7 Moving Pieces (For Inspiration)



Dear Friends:

I sometimes turn to moving music to get me through a difficult time, or to reflect my feelings of joy and appreciation. Listening to moving music is one of the greatest pleasures available, but we don’t do it enough! How often do you just sit and listen to music? Without doing the dishes, driving, or exercising? We’re all so busy, but just sitting and listening to moving music is like therapy.

We can get swept away by inexpressibly beautiful songs and pieces that release dopamine into our brains making us feel amazing!

We can turn to different types of music for the many emotions we are experiencing. Here is my list of 7 moving pieces that will hopefully inspire you to move forward with your dreams, desires, wishes and intentions.

1) Gabriel’s Oboe (Main Theme from The Mission, By Ennio Morricone)

2) Sonata Pathetique (Adagio Cantabile, By Ludwig van Beethoven)

3) Triumph of Time and Tide (Sarabande, by Georg Friedrich Handel)

4) Etude No. 26 in A-flat Major (By Frederick Chopin)

5) When You Wish Upon A Star (By Leigh Harline and Ned Washington)

6) Don’t Give Up (By Peter Gabriel, with Kate Bush)

7) Wonderful World (By Bob Thiele and George David Weiss)

What music do you listen to for inspiration?

Tomorrow,  7 Moving Pieces (For Happiness)

With love and music, Gaili

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Musical Endings


Today I would like to talk about musical endings.

In his wonderful book Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself,  (I love the audiobook!) Alan Alda said,

Deep in our hearts we know that the best things said come last. People will talk for hours saying nothing much and then linger at the door with words that come with a rush from the heart. Doorways, it seems, are where the truth is told.

The end of a song or piece is like a doorway. The truth of the music is revealed in the final measures with an outpouring of pure emotion moving us into silence or into the beginning of the next movement. Endings can be long or short, triumphant or tragic, lyrical or succinct, humorous or melancholic, stately or surprising, or can fade away into silence. Some are conclusive and others end with a question. As with beginnings and middles, it’s a good idea to put some thought and care into how we would like to end our piece.

Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1) Practice your ending until you can let go of reading every note, and can move beyond the notes.

2) When you have worked your way to the final measures of a piece, think about your expression, or the emotion of the phrases. Write down a few words to describe the ending so that you can focus your mind on those emotions when you play it.

3) What tempos and dynamics will you use? Will you slow down at the end of a piece, or keep the tempo steady? Will your ending be piano or forte, or will it contain a mixture of dynamics?

4) If you are playing a popular song you can choose a wide variety of endings. You can improvise a little melody of your own. You can play some extra chords such as a minor ii7, V7, I. You can play some chord arpeggios such as the I – Major 7th. You can repeat the last few measures an octave higher, then end with a very low note.

5) Whatever type of music you are playing, make your ending count. Don’t let yourself rush through it like a horse back to the stables! Take the time to give your ending its due. What truth do you want to tell at this doorway? For Alan Alda, it was,

Oh, by the way, I love you

When you are ready,

1) Play your finished piece for someone you love and trust. Sharing your music with others is a great gift and gives your piece a sense of closure.

2) While you move on to new pieces, KEEP REVIEWING THE PIECES YOU KNOW AND LOVE.

3) If you haven’t played a piece for awhile, don’t get discouraged when you can’t play it perfectly the first time. Keep playing, and it will come back to you!

4) Write down a repertoire of about 10 pieces that you will keep in rotation. Play these pieces for yourself and/or others as often as you can.

Each time you review a piece, you will deepen your understanding of it. You will play it with increasing ease and expression over the weeks, months and years of review.

