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8. Prelude and Fugue in E flat/D sharp minor from Book 1



TO RELAXATION    Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!

One of the most powerful obstacles in practising the piano is the demon of trying too hard. Most of us have been told at some point in our young lives that we must try harder, that we cannot expect to succeed if we don’t try harder, that we must always try to do our best. Maybe even that it is more important to try than to succeed. It is difficult to run counter to all this well-intentioned advice and say ‘No, I am not going to try harder. I am going to try less’ But unless you do, piano practise will remain a struggle rather than a joy. I have watched this process so often in so many people, myself included. The harder you try to master a tricky passage on the piano, the more physical tension is created in the body. This increase in physical tension - be it in the shoulders, arms, wrists, back of the hands or wherever - makes the very fine level of coordination that is necessary more and more difficult to attain. This in turn leads to an increase in the mental frustration which then ratchets up the physical tension until it is counter-productive to go on practising at all. How to break through this vicious circle? The simple answer is by easing up on the trying - trying too hard is counter-productive. We have to find a balance between clear relaxed thinking and a strong sense of being present. Our ‘trying hard’ energy needs to be chanelled or converted into a commitment to staying with the process in the present. Then within this presence, this commitment to staying with the process, we can relax. We can observe the details of fingering, the details of hand movements, of hand coordination. We can repeat the series of movements that are necessary - slowly, in a relaxed way. Gradually, relaxed mind leads to relaxed body. We start to see, hear and feel that our energy is flowing, our hands are moving easily, the music has a quality of movement, gentle connection and flowing breath. The movement from trying too hard to allowing the music to breathe is a journey that we embark on every time we practise the piano. It is not something we can tick off like a shopping list but a way of being that we need to remember again and again. Understood like this, practising the piano is a spiritual discipline in the same way that running can be. The instrument and the music are not demons to conquer or master, but allies to make friends with. And just as we don’t tend to make friends in life by trying too hard, we cannot expect to make friends with the piano by trying too hard either. During my many years of teaching the piano I have watched and guided this morvement from ‘trying too hard’ to ‘relaxed awareness’ so many times in so many people - and it still brings a real sense of joy to see it happening.