Parasympathetic Nervous System and Piano

Do you ever feel like you’re running around, trying to get everything done, and then you’re exhausted at the end of the day?  I’m sure we’ve all felt that at times.  That experience is the sympathetic nervous system at work.  It’s fight or flight mode.  Even in learning to play the piano it’s easy for students to fall into trying to get it right and putting pressure on themselves.  Again it’s the sympathetic nervous system at work.  It’s great for when you need that extra adrenaline to run for your life, literally.  Thankfully, we rarely need to run for our lives, and in piano lessons it’s not necessary at all.

What’s the alternative?  Engage the parasympathetic nervous system.  “What’s that?” you ask.

The parasympathetic nervous system is everything you’re body does automatically without you thinking about it, like digesting food and breathing.  It just happens.  When you’re resting the parasympathetic nervous system is at work.  What if you could be in a rest state and learn to play the piano?  Wouldn’t that be relaxing and invigorating?  Yes, it would.

I have great news for you.  It is possible to learn and play the piano from a rest state.  No stress.  No worry.  No to-do list trying to get your attention.  Just pure relaxation that feels great, and sounds great too.

I recently had a 13-old student truly experience this for the first time.  She had been struggling to learn a particular piece.  She could do it, but she had all this stress and worry about it before she even played the first note at her lesson, even though she had practiced it at home.  (Ever had that feeling before?  You are not alone).

I encouraged her to go really, really, really slow.  So slow the average person would think she didn’t know how to play the piano.  Not the pace you would play to show off, but the pace your body needs so it has time to relax, think, and process everything it is doing as it is doing it.  So slow you can feel yourself breathe with every note without a care in the world.

She found that pace and nearly put herself to sleep.  I stopped talking.  There was nothing to say.  She played incredibly slow.  Where she struggled before, she now played flawlessly.  Her tone was stunning.  She had never experienced what I meant by slow until now.  She had a huge smile on her face and was so excited that yes, she really could play this piece.  In fact, she could probably learn the whole thing by next week simply by going this slow.

I told her, “This is how I practice.  You now know the secret.”

Truly going so slow you can feel yourself breathe takes letting go of trying to look good, and instead finding that pace where your body feels comfortable.  It takes self-awareness, practice, and a willingness to look like you don’t know how to play the piano.   Yet, the truth is, this is how you learn to play the piano well.  It is what keeps students coming back for more because it feels so relaxing.  That’s the parasympathetic nervous system for you.  Try it.  It will open a whole new world of possibilities for you.

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