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!

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:

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!


piano music w leaf

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!


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!


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!

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!


© Creative Commons Zero

Some of you will be leaving town during our PLEDGE TO PLAY: 10 MInutes A Day. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do your 10 minutes each day! Researchers at Harvard demonstrated that even just imagining playing the piano activates the same part of the brain as when you actually play!

One group of volunteers played a 5-finger exercise over the course of a week, while the other group merely imagined moving their fingers to play the same exercise. Though the group that actually played the piano had a greater brain benefit, by the end of the week, the same part of the brain in both groups had been significantly impacted.

Remember Professor Harold Hill taught music by “the think system” in the musical, The Music Man? Maybe he was onto something!

Please watch a wonderful 3 minute video called: The Scientific Power of Thought to learn more about this wonderful phenomenon!!

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!



When I was a child my piano teacher wanted me to practice with a metronome. As a fan of the 1967 Disney film, The Gnome Mobile, I naturally imagined a tiny gnome inside of the wooden box, pulling the pendulum back and forth. It seemed to me that the metro gnome capriciously sped up and slowed down while I was playing! But of course it was me not quite keeping a steady beat.

There is some controversy in music education circles about when metronomes are useful and effective. My feeling is that metronomes can be greatly beneficial to use while playing exercises, playing pieces that don’t have tempo (time) and dynamic (volume) fluctuations, or to even out groups of quarter or eighth notes in a phrase.

For beginning students, being able to listen to a metronome while playing can be an impossible task. They can start using a metronome by setting it at a slow speed such as 70 bpm (beats per minute) and clapping or tapping their foot to the beat, as if they were playing quarter notes. Next the beginner might try doubling the speed of their clapping as if they were playing eighth notes to the beat. They can also set the metronome to 60-80 bpm and play the EXERCISES #1-#4 in Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 1.

For the intermediate student, a metronome can be useful for scale practice, or for passages in a piece (such as a Bach prelude) that don’t involve a lot of changes in tempo or dynamics. If the piece has eighth notes, set your metronome to a tempo at which you can keep the eighth notes steady, allowing 1 beat per eighth note, and two beats per quarter note, etc. Just use the metronome for a 1-3 measures at a time, to get your eighth notes even, and to make sure you’re holding your quarter notes twice as long as the eighths.

More advanced students can play an entire piece to a metronome if they need help keeping the beat steady, or keeping their sixteenths, eighths and quarters aligned.  However, for pieces that require an emotional performance, it’s best to use a metronome just for isolated phrases. Playing exercises and scales to a metronome is the best way to practice keeping a steady beat. It’s fun to keep speeding it up incrementally to challenge yourself to play your scale or exercise more quickly while keeping it even.

Metronomes come in several styles. There are the large plastic or the beautiful old-fashioned wooden box metronomes, the German Mini Taktells, the small rectangular black boxes with dials, the digital Dr. Beats, or you can download a free metronome app on your iphone or ipad.

If you hear the beat speeding up or slowing down as you play, blame it on the METRO GNOME!

Happy playing! 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!