Every professional musician knows the drill: if you want to be good you need to practise. For classical musicians there are many hours of strict practice required, for jazz and other musicians there is a different kind of practice, but in any case, you always need to practise more rather not less. Talking about technique, which is best developed when we are children, if you want to be good, you are encouraged to practice at least three to four hours when you are a child, with a gradual increase in hours as you get older, especially if playing piano has the potential to become your profession.
I personally studied at the School for Gifted Children in the Ukraine, then at the Music Conservatoire (Kharkov State institute of Arts), before embarking on Postgraduate Studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and finally a Masters Degree at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire. Throughout all these years, I have been encouraged to practice as much as possible, sometimes up to 8 hours a day. It was not surprising that at the age of 15 I suffered muscular tension due to over-practising. What was astounding was that, at no point during my entire studies, was I ever advised on how to look after my body in order to avoid over-practising (meaning over-using it) nor taught how to practise efficiently; how to avoid strain whilst keeping my body relaxed.
By my early 20th, I found myself suffering from chronic back-pain, and was forced to see a back specialist on a regular basis. After about six months of such visits, I realised that this could not go on. I had to learn how to start caring for my body in order to stop having to see a doctor, as I was became addicted to these visits.
This is when I started to explore. It was suggested I should try yoga, and after the first few sessions I got ‘hooked’. Yoga allowed me not only to get rid of my pain, but I noticed that my body slowly started to transform, my muscles became leaner and I even felt taller!
Additionally, I noticed that, apart from fixing my back problems, yoga was really good for my piano playing: my fingers became stronger and the challenge of playing larger chords became less of an issue. Following this discovery, I deliberately started incorporating yoga stretches into my practice routine. It felt great; I felt refreshed and balanced.
The following year I was faced with the challenge of performing Rachmaninoff ‘Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini’, which I had been told by my teachers, I would never be able to play. I loved this piece and felt that I could play it, so I was determined to do everything possible to master this piece.
All I needed was to find a specific programme or a set of exercises that would develop my hands. After extensive research and trying out various exercises, I realised that what I was looking for was not available, and if I wanted to work on my hands, I would need to create this programme myself. Starting with various experiments, I came to the conclusion that the answer was … in my yoga practice. By trial and error I created the piano-yoga exercises that helped me to master this piece, and this is how Piano-Yoga® was conceived.
So what is Piano-Yoga®? It is a method of piano teaching, performing and playing available to musicians of all levels, amateurs and professionals, from beginners to advanced. The more advanced you are, the more you can benefit from it. One of the aspects of Piano-Yoga® method is ‘body discipline’, teaching those who play and practise for more then an hour a day to take care of their body by showing how to use it in their playing as well as how to relax at specific times and how to prevent injuries. Alexander technique offers wonderful teaching that covers some of these aspects, but Piano-Yoga® offers something different; firstly precise work on hands and arms in order to increase the strength of fingers and hand span, secondly, the discipline of taking care of the body on a regular basis, thirdly, various tips on piano playing established through body work and finally prevention and /or post injury rehabilitation programme. By incorporating the ancient yoga teaching, the method aims to create a feeling of well-being on a physical, emotional and intellectual level. For those following spiritual practices, it offers something as well. It is up to the student to take as much or as little from Piano-Yoga® as he or she wants.
The main message of this article though, is that playing piano for more then an hour a day inflicts demands on your body and, if are regularly doing this, you must know how to take care of it in order to avoid an injury or a simple back pain and get rid of stagnation in your body, as sitting for a long time is not good for our health.
I hope that you find my story helpful and if you have any questions I will be happy to hear from you via firstname.lastname@example.org.