This story describes a seemingly small but actually crucial breakthrough that can make the difference between feeling insecure at the piano and playing with ease and confidence. I hope it encourages you to delight in the details on your journey toward overcoming performance anxiety.
Sandra came into her lesson this week feeling much better about how her hand was working. She found it so much easier to use a less curved position—to play on the finger pads instead of the very tips.
For the first time, there was no trembling at all in her left hand. “I can feel how relaxed my hand is now!” She sounded so relieved. Finally, light at the end of the tunnel!
She had really made a leap forward. In fact, she sightread a new section of the piece beautifully with two hands, beautifully positioned—something that was way beyond what she could do a few weeks ago. The whole room seemed brighter as she delighted in her new abilities.
I had never seen anything quite like Sandra’s particular journey. When she first came to study with me, she had been struggling for years at the piano, trying to play difficult pieces up to speed because her teacher didn’t realize that she needed to slow down and do easier repertoire. Her hands were extremely tight and constantly trembling from trying to do the impossible. And although she had made amazing progress since that first lesson—in letting her fingers rest on the keys when they weren’t playing—I had assumed that she was now curving her hand a little too much because she was still trying very hard to keep her fingers from sticking up in the air.
But last week’s lesson was a revelation. (She had learned how to avoid letting her knuckles bend backwards—an uncommon ability she had.) And then this week, that discovery led to a new one—she found out that she could use her fingers in an even more natural way by really focusing on freely bending them toward the palm of her hand from the base knuckle. Here’s a picture of her using her fifth finger that way and pointing to that knuckle:
Suddenly, she looked perfectly at home playing the piano. She’s transformed her hands, and the music has really begun to flow.
Thank you, Sandra! I’ve learned new things in this process with you, and it’s so great to see you play better than you thought you could.
P.S. Learn amazing secrets to unlocking freedom in performance at my special, free event in New York: Mindfulness for Pianists at Steinway Hall on January 9.