With love and music, Gaili

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A Pianists A-Z: A Piano Lover’s Reader. By Alfred Brendel                                                                       Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself. By Alan Alda

Egoless, part 1


I had several lovely piano teachers growing up. The teacher that influenced me the most was Mildred Portney Chase. She wrote a wonderful book called  Just Being At The Piano that I reread every couple of years. Mildred studied piano at Julliard and also had a Zen orientation. Her personality was a synthesis of Eastern meditation with Western discipline, giving equal balance to the technical and the spiritual. Mildred’s introduction says,

This book is about being able to experience the instant at the time of its being.

What did she mean by that? Mildred dedicated her life to playing without judgement, without the negative, hopeless voices telling her that she was not good enough, that she was wasting her time at the piano. Sound familiar?

Sometimes I …wondered if this journey was rational…..I discovered ways that would work for awhile and then later fail….But there was a tenacity that never left me, along with a healthy degree of anxiety.

I see this mix of tenacity and anxiety in my beloved students. If this Julliard graduate was grappling with the complexities and frustrations of playing the piano, you can forgive your own perceived obstacles. Zen writings often explore the idea of mindfulness, which Wikipedia defines as “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.” Mildred said,

Just being–at the piano–egoless–is to each time seek to reach that place where the only thing that exists is the sound and moving towards the sound.

I would like you to experiment with practicing the piano in this attitude of the egoless self. If you hear voices telling you that you’ve made another mistake, you’ll never get it, you’re no good, etc., silence those voices, and just play. Just focus on the notes, the rhythm, the sound and the feeling of the music.

I am now able to reach a state of being at the piano from which I come away renewed and at peace with myself, having established a harmony of the mind, heart and body….Even if I have only fifteen minutes at the piano…if I can reach this state of harmony…it will nourish the rest of the day.

Don’t you just love Mildred’s ideas? If she were alive today, she would come to one of our piano parties (she came to my first two recitals in the 1980s!) and delight in the beauty of each and every one of my students. She would enjoy our music without judgement. And she would play Bach for us (he was her favorite composer) sweeping us away into her experience of the music.

Today, I hope you will play your piano and get swept away by your own music.

With love and music, Gaili

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On Friday NPR premiered a new show called Invisibilia, “…a series about the invisible forces that shape human behavior.” This is the kind of show I LOVE to listen to; I’m always fascinated by what it is that drives the human mind and behavior.

Friday’s show (which was rebroadcast this morning) was called Fearless and was divided into two parts. I listened to the part called “Disappearing Fear,” discussing ways in which we can reduce our fears. A man named Jason Comely described his fear of getting rejected after his wife left him. His fear prevented him from talking to people and he became very lonely. Then he began thinking about the Spetsnaz, a Russian military unit with an intense training program.

“‘You know, I heard of one situation where they were… locked in… a windowless room, with a very angry dog….They’d only be armed with a spade, and only one person is going to get out — the dog or the Spetsnaz.’

And that gave him an idea. Maybe he could somehow use the rigorous approach of the Spetsnaz against his fear.”

Jason began to seek out rejections every day. He would ask people for favors, and smile at everyone he passed by. He turned his fear around by welcoming the thing he feared the most. Every time he got a rejection, he would say, “Thank you! I got my rejection.”

The funny thing is, Jason often found it difficult to get his daily rejections. Even when asking for discounts at stores or asking for rides from people going in the opposite direction, Jason found that people were more receptive than rejecting.

This story got me thinking about our fear of playing the piano in front of others. Performance Anxiety is a debilitating problem for us musicians. But what is the fear? It’s a given that we will probably make some mistakes, and I think that we fear that our mistakes will make us seem stupid, ridiculous and unstudied. Perhaps deep down we believe that we can’t really play, and when we perform we’re afraid that our incompetency will be revealed to the world.

What would it look like if we tried to institute Jason’s rejection therapy into our everyday life? We would seek out opportunities to have people laugh at and criticize us. And each time they would, we’d say, thank you! I got my ridicule for the day!

But do we really have to go through that torture? Jason says that people don’t judge us nearly as harshly as we judge ourselves. He says that our fears stem not from what people actually think about us, but what we think they are thinking.

