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Sharon Bill Music Tutor & Author

Music and Mindfulness

There has never been any doubt that music is good for the soul and, now more than ever, music therapy is leading the way in this area. Whether it’s a good old sing-song or listening to uplifting music, the benefits are immeasurable. However, I would suggest that you can go even deeper.

Actually playing an instrument gets our neurons firing in every area of our brain and our nerves are engaged in the deepest sense. I think that playing piano scales is a perfect example of the most engaging form of music therapy and they are the perfect compliment to every mood. Just the humble scale of C major is all you need under your fingers, any others are a bonus. If I am angry then I can bash it all out as I rattle up and down the full extent of the piano keyboard. In fact, I think you can gauge the level of my fury by the ferocity with which I hit the keys (not that it ever gets overly thunderous, I don’t think…). After half an hour up and down the piano it’s all vented out, and then I’m safe to be in pleasant company again.

This is only one aspect of how playing an instrument is good for your mental health. If we stay on the topic of the humble scale of C major, playing scales is generally good for your emotional wellbeing - you don’t have to be in a temper to benefit from playing scales. Any sort of performance skill benefits in regular repetition, and it is this repetition that can bring restorative qualities. Whilst it is true that the initial process of learning the notes and fingering of a scale takes some concentration, it isn’t long before your brain has done its thinking and your fingers can work away without too much thought. Don’t think that is the end of your practise - this is where the real good now begins. As you sit at the piano and your fingers progress up and down the scale your mind is free to roam, while the rhythmic repetition calms you; you hone in on the musical pulse and your own pulse steadies and settles. To improvise your technique you may vary the rhythms of the scale and your neurons engage at an even deeper level - and your worries slip into the background. All your mind is now focussed on the rhythms and mechanics of ascending and descending through the scale pattern. If you want to brighten the mood then simply change to dotted rhythms for a more ‘skippy’ feel.

In many ways, simply setting aside the time to practise makes a move to shut out the hurly-burly for a while. The added bonus it that you have actually also achieved something tangible in addition to establishing a calm mind. You just can’t beat the satisfaction of a job well done. Scales and arpeggios are the backbone of every style of music - get to grips with these and you have the building blocks of performance in your fingers. It’s a win-win situation!

If you want to make a start at playing scales, or need some help to tailor your technique, you can learn with me as you follow my fingers at the piano. I have worked through every single major and minor scale. My video tutorials can be found on my YouTube channel, on the major scales and minor scales playlists, or you can find all of my video links through my website.