ADAPTABILITY

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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.

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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

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

 

 

 

ANTI-AGING

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The aging process, though inevitable, is unpredictable. Authors Rudolph Tanzi Ph.D.,  and Deepak Chopra M.D. of the book  SUPER BRAIN say that there are these unknowable factors about how the brain ages:

  1.  Aging is very slow- It starts at about age 30 and progresses at about 1% per year. Some cells age more quickly than others, and they age too slowly to observe over time.
  2. Aging is unique- Everyone ages differently, even twins. Life experiences create unique genetic patterns as we age.
  3. Aging is invisible- Though we can see outer changes in cells such as graying hair and wrinkling, the inner life of our cells at the molecular level are impossible to track.

In spite of these uncertainties, we can impact our cells by sending positive messages from our central nervous system, and minimizing negative messages. We can affect our own DNA! Drs Chopra and Tanzi talk about the mind-body connection. As much as we’d like to simply take an anti-aging pill, lifestyle choices are really our best defense against aging.

How to reduce the risks of aging:

PHYSICAL

  • Eat a Mediterranean Diet- olive oil instead of butter, fish instead of red meat, whole grains, beans, nuts, whole vegetables and fruits. Cut way back on fats, sugar, and ready-made processed foods.
  • Avoid overeating. Just walk away from excess food.
  • Exercise moderately for at least 1 hour 3 times per week.
  • Drink alcohol, preferably red wine, in moderation, if at all.
  • Take steps to avoid household accidents (from slippery floors, steep stairs, fire hazards, etc.)
  • Get a good night’s sleep , and take an afternoon nap if you like.

EMOTIONAL

  • Have good friends.
  • Don’t isolate yourself.
  • Engage socially in worthwhile projects.
  • Be close with people who have a good lifestyle–habits are contagious
  • Follow a purpose in life.
  • Leave time for play and relaxation.
  • Address issues around anger.
  • Practice stress management. 

These lifestyle choices affect longevity and quality of life. If you have started, continued, or restarted music lessons later in life, you have already surpassed the biggest obstacle to longevity:

“The most crippling aspects of aging tend to involve inertia. That is, we keep doing what we’ve always done. Starting in late middle age new things gradually fall by the wayside. Passivity overtakes us; we lose our motivation.”

Not you! Piano lessons are offering new challenges to your brain every time you sit down to practice. And playing the piano keeps you humble!  🙂

More about longevity on Sunday. Tomorrow I will be traveling all day, to visit my older daughter in East Hampton, NY. By Sunday I will have access to a computer again.

With love and music, Gaili

 

 

 

 

SUPER BRAIN

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Earlier this year I watched a PBS series called SUPER BRAIN, featuring Rudolph Tanzi, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School, and Deepak Chopra, a physician and prolific author. Though the title sounds pretty cheesy, I thought the PBS segments were great, and learned a lof from Dr. Tanzi especially. I bought their series of DVDs and books in which they discuss the latest information on the mind and how to maximize your brain power. I will offer some of their wisdom to you in the coming blog posts, and would be happy to host a screening of some of their DVDs on subjects such as preventing Alzheimer’s, boosting memory and the Super Brain overview to those of you who live in the LA area.

Today I wanted to quote Drs. Tanzi and Chopra on how to develop the kind of mind-set that keeps your brain healthy. Here are the characteristics they list for an individual with the greatest potential for a Super Brain:

  • I Look upon every day as a new world
  • I pay attention not to fall into bad habits
  • I like to improvise
  • I am never bored, always seeking out new things to do
  • I will keep evolving my whole lifetime
  • If I learn a new skill, I will take it as far as I can
  • I adapt quickly to change
  • If I’m not good at something when I first try it, that’s okay, I like the challenge
  • I thrive on activity, with only a small amount of down time
  • I like reinventing myself
  • I’ve recently changed a long-held belief or opinion
  • There’s at least one thing I’m an expert on
  • I gravitate towards educational outlets on TV or in local colleges
  • I’m inspired by my life on a day-to-day basis
  • I feel comfortably in control
  • I actively avoid stressful situations by walking away and letting go
  • My mood is consistently good
  • Despite unexpected events my life is headed in the direction I want it to go
  • I like the way my mind thinks

Do you feel that at least some of these attitudes describe you? If some of them made you laugh (or cringe), they are probably the things you still need to develop in your personality.

In the next week I will continue to tell you more about how to have a Super Brain. Maybe they will help you to change a long-held opinion, walk away from stress, or attract you to educational outlets, and you will be on your way!

Thanks for reading my blogs, I hope it isn’t too annoying getting so many emails from me. After our pledge is over I’ll go back to one blog per month or so. Tomorrow I will post a free sheet music download! Until then, keep evolving, adapting to change, and reinventing yourself!

With love and music, Gaili

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PERFECTION

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

Playing An Instrument Sharpens The Mind

brain w gears red

There is new scientific evidence that shows (once again) that playing a musical instrument is great for your brain. There have been so many studies showing that music lessons benefit the brain that we’ve got to believe it!

This latest study was conducted at The University of St. Andrews in Scotland:

The team said their results indicated musical activity could be used to slow, stop or even reverse age and illness-related decline in mental functioning.

The study compared non-professional musicians with a control group of non-musicians, and found that the musicians were better to recognize and correct errors, and their brains functioned better overall. You can read the BBC report here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-24297289

The report states:

Psychologist Dr Ines Jentzsch, who led the research, said: ‘Our study shows that even moderate levels of musical activity can benefit brain functioning.’

