Aging Well in the New Year

We’ve heard the term “spring cleaning” but I love to kick-start the winter by clearing out the clutter I have accumulated in the last year, ten years and maybe even 20 years of my life! I enjoy the process of giving and throwing away things that I no longer need or use, and starting off the new year with a renewed sense of order and open space.

Just as I am getting rid of excess physical baggage, I determine to eliminate excess emotional baggage. I ask myself the question, “What attitudes and beliefs have hampered my growth and joy in the past year?” I compile a list of the long-held notions I’m ready to release in my journal, and reread it during the year to note my progress. Then I think about the aspects and elements I want to reinforce or bring into my life in the coming year. It’s not exactly making new year’s resolutions, but more like drawing a picture of who I want to be and a map of how to get there.

As you think about 2014, think about which features of your life and personality served you well in 2013, and which you are ready to release. Change is difficult, so take small steps towards becoming the person you’d love to be.

Are you flexible and open? Research shows that flexibility is an important aspect of aging well. We hit major stumbling blocks often, but those of us who can ride the storms live longer and better than those of us who panic (this is a great challenge in my life!) Are you too hard on yourself? Loving ourselves and forgiving our mistakes and misjudgments is imperative when we undertake new and difficult things. Do something self-nurturing every day. For me it is listening to or playing music I love, reading a good book, talking with a friend, being in nature or taking a rejuvenating bath.

Everything I read shows that the three main components of aging well are:

  1. Challenging your brain (this is where piano lessons come in!)
  2. Exercising, at least 3-4 times per week, enough so that you break a sweat.
  3. Being social; even if you don’t think you have time, see your friends regularly.

A great thing to do is exercise with a friend! People tend to exercise longer and more often if they do it with a buddy, and the same goes for brain training activities such as taking piano lessons and other types of classes. You need equal parts of challenging and nurturing activities to feed your mind, heart and soul.

Here’s hoping that 2014 is one of the best year of your life. Many thanks for making me and Upper Hands Piano a part of it! Please scroll up to the top and post a reply! I love to hear from you.

With love and music, Gaili

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

Make A List

© Lnmstuff

Don’t you love lists? When I see articles written with lists such as The Twenty Greenest Cities To Live In, The Best Tacos in Los Angeles, The 50 Most Life-Changing Novels Of All Time, 7 Reasons Why You Should Lift Weights1,000 Places To See Before You Die, or The Top 10 Foods For Brain Health, I’m already hooked.

Of course if you had 20 people tell you where they eat the best taco in LA, you’d probably get 20 different answers. And how can anyone really give an objective rating of literature? Rankings are of course completely subject to taste and preferences, but still, it’s fun to see recommendations for cities I might like to live in, and new books I might like to read.

Some lists become famous, like The 10 Commandments, The Bill of Rights, and Schindler’s List!

I’d like all of the students reading this to take some time to make a list of their top 10 favorite songs and pieces. Any style of music is fine. Do you love a piece by Chopin that sounds impossible to play? Write it down anyway, because your teacher can find a simplified arrangement or can arrange the main theme for you during your lesson. We often love the songs we heard when we were in high school or college. If you want to play one of those, write it down. You might also like movie themes or songs from musicals. Go on and research your favorite artists, composers or songwriters and remind yourself of the music you love. I recently heard on NPR that some of the music we most strongly connect to is the music our parents listened to when we were young, so think about their songs too.

We learn the best when we are motivated to practice. If you are playing music you love, music that stirs your soul, you’ll have the best chance of progressing. Keep the list in your lesson assignment book so that you can draw from it in the future. Of course you need to practice your exercises, keep learning your chords and read music that is at your level. But make playing the songs you love, your reward for the hard work of learning to play the piano.

With love and music, Gaili

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

Music Heals Heart Tissue

At the annual European Society of Cardiology Conference  in Amsterdam, Dr. Marina Deljanin reported that she and her team of researchers discovered a 19% improvement in the heart tissue of patients with coronary artery disease, when they listened to their favorite music. 

(You can read a discussion about the study in The Telegraph here)

When we listen to music, our brains process the sounds we hear and the emotions we feel, and release a surge of the chemical dopamine throughout the body. I have felt my heart swelling when I listen to music that moves me, similar to when I’m profoundly happy in the presence of family or friends, or at a life event such as a wedding or graduation. But now it looks as if those heart swells are actually healing and repairing heart tissue? That’s pretty amazing.

Maybe we should take more time to listen to (or play) our favorite music. This new revelation certainly gives new meaning to the phrase, “heart-felt music.”

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!

Restoring Balance / The Piña and The Colada

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, when the daylight and night-time hours are nearly equal. The equinox is a great time to think about restoring balance in our lives. Do you have as much joy as you have stress in your life? Every study on degenerative brain disease shows that stress is the most destructive factor of brain aging.

It’s important to balance work and recreation. Remember that old proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” We become dull to ourselves and others if we don’t have some fun and social interaction every day.

What can you do today on the threshold of this new season to bring joy and laughter into your life? Write a list of 10 things you love to do, and plan to do at least 5 of them this week.