“We are always, always, always telling stories to ourselves, about the situation that we’re in and about other people. And that story becomes a reality for us. And that’s the problem.”

Jason counsels us to go out there and do things like smiling at everyone, dressing much differently than usual, asking strangers for favors, and asking friends to listen to us play. We should try to elicit looks of ridicule from others so that we can practice disregarding our fear.

What stories do you tell yourself about playing the piano in front of others? Think about those stories and ask if they are really true, or if they are just the stories you habitually tell yourself. I’m sure you would not judge other piano students nearly as harshly as you judge yourself.

Maybe this year we can practice just give ourselves a break. Maybe we can say to ourselves, I’m enough. I’m great exactly as I am today. I’m not going to play flawlessly, but I’m playing well enough and I’m enjoying myself.

Thanks to my student Maggie for telling me about Invisibilia!

With love, music and taking a break from fear, Gaili



Dear Piano Lovers!

I love that January is the time of year for new goals and added resolve. If you are reading this blog, you probably know that taking piano lessons is the very best way to boost brain function and memory, while having fun! But you do have to play regularly to progress, and to enjoy the maximum brain benefits. Research shows that short daily practice sessions are more effective than one long weekly session. If you practice 6 days for 10 minutes a day, you’re going to learn and remember better than if you play one day for 60 minutes. Playing daily, even for a short time, is going to get you the best and quickest results. But I know how difficult it is to make the time to practice! Our Pledge To Play: 10 Minutes a Day challenge will hopefully give you that extra bit of motivation to get you to the keys. Every one who completes 30 days of practice will receive a free gift! Plus you’ll have 30 days of practice tips and motivational emails from me to keep you going. All you have to do to join is to subscribe to this blog (if you haven’t already) and write a reply such as, “I’m in!” You can find the subscription form at the bottom of this post. (Don’t worry, I won’t share your email with anyone.) You’re welcome to report on your progress and I encourage you to make comments whenever you’d like.

I hope you’ll join us:

January 15th – February 13th  

More information to follow. Happy New Year!

With love and music, Gaili

P.S. Last year I made a Pledge To Play video, to tell you about how I became a piano teacher and why you might like to join our 30-day challenge. CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO

Highly Successful People Say Musical Training Impacted Achievements


The NY Times recently ran an article called “Is Music The Key To Success?” The author, Joanne Lipman showed that many of the most successful Americans play instruments. Alan Greenspan (former chief of the Federal Reserve), Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State), Steven Spielberg (filmmaker) and Andrea Mitchell (NBC’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent) all play musical instruments. You have probably heard that children who study music elevate their test scores (particularly in math and including IQ) but these highly successful people are convinced that their musical training impacted their professional achievements as well.

The aforementioned luminaries plus many others that were interviewed for the article believe that the years they have spent practicing and focusing on their instrument have influenced the way that they think in general. They have learned how to attack a problem from many angles with imaginative and unconventional solutions. Neuroscientists often recommend that you hang your pictures upside down, change your furniture around and take a new route when walking or driving somewhere, to stimulate your brain to see things in a different way. Similarly, the act of learning a piano piece activates new neural pathways in the brain and sparks the senses anew each time you practice.

The high achievers in the article have learned that working hard on something such as music really does produce results. Sometimes as beginners we think we will never learn to play the piano, but when we practice, we keep improving! That helps us to build confidence in ourselves, and to recognize that we have control over what we would like to accomplish.

Billionaire hedge fund chairman Bruce Kovner says that his investing is influenced by his piano playing, as “both ‘relate to a kind of pattern recognition.’” Finding patterns in our music helps us to learn it more deeply and aids memorization.

Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft says, “music ‘reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.’” James D. Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president believes that playing an instrument restores balance to your life. Sitting down at the piano can bring back that sense of artistry and equilibrium that we sometimes lose in the course of a stressful day.

