages. In order to achieve that, you have to pass through thorns and blood, through extreme fatigue and exasperation, through hope, faith and even superstition. But the most difficult challenge a pianist is forced to face is the daily practice routine.
Every day, we wake up in the morning knowing that at least 3-4 hours of practice are waiting ahead. When we’re not too busy going to work or to school, we can practice 6-8 hours, or maybe even 10…
Of course, practice makes perfect. It’s impossible to become a true piano master without hard work. But most piano students are so obsessed with their practice that they forget to compensate somehow the static lifestyle of a musician.
Here is the classical picture of the side-effects a perseverant pianist is experiencing because of his/her unilateral activity: back pain and spinal column deformation, headaches as a result of the intracranial hypertension, poor eyesight (in most cases myopia), weak muscular tonus, low levels of energy, increasing frequency of negative thoughts, insecurity, separation from the outside world… Does all this sound familiar? There are so many talented pianists who consider quitting their musical career because they can’t cope with all these negative moments! Is there a way to prevent and fight with all the downsides of an intense piano practice?
Fortunately, there are hundreds of ways of protecting your health and at the same time practice piano many hours per day. Here I’ll analyze just a few of them.
The basic principle is simple: piano playing is a static activity. Even if your arms and fingers are moving, the rest of your body is motionless. Some people say that piano playing is a good exercise for one’s arms and fingers. In my future posts – about the relaxed playing – I will prove that this is not entirely true and, most important – it’s absolutely not enough for keeping your hands, your elbows, your forearms, your wrists and fingers in good shape.
This may sound like a paradox, but it is still true: in order to be a good pianist, you have to use many other different methods to strengthen your pianistic skills and to balance your mind, not just endless piano practice.
First, learn how to breathe. This is not a joke. When was the last time you paid attention to your breathing? In my future articles I will show you the direct fundamental connection between breathing and music. Now I will just say that every musician should practice deep breathing exercises every day. It will oxygenate your body and your brain, will improve your mood and will balance and calm your mind.
Then you have to start moving! The great Russian doctor and promoter of a healthy lifestyle Galina Shatalova said in one of her books: “If you want to be healthy, start jogging. If you’re too weak to run, walk. If you can’t walk – crawl.”
I can say the same to a pianist. Motion is life. How can somebody understand music – this superb reflection of the universal harmony – if he/she cannot understand his/her own body?
Walk or run at a slow pace at least one hour per day. The best results are achieved outside, where you have the possibility of breathing fresh air, thus oxygenating your whole body. If you don’t have the option to exercise outside, go to a gym! Just do something every day, this is the most important thing! Jogging (or fast walking for beginners) also helps eliminating the toxins from your internal organs and improves the blood circulation. After a period of constant exercises, you’ll notice that your ‘cold hands syndrome’ vanished somehow!
Then move on to something more complex. I recommend yoga. This ancient healing system is a wonderful way of balancing your mind with your body and yourself with the rest of the world. You’ll learn how to control your breathing, your muscles, your joints and, most important – your mind and your emotions. This is crucial for any performing pianist! Yoga can also help you get rid of back pain by stretching and strengthening your spine.
Martial arts are also extremely effective for strengthening your body, your mind, the power of your will and your courage to make decisions. Aikido, jiu-jitsu, taekwondo, kung fu or karate will bring your understanding of the biological energy to a new level, increasing your resistance, your fluidity, your discipline, your self-confidence and your ability to deal with complicated challenges.
Other physical activities (aerobics, team sports) are very good as well. Everything is better than nothing! However, I strongly recommend practicing something that will train not only your body, but also your mind and your positive attitude. That’s why deep breathing, meditation, yoga and martial arts are my top recommendations that will help you compensate those long hours of piano practice.
And the most important thing: if you love music, especially piano music and you’re considering building a professional piano career, you’re making a good decision. BUT! Let’s not forget that the ultimate goal in this life is to find your balance and your happiness, to fully awaken your unique potential, to bring you and your loved ones light and a sense of purpose. Music and piano playing is just a means to that end, just a way to reflect the beauty of this universe, not the goal itself! So avoid the trap of a unilateral life and learn to enjoy the complexity of this wonderful world!
Smile! Breathe! Play! Be stronger! Be happier!