This story describes how a musician can begin to develop a healthy instrumental technique by having an open mind and focusing on simple, comfortable movements, rather than overexerting physically or mentally. Although the story is about a beginner, all of us, no matter how advanced or professional, need to be able to drop our agendas and tune into this fresh, inquisitive state of mind—to look, listen, and feel into our playing as though we’re beginners.
Seeing her child enjoy practicing the piano, Georgia became inspired to play herself and looked for a teacher who would suit her as an adult. In her first email to me, she expressed genuine and delightful motivation, and she arrived at my studio fresh and eager to learn. I was taken with her natural joy, curiosity, and self-awareness.
From the beginning, I told her it didn’t matter if she was able to produce sound right away with every finger—that the foundation of her piano technique would be to use minimum effort—to make each finger and arm movement simply and correctly so that her coordination would develop naturally.
And for the first couple of lessons, her movements often didn’t produce sound. But I could see that she was using her hands and arms well, and I knew it was just a matter of time before the sound came.
Amazingly, Georgia herself wasn’t the least bit concerned that she sometimes wasn’t getting sound out of the piano. She trusted the process and seemed content simply learning how to use her playing mechanism well. I enjoyed working with her.
Then suddenly, at her third or fourth lesson, the sound was consistently there. And what a beautiful sound it was! Open and warm, just lovely.
You know how it is, when blossoms suddenly appear in early spring. Or maybe you’ve been fortunate enough to see a baby take her first steps. Or even to witness childbirth itself. It’s miraculous.
And somehow, when a student begins to take her first steps—either in learning the piano or in relearning how to use her hands after playing for years with too much tension—each tiny step excites me.
Partly because I know they’ve taken the first step of an amazing journey— the journey toward full self expression at the piano.
But it’s even more than that.
Whenever we try something new, we enter a new world: the world of possibility.
In the Zen tradition, being open to the world of possibility is known as “beginner’s mind.” As they explain it, “In the mind of the beginner there are many possibilities. In the mind of the expert there are few.”
Whether I am teaching a beginner or a professional pianist, every time I show them new ideas about piano technique, I feel the energy of creation itself. I feel something happening that has not happened before. It’s almost as though I can see the cells multiplying in their body, their intelligence growing, their life force expanding and becoming stronger. I feel incredibly fortunate to participate in the experience.
Thank you, Georgia. I look forward to watching your playing grow and develop. And thank you to all of my amazing, trusting, brilliant students, who are open to learning and growing. It’s a privilege to inhabit the world of possibility with you and to accompany you on your journey.
Here’s to more expressive freedom in your performances!
P.S. I invite all of you to consider diving deep into your potential by applying to the Art of Practicing Institute’s legendary summer program. Spend a week discovering a whole new world of musicality inside yourself, in the company of like-minded musicians from all over. It’s a knockout!