This is true for piano practice as well. We could be revisiting exercises and difficult passages in our music, (and voicings if we are jazz students), along with playing through songs and pieces that we already know, allowing ourselves to take pleasure in the beauty of our own music.

It’s such a gift  to listen to recorded music that we love, too. In the car, while we’re cooking, or getting ready in the morning for the day ahead. I love listening to the songs I  grew up with, yet I rarely do it!

What else can we do to balance our lives? Eating healthy meals along with enjoying some treats. Exercising along with taking time to relax with a good book.

As the great philosopher Ellen DeGeneres says,

“Life is about balance. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. The piña and the colada.” 

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!


Remember the lyrics to that Pointer Sisters song?

“When it comes to love I want a slow hand…. I want a lover with and easy touch.

I want somebody who will spend some time. Not come and go in a heated rush.”


 Slow tastes and smells good. Think of pouring molasses or honey. When my daughter makes short ribs, she cooks them all day, and they are amazing. There is a whole “slow food movement” urging us to cook and eat well, consciously chewing every bite so that we actually taste, smell and savor our food.

 “I’m tired of fast moves, I’ve got a slow groove, On my mind”

 Slow sounds good. Some of the most powerful music is slow – think Satie’s Gymnopedies and Robert Johnson’s Cross Road Blues – and sexy – think Jobim’s Girl From Ipanema or Debussy’s Reverie.

Slow looks good. Don’t you love watching the artistry of a brilliant basketball dunk in a slo-mo replay,  or a documentary of a tiger grooming her young? Don’t you love when you’re at the beginning of a good long novel?  Remember the pleasures of slow-dancing?

I got to experience the exquisite pleasure of seeing our beautiful country slowly on a train to Oregon this year, delighting in the changing terrain, and waking up to the resplendent beauty of snow covered pines in Northern California. Sitting and chatting with family while watching the world go by was heavenly, and so much better than bustling through an airport.

Slow feels good. Think of leisurely walks on a breezy beach, a restorative massage, relaxing in front of a fireplace with friends, or a candlelit bath.

This is not to say that there is not a wonderful time and place for music that is fast and furious such as Chopin’s Fantasy-Impromptu, Rimsky- Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee or Charlie Parker’s Anthropology. Ironically:


Think of the golfer or batter who takes his time setting up his swing, or the tennis player practicing her serve with intense concentration.

MUSICIANS PRACTICE TECHNIQUE IN SLOW, EVEN REPETITIONS WITH TOTAL FOCUS                                                                                               

 “It’s not a fast move, But a slow groove, On my mind”

Remember the tortoise and the hare story? Slow and steady won the race. But we humble students of music are not in a race, we are on a steady ascent to excellence. We want to produce beautiful, stirring sounds of music that we can fall in love with. To get there, we use a slow hand.

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!

Record Yourself!


Yesterday I suggested that you make a list of 5-7 goals for the coming month. Sometimes it is easier to come up with practice goals if you record yourself playing your piece, exercise, song, or movement etc.

If you have an iphone, you can use the “Voice Memos” app, or if you have an old walkman tape recorder, or a dictaphone, take the time to record your playing, while we are still at the beginning of the 30 days.

It can be a little disconcerting hearing yourself on a recording, so keep in mind a few things:

  1. Recordings make the piano sound tinny, so don’t expect a beautiful sound.
  2. This exercise is meant to point out things to work on, so try not to be critical of your playing. Each mistake you make just shows you more clearly what you need to work on! So welcome your mistakes.
  3. You will be nervous when you record, so your playing won’t be at its best. The process of recording is somewhat like performing, so it’s good practice for playing in front of people.
  4. Plan to record yourself again at the end of our PLEDGE, and see the progress you have made!

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!

Write Practice Goals

Written goals strengthen your resolve

Remember when I wrote in the Pledge to Play post that you should focus on small goals during this time period? What would those small goals be? Write down 5-7 goals today that you can work on this month in 10-minute intervals. If all that’s standing between you and your beloved piece is difficulty playing the notes in a few measures, write down, “mastering the fingering in measures  ___ and ___,”  on your list of goals.

Why is it important to commit your goals to writing? Written goals:

  1. Help you to clarify what you want to get out of our 30-day PLEDGE.
  2. Make your commitment real.
  3. Strengthen your resolve. If you are working towards small doable goals, seeing them written down will help you to move past the resistance you may be feeling the minute you commit.
  4. Remind you of what to focus on.
  5. Help you to recognize and celebrate your progress. If your goal was to smooth out the 3rd and 4th measures of the 2nd line of your piece, celebrate when you do!

Imagine yourself playing the way you’d like to play; dreams give birth to transformation. Focused practice produces improvement.  What is one of your goals? How will you manifest it? Thanks for joining our PLAY GROUP!

P.S. Playing more than 10 minutes per day is fine, just don’t burn yourself out by playing for hours some days and not at all on other days. The idea is to play EVERY DAY, so start with small increments of practice and pace yourself!

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!