How has playing the piano influenced the way you are in the world? Have you noticed that you have increased patience and trust that your concentration and self-discipline will bring you closer to your goals? What have you noticed has changed since you have started playing the piano? I welcome your observations! With love and music, Gaili

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Here is a link to the NY Times article

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We have hosted several month-long Pledge To Play: 10 Minutes A Day challenges. 

If you joined us, what I hope you will take with you is the habit of getting yourself to piano daily or a set number of days per week (i.e. every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 8:30 pm etc.), even if it’s only for a few minutes. Making it a habit to sit at the keys for minutes daily, practicing an exercise or working on a tricky musical passage can make a tremendous difference in your playing over time. We know that the brain remembers best that which it is exposed to daily, so if you are playing regularly, you are making the most of your brain power.

I have heard that when asked what is the secret to a happy, fulfilled life, The Dalai Lama replied, “Routines.” A routine or habit is something we do regularly, such as brushing our teeth or getting dressed in the morning. Routines might sound boring, but actually they are relaxing and can lead to creativity. Beethoven was known to count out exactly 60 coffee beans for his cup every morning before his morning walk to get his creative juices flowing. A leading psychologist of the late 19th century, William James said,

Don’t consider afresh each morning whether to work on your novel for 45 minutes before the day begins; once you’ve resolved that that’s just what you do, it’ll be far more likely to happen.

When people are ill, they often talk about wishing to return to their simple daily routines. The gifts of the normal, healthy day, are many. If you are able to tuck a little piano practice into your daily routine, you will no doubt progress faster than if you play just once per week; Daily piano playing leads to more freedom of expression and beauty.

There are many demands on our time. Besides practicing the piano we are supposed to meditate, exercise, cook healthy meals, clean ourselves and our homes, answer phone calls and emails and be social! But if we are efficient with our time and make a few priorities part of our daily routine, we can get to everything. I hope that you will make practicing the piano a priority and a joyful routine.

With love and music, Gaili

Check out our awesome books, free sheet music and videos! UpperHandsPiano.com



Greetings from Long Island, NY! Today I visited the Montauk Point Lighthouse, which was commissioned by President George Washington in 1792! I read letters and journals written by both male and female light keepers who saved the lives of hundreds of fishermen by rowing out in fearsome storms, pulling them into their boats and nursing them back to health. During WWII the lighthouse was used by the US Army as an eastern defense post. In the 1960s the lighthouse was in danger of falling into the sea because the land it was built on was eroding at an alarming rate. The army corps of engineers came with great tractors and concrete, but were not able to keep the bluffs from eroding. It was a woman named Giorgina Reid who was under 5 feet and in her mid-60s that was able to save the lighthouse. Starting in 1970, Giorgina worked for 20 years with her formulation of lumber, sand and the native reeds growing along the beach, to build terraced walls that would hold. In recounting her story, Giorgina said,

I had come to terms with nature–no longer was I battling it; I was using it, working with it.

Walking on the various pathways surrounding the lighthouse I saw the reeds that Giorgina credited with the success of her terraces. It was a windy day and they were well bent over. The reeds have hollow stems like tiny pipes perfectly suited for retaining rainwater – like a miniature irrigation system! They are strong enough to prevent sand from sifting out, but flexible enough to bend and not break in the fierce winds that hit the bluffs.


When they decay, they blend with the roots of plantings above, holding the soil together like millions of tiny fingers.

These beautiful reeds, the story of the evolution of the Montauk Lighthouse and Giorgina’s remarkable resourcefulness got me thinking about adaptability; how important it is to be able to bend to the inevitable circumstances that we face in our every day lives, instead of breaking under pressure.

In the book SUPER BRAIN, the authors talk about the genius physicist, Albert Einstein. They didn’t talk so much about his great intellect, but about his adaptability. Einstein once told his students:

Do not worry about your problems with mathematics. I assure you mine are far greater.

