How Do You Play the Piano with Your Mind?

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While this might sound silly, learning to play music mentally is one of the best practice methods. All practice is mental practice. While the action of playing an instrument has a physiological component, learning and practicing is much more of a mental experience than anything else. In fact, recent brain scan tests have found that there is no difference in brain activity between someone playing an instrument or just thinking about playing an instrument!

In college I had come down with mononucleosis when I was scheduled to play a solo recital. I had become very weak but was determined to play the program. An hour and half a day is about all the practice I could handle – and that was about how long the program was. Needless to say, this was not enough time to practice. Determined to succeed despite my physical ailment, I tried something new. I ended up taking all my scores into bed with me and I practiced mentally. To my surprise, the performance ended up being the best I had ever had by far! But how can this be?

Don’t hop into bed with your musical scores just yet! You have to develop technique and playing your instrument is essential. However, you should continue practicing even when you are away from your instrument. Imagine the performance in great detail, every sound and action. By doing this you will be able to hear the music exactly how you want it to sound so you can develop your performance. Learning your music mentally away from your instrument will help you identify problem spots you didn’t know existed before. You may be depending upon tactile memory on some passages and you may realize that you don’t actually know the music as well as you thought.

Here is a great exercise for you: Take a piece you are very familiar with, remove the score, and try and play it mentally. Play as far as you can go without stopping and when you have to stop, refer back to the score and start again until you can play the entire piece from memory away from your instrument. If you do this, you will have mastered that piece of music better than any other piece you’ve played before. Whenever I play a recital I play my music in my head constantly before the performance. I make sure I can get through difficult sections again and again until things are totally clear. There is great reassurance in performance when you know your scores on this level.

Thanks again for joining me, Robert@LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729

4 thoughts on “How Do You Play the Piano with Your Mind?”

  1. Hi Robert – I really enjoy your presentations . . the “playing with your mind” etc. but your opening video regarding classical music is very good.. . . growing up I did not take very many piano lessons . . my mother was a piano teacher but that didn’t matter. . . I was pre-occupied with scouts, ham radio and other stuff.

    But now and over the many years that I have been involved with digital piano research, I am particularly aware of the top performers out there now and listen to it more than jazz which I am more of a jazz or improv pianist anyway.

    Now that Yamaha is sponsoring the eCompetition annually worldwide, I download all of the contestents’ performances . . you know, they play on a high end Clavier in order to produce note and performance data into a midi format. Then judges from many places will listen to the midi files that are emailed in via internet to be loaded into another Clavier that the judges listen to.

    Anyway, the point is this: I am quite involved with the Pianoteq (France) mathmatically modeled piano program and they have all of the eCompetition midi files on the Pianoteq website so as a beta team member one can listen to any of the classical performances play the Pianoteq piano that we as users at home have voiced, tweaked etc.

    I have always been amazed at performances by classical artists but really enjoy classical piano now. By the way, my most favorite internet radio station is the big clear channel Mexican station just south San Diego – XLNC1 on 104.9Mhz (I pick it up on my Mac here at home) I think it is one of the most professionally managed classical station available.

    IN closing and regarding the popularity of Classical music . . it is timeless. I think there are a lot of people out there like myself that most of you probably do not know that we are enjoying classical music even though we do not play it.

    KUDOS to you Robert . . .
    Your friend in South Carolina,

    Lanny Davis

  2. Hi Robert – I really enjoy your presentations . . the “playing with your mind” etc. but your opening video regarding classical music is very good.. . . growing up I did not take very many piano lessons . . my mother was a piano teacher but that didn’t matter. . . I was pre-occupied with scouts, ham radio and other stuff.

    But now and over the many years that I have been involved with digital piano research, I am particularly aware of the top performers out there now and listen to it more than jazz which I am more of a jazz or improv pianist anyway.

    Now that Yamaha is sponsoring the eCompetition annually worldwide, I download all of the contestants’ performances . . you know, they play on a high end Clavier in order to produce note and performance data into a midi format. Then judges from many places will listen to the midi files that are emailed in via internet to be loaded into another Clavier that the judges listen to.

    Anyway, the point is this: I am quite involved with the Pianoteq (France) mathmatically modeled piano program and they have all of the eCompetition midi files on the Pianoteq website so as a beta team member one can listen to any of the classical performances play the Pianoteq piano that we as users at home have voiced, tweaked etc.

    I have always been amazed at performances by classical artists but really enjoy classical piano now. By the way, my most favorite internet radio station is the big clear channel Mexican station just south San Diego – XLNC1 on 104.9Mhz (I pick it up on my Mac here at home) I think it is one of the most professionally managed classical station available.

    IN closing and regarding the popularity of Classical music . . it is timeless. I think there are a lot of people out there like myself that most of you probably do not know that we are enjoying classical music even though we do not play it.

    KUDOS to you Robert . . .
    Your friend in South Carolina,

    Lanny Davis

  3. It’s the “Think System” from Prof Harold Hill! Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    Seriously, it’s great advice. I do something like this a good portion of each day, during those times I can’t sit at the piano. It’s as easy as whistling while imagining you’re playing.

    1. Very interesting. Playing the piano with your mind as well as tactile. When you play it mentally do you actually visualize the notes, fingering etc. or do you hear the melody and harmony in other words the whole sound of the piece and not necessarily using photographic memory. Just wondering what your approach would be on this issue. Thanks so much for your videos, I look forward to them.

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