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Sayings on My Wall #1- “Smooth, Slow, and in Control”

Woman's hands playing on the keyboard of the piano in night closeup

This series of posts features “sayings” that are posted on the wall of my private piano instruction studio. They give insight and reminders to my students. These sayings are based on common mental mistakes that I have seen over and over throughout my 25 years of teaching. These predictable mental “rabbit trails” can sidetrack students and shut down their confidence. These sayings are also influenced by two of my favorite books on Music Psychology: “The Inner Game of Music” by Barry Green, and ” The Perfect Wrong Note” by William Westney.


MY GREAT SKILL IS YOUR UNFAIR ADVANTAGE. I can watch your hands and predict your level of success on the piano. Really, I can!! Your hands tell me what’s going on in your mind and emotions, whether you are thinking positive or negative thoughts. Your hands and body language tell me your level of  confidence and “control”.  And I can dial down your fear and dial up your confidence like knobs on a radio. Let me explain.

IS FEAR HEALTHY? As humans, we have an inborn, normal, healthy sense of caution about things unknown. In a dangerous environment, your sense of fear can help you avoid the danger by heightening your sensitivity, reflexes and adrenaline. It can even save your life. But in a safe environment, like when you are pursuing a new goal or learning a new skill, this same sense of caution is counterproductive. It tenses you up, scrambles your focus, and stymies your learning ability. Ultimately it steals the thing you need most: Confidence!

KINDERGARTEN. I remember the first day of kindergarten for my daughter. Some of the children were nervous. Some were truly afraid. Some cried and clung to their parents. The adults knew that kindergarten was totally safe. But to those children, the fear was very real. And the teacher knew that these children would not be able to learn until they could release that fear.

YOUR #1 ENEMY. Believe it or not, adults often carry that same fear (but expressed on an adult level) when learning new things such as the piano.  And that fear “hijacks” their brain. In my 25 years of teaching (most of it full time) I am more and more convinced that: The best indicator of a student’s success, by far, is the level of their fear and anxiety. And I can read that level by watching their hands!! 

YOUR GREAT SKILL. This skill of mine may seem impressive, and it is. But YOU can learn it too. If you are a teacher, you can bring out the “genius” in your students with this skill. But more importantly, this skill can take your learning speed up to an unbelievable rate. And more importantly, your playing will sound noticeably smoother and… beautiful!

4 Steps on Your Path to Greatness

  1. Stop occasionally during your practice to check how you feel and what images are in your mind. Do you feel confident or inadequate? Realize that is thinking is based on “habit” more than your true ability.
  2. Take a deep breath and drop all subtle anxiety. Drop your shoulders. Talk positively, with conviction and emotion to yourself.
  3. Most important: See if your hands are jerking or shaking. Make them move in slow-motion (like slow motion in an action movie). Think about your next chord but move slowly so it takes a long time to get there. Once you notice the difference in your sound, you will swear by this exercise. It works because once you force your hands to go in slow motion, your mind will automatically slow down and become more perceptive.  You are now in “control”, and you will want to stay there.
  4. Put a sign on the piano or on the wall where it is obvious. You need a reminder for when you slip back into your old habits. A reminder card like, “HOW DO YOU FEEL”, “CHECK YOURSELF”,  or “WATCH YOUR HANDS” refocuses you.  Soon you do it automatically, without the sign. The sign that works best for me is “SMOOTH, SLOW, and IN CONTROL”. Experiment until you find the saying that works for you. And last but not least, after you finish basking in your new-found confidence, drop me a comment and tell me about the experience. I never  get tired of hearing them. Thanks, and Go for it!

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