But when faced with roadblocks, Einstein learned everything he could about the problem, then opened himself to new explanations and creative possibilities.

When you think about it, our species has been able to adapt to incredible environmental challenges such as the harshest climates, limited diets, terrible diseases and natural disasters. We look for innovative solutions, and do our best with what we have. The irony of Einstein was that while he was completely flexible in his thinking in his work, he was difficult and inflexible as a husband and father! Even for a genius, emotions are more elusive than intellectual ponderings. Here are some suggestions for expanding your emotional adaptability:

  • Don’t keep repeating what never worked in the first place.
  • Stand back and look for a new solution.
  • Stop struggling at the level of the problem, the answer never lies there.
  • When old stressors are triggered, walk away.
  • Stop attaching so much weight to being right. Instead look for ways to be happy.

You are becoming more adaptable when:

  • You can laugh at yourself.
  • You see that there is more to a situation than you realize.
  • Other people no longer look like antagonists just because they disagree with you.
  • Compromise becomes a positive word.
  • You can take it easy in a state of relaxed awareness.
  • You see things in a way you didn’t before, and this delights you.

Of course we are not always successful in our attempts to adapt to difficult situations. But when faced with obstacles, think like Giorgina Reid, looking around and gathering your resources to find a new way of thinking. Be like the reeds, bending, not breaking while letting the storms flow through you. Take your cue from Einstein who (when working!) knew that if he surrendered to the puzzle, he might find the missing piece. Trusting all the while that if something does break, it can be fixed, and you can start over again and find another way.

With love and music, Gaili

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PERFECT 5thHave you ever heard the expression, Practice Makes Perfect? That has got to be one of the worst clichés, ever. Practice will not make you or your playing perfect. You see great improvement when you practice, and hope to achieve a high level of competence and beauty when you have practiced a piece thoroughly. But perfection is transitory, and not even worth pursuing. 

Sometimes we say, “Nobody’s perfect,” but do we REALLY embrace that? Do you actually accept yourself as you are? Do you accept your friends’, family’s or spouse’s flaws? Or do you feel disappointed or angry when you or someone else doesn’t live up to your expectations or standards? Who is the judge of what is perfect or not? I don’t always share my pets’ view of perfection!

There are things about music that are perfect, such as the perfect 5th pictured above. Perfect 5ths are always 7 half steps apart. Like mathematics, music has rules and formulas that are precise and constant. I love that you can count on musical principles to be perfectly consistent. But that’s not what we love about music. We love the nuances; the way that music can express our deepest longing and our greatest joy. We love a beautiful melody, the full sound of chords, and complex rhythms. We love the way music makes us feel.

I have been thinking about the word perfect and way the word is used. A perfect stranger is a total stranger, but certainly not someone we see as ideal in any way. I was born with what is called perfect pitch, but it is not so perfect anymore! I am often off by a half step now. A perfect score means that you didn’t have any wrong answers, but it doesn’t mean you are perfect! I hope to never find myself the victim of a perfect storm, or perfect murder, but I’ve often experienced what feels like a perfect day. So the word perfect can mean either flawless, or complete.

Where piano performance is concerned, I hope you will let go of the idea of playing perfectly. It’s just not going to happen, for any of us. I have yet to attend a concert anywhere when I haven’t heard at least one clam in the orchestra. Sometimes my students feel that they have ruined a piece if they make a mistake. Don’t do that to yourself. Accept your mistakes, and enjoy all that is good about your music, too.

Of course it is important to work on the difficult sections, but sometimes just play it through and listen for what is right, instead of what is wrong. Maybe if we use the other definition of perfect as complete or total, we might not find the goal to be so elusive. Practice Makes Complete doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as well, but complete feels friendlier than flawless. You can complete a piece without playing it perfectly.

What are your thoughts?

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to SPARK the Mind, Heart and Soul

Check out our awesome books, free sheet music and videos! UpperHandsPiano.com