Playing and listening to music are activities that involve all the senses and therefore the nervous system. Many people find that, when they hear a beautiful piece of music, they will close their eyes, breathe deeply and soak up the ‘feeling’ of the music. This allows us to focus our sense of hearing, but it also makes our other senses more acute. Similarly, when playing a piece of music, we seek to ‘feel’ the music within us – and this enables us to play more than notes, to communicate something of significance to the people listening to us.
The feelings that we have when we hear music are very special combinations of all our senses. To create this feeling in our music, we must use and persuade others to use more than hearing. When playing well, all our senses are heightened – our brain coordinates these senses to produce special movements through our hands and other parts of the body involved in playing the piano.
The learning of technique is a combination of the ‘know how’, the experience that develops the nervous system connections (learning the movements) and the control and heightened awareness of the senses. The ‘know how’ is part of the instruction in piano, starting from the very first lesson and never ending. The experience comes over time playing in these expressive ways. The development of the nervous system can be encouraged through practice activities.
New learning is mostly done subconsciously and the nervous system goes through most of its repair, growth and development while we are sleeping. We can make use of this by timing our practice sessions. If we practice new skills carefully (but briefly) before going to bed and then again after waking, the skills are more easily learnt. It is often helpful to briefly practice piano at these times – going through pieces or difficult sections of pieces carefully one time only. (Practice that requires analysis and much concentration is best done mid-afternoon, or when we feel most alert.)
Focusing on one sense at a time can heighten the senses. Here are some suggestions:
|Close your eyes and listen carefully to all the sounds you can hear. Try and identify the sounds – whether they are the songs of birds, or people walking downs the stairs!|
|Close your eyes and listen to music of various styles. What feelings do you have? Can you describe them? What instruments can you identify? Can you imagine a picture or a story that might be ‘in’ the music?|
|Play a game with another person during which you have your eyes closed and they give you different objects to hold in your hands. Can you describe the object and guess what it is without opening your eyes?|
|Play the game above also using taste – choose some foods. Can you guess what they are?|
|Play the piano with your eyes closed. Can you play the piece you are learning without opening your eyes? (Don’t worry about speed or mistakes; just try to find the notes by listening to them.)|
|At the piano, play all the white, black or both sets of keys stepping up and down the piano (or use scales and arpeggios). Keep your eyes closed and use your sense of space and touch to find the next note.|
|Play blind-man’s-bluff or similar: Have one person blind-folded and get them to feel for a chosen object or another person who has hidden in the room. Use space and touch to find your way.|
|One person closes their eyes and the other plays a note on the piano. By listening to the pitch, can the first person find the note that was played? Can you do this with other instruments as well?|
|Play string games – like Cat in the Cradle. Weave a long loop of string through your fingers. Picking up strands of the string with different fingers, try making patterns weaving between your hands.|
|Play your piano pieces without making a sound. Touch the keys and think about feeling them with your fingers instead of hearing them.|
|Play the piano in as many different ways as you can. What sounds do you like? What can you feel in your hands when you play these sounds? Try using different parts of your hand and fingers, different speeds of pressing the keys, different shaped hand positions, etc.|
|Read and try to play lots of new music. Try covering the music page with different coloured cellophane sheets. How does this change the ‘feeling’ of the music?|
|Good physical activities for developing these senses are tennis, table tennis and hand ball.|
Have fun finding all the different ways you can use your senses!