Of course we are not surprised, as we have heard similar reports from many studies all touting the benefits of music study on cognitive function, but every time another study validates it, I want to dance a little jig!

So congratulations! You are doing something that is not only fun and relaxing, but also a great workout for your brain. Now all you have to do is balance it with some physical exercise, and you will be in great shape.

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

REPERTOIRE

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If you are my piano student, then you review a piece at the end of each lesson, as time permits. Although piano teachers are always pushing their students to keep growing and moving on to the next challenge, we also want you to have a repertoire of pieces you can play for friends or family or for yourself whenever you feel like it.

Look through your sheet music and determine which are the popular songs or classical pieces you like the best. Put the pieces together in your binder so that you can flip to your repertoire section regularly.

Whenever you have time, practice at least one of your favorite pieces at the end of your practice session. See if you can keep at least 2 (beginners) to 5 (intermediate/advanced) pieces in rotation each month.

You will find that you will learn your piece more deeply as you review them. As professional musicians know, there is learning a piece, and there is mastering a piece. With time and review you can approach mastery, and be able to play the piece with confidence and emotion. You’ll be able to let go of reading every note, and will be able to play with ease.

Sometimes review might seem boring, but pay attention to the evolution of your piece, how your fingers begin to just know where to go, and how the sound becomes beautiful instead of labored, and hopefully you will feel inspired to continue to review.

Keep in mind that the goal is to be able to just sit down and PLAY!

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

CULTIVATING INTUITION / PLAYING WITH EYES CLOSED

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Sometimes the best way to learn a difficult passage in your music is by practicing with your eyes closed. I never learned this technique from any of my piano teachers, but came across it in my research on how  the brain learns. When learning to play the piano we are drawing upon many skills and using multiple regions of the brain (which is what makes it such a great brain workout!) We learn visually by seeing the notes on the page, we learn aurally by hearing the sound of the instrument, we learn tactilely by the feel of the keys under our fingers, and intuitively by learning the spatial distance between the keys.

When we practice the piano we read the notes and count the beats while our ear picks up on the accuracy of the sounds we are producing. However, when we close our eyes, we are activating our intuitive spatial learning. When we cut off our visual sense, it gives our spatial sense a chance to step up and grow stronger.

Using intuition is important when there are multiple musical events happening simultaneously in our music. We can’t always watch both of our hands move while following the notes on the page at the same time. One hand often needs to be able to move without our eyes upon it.

When you think about it, some of our greatest musicians have been completely blind. The great pianist Art Tatum (called the greatest jazz pianist of all time) played lightening fast, and Ray Charles could make you sob with the beautiful intensity of his emotive music. Stevie Wonder created an amazing sound that touched the soul of the whole world. I have taught piano to blind, mentally disabled children and know that anyone can learn to play the piano by the feel of the keys and their intuition.

I am not suggesting that you play an entire piece with your eyes closed. But you can practice simple exercises (such as the Exercises in Upper Hands Piano Book 1) with your eyes closed by learning the pattern of the notes. If you’re having trouble with a musical phrase in a piece, play it several times with your eyes open, then close your eyes and keep playing it. Your learning will be deeper, and you will remember it better. Similarly, when you are working on a bass section with a lot of leaps, close your eyes and see how close you can get your left hand to the keys you are aiming for. Keep practicing with eyes open and closed until you can find your way using your intuition.

“At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”   –Alan Alda

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

DETERMINATION

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How are you doing on your 10 minutes of playing per day? We are 1/3rd of the way through the pledge period! Are you finding yourself wavering a little? Are you asking yourself,

“Why do I need to practice EVERY day?”

Scientific research shows that short daily piano sessions are much more effective than one long weekly session. Your brain remembers new musical skills much better when you have daily exposure to the piano than when you spend the same amount of time once per week.  If you have been playing every day for 10 minutes or more since September 15th, you are already experiencing the magic of daily practice! What improvements are you seeing in your playing? Leave a reply to this blog, or let me know next time I see you- I love to hear it!!

We don’t expect you to be able to practice daily for the rest of your life, but just for this month, keep the habit of playing every single day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.

I’ve been thinking about the word, DETERMINATION. Here’s a definition I came up with:

Determination is the ability to persevere in spite of environmental distractions and inner resistance for the sake of an important personal goal.

If you are taking piano lessons, it is because you enjoy the sound of music and the feeling of playing the piano, or you have a mental picture of what it will feel like to someday play the way you would like to. Playing every day will get you to your musical goals much faster than playing occasionally.

Cultivating determination is a wonderful objective in and of itself. Determination is self love; it is believing that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. As the saying goes, “Whether you believe you can do it, or not, you are right!”

I have been determined to write a blog every day, to help motivate you to continue your PLEDGE TO PLAY: 10 Minutes A Day. Even if I can’t get to it until after my lessons at night, I have written something every day, and have been really enjoying the process! It feels easier to write as the days progress, and I enjoy the discipline of following through on my goal.

I hope you are enjoying your PLEDGE and are reaping the benefits of your determination. Anything we want to accomplish in our life becomes easier with regular practice. Thank you so much for taking this challenge with me! Now, go play!!

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

Music Heals Heart Tissue

 

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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! UpperHandsPiano.com

Restoring Balance / The Piña and The Colada

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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! UpperHandsPiano.com