Reaching Harmony: The Power of a Holistic Approach to Piano Playing

Reaching Harmony - A Holistic Approach in Piano PlayingMusic is the art of harmony. Musicians, however, are rarely living harmonious lives.

Take a closer look at a flower: do you see the harmony between its petals? Can you imagine how the same flower would look if one of its petals would be longer or bigger than the others? Or, even worse, if the flower would have only one petal?

In nature, every phenomenon and every living entity has its inner harmony, at the same time being in balance with the surrounding environment.

In our life, however – no matter if we play piano, build spaceships, work in a hospital or run marathons – harmony is often only an unreachable ideal.

Ancient healing systems were always holistic: spirit and body, rational mind and emotions – everything had to be in perfect harmony for a person to be healthy and happy.

Our era, on the other hand, is the age of destructive separation (usually known as ‘specialization’). Instead of harmoniously (and simultaneously) developing all the ‘petals’ of our existence – mental, emotional and physical health, spiritual awakening, personal and professional fulfillment – we concentrate most of the time on one main thing, ignoring the others or letting them ‘vegetate’ somewhere in the background.

Nowadays, most people are unhappy because their lives are no longer harmonious, and what’s even worse – they think that there’s nothing they can do about it.

Those who pursue intellectual goals are usually physically weak and they have ‘rudimentary’ social skills… Those who enjoy an active lifestyle may sometimes forget how important spiritual values are… Those who build brilliant careers are often unsuccessful in building a family… and the list can go on!

For many pianists this scenario is extremely common. They focus on their practice and they think that they don’t have time and energy for other activities. They lack physical strength, they have low levels of energy and an increased emotional instability (due to the constant stress and lack of knowledge on how to cope with it). They are usually unable to relax properly, to see the world with fresh eyes, to perceive and appreciate new kinds of art, to be free from stereotypes.

When we focus solely on our piano practice, neglecting all the other inseparable parts of our human nature, we risk becoming a wounded flower with only one developed petal. Lack of balance opens the doors to emotional suffering, lack of fulfillment, different diseases and a ‘crystallization’ of habits and mentality.

We (pianists) are told from early childhood (by our parents, our teachers, and often by our own rational mind) that we need to work hard every day. We are repeatedly encouraged to invest time, effort and perseverance in our piano practice. We are explained that only this way we will be able to reach professional and financial success. We are also told that we live in a cruel, competitive world and that only by being the best we can win a place under the sun.

This kind of attitude is fundamentally incorrect. It is not ‘in tune’ with the laws of the universe and therefore it simply does not work as intended.

I’m not saying that we should avoid hard work. I’m simply saying that unilateral hard work combined with stress and an incorrect attitude is inevitably destroying the natural harmony of our lives. Smart and enjoyable work, on the other hand, makes us truly powerful, successful and happy.

If we don’t compensate our piano practice with other interests and healthy activities, our productivity will inevitably decrease – yes, it may sound paradoxical, but it’s true. Our spirit, mind and body need space for relaxation, time for assimilating the learned things and diversity for harmonious development.

The more we stress and obsess about something, the less we achieve in that particular field. The more we hurry, the more obstacles we encounter. The more tensed we are, the weaker we become. And if we look day after day only at one tree, we miss the beauty of the forest and we become totally blind.

I’ve seen this happening too many times and I’ve been struggling myself with the same dilemmas for many years until I decided to change my lifestyle and embrace a holistic approach on life, music and piano playing.

Music is fantastically complex. It is present on all levels of existence: it comes from our spirit, our intellect and our feelings. For bringing it to life, we need to master extremely difficult technical skills. In order to make it touch the heart of the public, we also need to ‘tame’ our inspiration, our creativity and be ‘connected’ to the apparently unexplainable energy of the universe.

From my own experience, I can tell you one thing: it’s impossible to master, combine and synchronize all these levels of musical performance artificially, without grounding them in a real feeling of harmony present within us.

This feeling of harmony cannot come out of the blue either. It can only be reached when we keep in balance all the seemingly separate aspects of life – and we understand that they are, in fact, inseparable parts of a whole.

Let go of stereotypes and standard classifications of professions. No matter what you’ve been told in school, know one thing: It’s GREAT to have many interests. It’s fantastic to enjoy doing many things. It’s OK to play Bach in a modern style 🙂 – as long as you’re convincing and you create real value. It’s empowering to live in balance. It’s wonderful if at one time in your life you decide to learn something new and to express your unique potential in an original, unexplored way.

However, don’t think that you’re ‘complicating’ your life by diversifying it. It’s quite the opposite. Today, our lives are too complicated: we do thousands of things we don’t really need – useless stuff that consumes our energy, our time and our money, at the same time not allowing us to think and do what’s really important.

So discard all the things that keep you from living in harmony. Let go of stress, fear and worries – they are paralyzing. This way you’ll have time for pursuing your true passions – which will be based on freedom of choice, not on imposed stereotypes.

Relax. Breathe. Do only one thing at a time. Then rest and do another. Be mindful and don’t hurry. Enjoy every moment – it is unique!

