Sunday, February 27, 2011


Continuing... how I work at the piano... getting a little more candid now about my "process"...

I don't struggle with the piano, I struggle with myself. It's a good and joyous struggle and there's progress in it. ...

A little history.... I spent 6 years going to a Bioenergetic therapist. I like the bioenergetic emphasis on body and mind. Not just mind, not just body, not just soul, but a whole. I read several of Alexander Lowen's books in the early 80s, about the time I started therapy. Lowen was a student of Wilhelm Reich--another writer whose works I read much. Actually, I discovered Reich first and that's what led me to read Lowen. I am especially fond of Lowen's premise that everything we experience and know is through the body, and also his discussions of tension. Unhealthy tensions, that over time, can become chronic. They are great theories and I consider both Reich and Lowen brilliant men, even though they might "not have gotten everything right" as a sociology teacher once declared. But there is lot's to consider in them as they might apply to making music.

The problem I had, personally, with Bioenergetic therapy was that, considering my particular difficulties, the hands-on bit was often just too aggressive for me. I see in retrospect that what I needed first and foremost was to talk a lot. Also there was too much expectation (totally on my part most likely), that something would have to happen. That all got in the way. I care a lot for the therapists I've had over the years though, and I thank them deeply.

Alexander Technique, on the other hand, has nothing to do with psychoanalysis and is a very gentle, subtle attention to the way we use ourselves. It aims to help us become aware of bad use, over use, and "end gaining". Alexander Technique has been invaluable to me as a musician and I highly recommend it to all.

I have found that working at the piano is akin to Bioenergetic therapy--without the talking bit, but I talk to myself a lot so maybe that counts. Actually, working at the piano the way I do stirs up a lot of "stuff" and I find I need "sessions with myself" to sort (sometimes struggle) through it all. Years of therapy have left me reasonably well equipped.

Working at the piano "the way I do" means that I'm continually working at becoming aware of where I "hold" myself and where freedom of movement is restricted. When I discover that the music fails to flow because of some rigidity, I try to pinpoint the location. It can be anywhere, but once that weakness is located I can work on it and hopefully break through.

I especially love pieces of music that challenge my current level of ability and direct me to places of myself that need re-awaking and renewal. Schumann's "Symphonic Etudes" are the ticket at the moment and I declare that they are brilliant!! They are genius. Beautiful to listen to and chock full of absolutely brilliant challenges.

Books I recommend, pertinent to this post, for the music bookshelf:

Bioenergetics by Alexander Lowen, M.D. (c) 1975 Penguin Books
--The book in which he sets forth his theory.
Indirect Procedures by Pedro de Alcantara (c) 1997 Oxford University Press
--Subtitle: "A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique." There's some incredibly great stuff in this book, albeit I take issue with a few notions. Overall, it's a treasure.
A New Approach to the Alexander Technique by Glen Park (c) 1998 Glen Park.
Just Play Naturally by Vivien Mackie (c) 2002 Duende Editions
Body Learning by Michael J. Gelb (c)1995 Owl Books
The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser (c) 1997 Bell Tower


  1. I love the connection you have made to your body and how it impacts your playing. Not just...I'm tense today and not playing well... but stopping and figuring out why so you can free yourself to move forward. I can use that...:) Robin

  2. :)

    Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for commenting! Do you play piano?

  3. No, my sister Kathy does. I just think you can use those same techniques in life. :)


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