Go out in the morning for a nice workout. Return home and have a healthy breakfast. Practice piano afterward – or do it in the afternoon if you prefer. If you’re still studying, go to classes, learn what you enjoy but don’t forget that there are millions of interesting things out there besides school! School is just one little step in your journey – don’t overestimate its importance!

You have all the time in the world if you BELIEVE it. You have time for everything – playing piano (and enjoying it), working out (and being strong, healthy and attractive as a result), eating natural foods, relaxing, spending time with your friends, family and people who inspire you, reading, watching good movies and always learning something new. This way, you’ll maintain your mental and physical flexibility, your enthusiasm (you’ll never grow tired of something), the spark in your eyes and your youth!

This is the essence of a holistic approach in piano playing.

A ‘specialized’ existence makes us miserable and dependent on someone else’s rules.

A harmonious existence makes us happy and free – and what else could be more precious?

P.S. Stay tuned! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Google +.

If you enjoyed this piano tutorial, here are some other piano practice and learning topics you’ll like:

Awakening Our Creativity: Mastering the Art of Piano Improvisation

Developing a Brilliant Piano Technique – The Holistic Professional Approach

Wrist, Arm & Shoulder Warm-Up for Pianists

Finally! A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing

No Time to Practice? 5 Powerful Solutions for Lack of Time

Work Smart! Tips for a Productive and Enjoyable Piano Practice

How to Use the Sustain Pedal Correctly: The Bio-Mechanics of a Healthy Piano Pedaling Technique

J.S. Bach – Little Prelude in C Major, BWV 939. Piano Tutorial. Lesson No 96 for Beginners

15 Responses to “Reaching Harmony: The Power of a Holistic Approach to Piano Playing”

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  1. Maximo says:

    I super liked this post!!. And thank you for answering my question about breathing in the last post, it was really helpful!!!

  2. Ilinca says:

    Thank you, Maximo! Glad I could help :).

    Come back and share your future piano experiences!


  3. prasana kumar says:

    these topics are not only useful for studying piano but also useful for life..thankyou

  4. Queenie says:

    Whenever I go to your site , there seems to have a power to slow all my eyesights down . Thanks to you , I realize so many meaningful things which is more accessible and support arts , indeed , live more slowly , enjoy every moment that we have becoz it will never come back again.

  5. Mark Moody md says:

    This is so beautifully true.I am a physician a chamber violinist and violist and the father of seven year old of Eli who loves music and chess and rollerblading.You are the best

  6. Howard Kehlenbeck says:

    Ilinca this post is tremendous. I’m 80 and am at tutorial 19 with your presentations of Nikolaeve’s Russian School of Piano Playing. When you present these tutorials, you are empowered by the Holistic Approach you wrote about here. Thanks for your inspiration!

  7. Elisabeth Martini says:

    Ilinca, thank you so much for your tutorial. It is a lesson of life. Your presentation of Tutorials is the best approach to piano teaching that I ever had. You have a way of teaching the piano, that it seems that you are close to me and I want to please you by Learning the piano and especially try to do the best I can. Thank you for presenting your tutorial with a beautiful smile and making me feel at ease.

  8. Paco says:

    Everything he has said sounds great, but the reality is that time is limited and: The one that covers a lot of little squeezes. If you choose many activities, the result is that you know a lot about everything, but you don’t understand anything. When someone pursues something, they have to be used to the fullest for their purpose, leaving everything aside except family and loved ones. If I study piano I am not interested in the earthworm biology, because if I do that I will be a bad pianist and a bad biologist. Although I do not share his point of view regarding holistics in a general area of ??life, I find his holistic approach to piano study very interesting. I think you are doing an extraordinary and very good teaching job, that’s why I express my most sincere congratulations.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Paco!

      All the video and written tutorials on this site were created by me (Ilinca) – so I don’t know who you talk about when you say ‘he’. There are no guest authors here (not yet anyway) :).

      Also, I’m afraid you misunderstood the meaning of this article: it’s not about engaging in hundreds of different activities. It’s about balancing the main aspects of our life (mental, emotional, physical and spiritual) – and making sure they are in harmony (as opposed to ONLY practicing piano, and neglecting your health and emotional well-being). This has nothing to do with learning biology, or spaceship engineering. Of course we don’t have time for that!

      So I recommend giving the article another go :).

  9. Dear Ilinca, I thoroughly enjoy your articles on the holistic approach to piano playing. It is unique. Combining mental, spiritual, and physical forces to produce a harmonic synthesis in learning to play the piano is wonderful. It’s true that forces like these can be tamed and nurtured. They come in handy when one is struggling with fatigue, inability to perfect a passage, or just plain laziness. At one time I went through practice session with no more that playing the notes. I got through it. There were many articulations I could have tackled but didn’t. But the next day I played the notes again and this time tackled what I did miss. I believe that this holistic approach helped me out. You have really got something there. I believe it could work for others as well.

    • Ilinca says:

      Thank you so much, Patrick!

      Yes, the notes are only a thin surface layer of the amazing universe encoded in a piano piece. Learning how to go beyond the surface (and discover/express all the treasures that music abounds in) is one of my main missions as a teacher.

      I’m really happy you enjoyed this article! 😉

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