Monday, January 6, 2014

Piano Therapy

Since the spring, I’ve tried to practice piano regularly. It doesn’t sound much like music yet, but I have progressed a lot since the early days of my recovery. I work on scales, basic exercises, and pieces I learned when I was in third or fourth grade.

Sometimes I do have a good cry at the keyboard. I miss making real music. But I do think that trying play the piano has helped me a lot, in unexpected ways.

When I practice, often I don’t focus directly on finger dexterity, because it’s too frustrating. I still don’t have much sensation or proprioception in my hand and arm. So I focus on looking symmetrical while playing. I compare the angle of my right wrist to my left wrist, or left chest or the right chest,  or the angle of my forearms.

Then I make tiny adjustments of position or posture, and at some point, I usually get a sudden feeling of awakening in some muscle in my right side. Usually it’s a muscle (or group of muscles) in my trunk: my shoulder, or upper back, or my chest, or my abdominal muscles. It can be a stretching feeling,  or a heavy feeling, or an itchy feeling. But that feeling of my body waking up is addictive. So I try to hold on to that feeling, and make it happen again.

One day a few months ago, I was getting tired after about 15 minutes. I needed a change of pace, so I decided to really  to work on arpeggios for the first time (but with  my left hand--it’s too frustrating to try with my right hand at all). When I (and most people) play arpeggios, I have to lean from end one of the keyboard to the other end, and back again. So I leaned, and voila: I had that wonderful awakening feeling--in my right buttock. Now I think of arpeggios as “butt practice.”

I’m sure I could find a few reasons why regaining sensation in this part of my body is good. But the biggest is very utilitarian: any gain of sensation also helps me regain strength, and any gain of strength helps me to improve my gait. In stroke recovery, everything is connected.


  1. Wonderful, Grace! I'd love to get some glute muscles bulked up on my affected side so that I don't always need to sit on a cushion. BTW, I couldn't watch the video; it said it's private.

  2. Way to go, Grace! As you know, I'm working to try to get back to something like the way I used to be able to play the piano, but I don't think I'm there yet either even though I haven't had a stroke. And I'm convinced that you are not only improving sensation and proprioception, but making music--3rd and 4th grade Bach is still Bach, good for the brain and the soul, as well as the body. Kudos! and love from your mother

  3. I think this is great. Loved watching the video. I found piano especially frustrating because I really had trouble getting my hands coordinated and working at the same speed. I also hated the drop in ability. I took up guitar and liked being a very slow beginner. Also my left weaker hand goes down before you strum. Practicing made a huge difference for me too.

  4. Beautiful!! I was not musical before, and I'm sure I'd be a complete mess now. I bring my son to music class, and the instructor always tells me....well if you can't do that , just do this...and she gives me something easier to do than the 4year olds that the class is geared towards. If I wasn't laughing at my inability, I'd be crying. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I'm embarrassing my son.

    1. awww, it is a mom's job to embarrass their kids. enjoy.,

  5. You gave me goose bumps. Your insights into how increased sensation improves everything are profound. I couldn't take my eyes of the individual finger movements you have in your hand. Thanks for the video and the inspiration.

  6. What a powerful piece - and video. It makes me sad to see how difficult playing is for you post-stroke, a visceral reminder of the damage it wreaked; and simultaneously, I'm so impressed by the way that you are using piano playing to rebuild the lost brain connections, the attention and focus you bring to your practice! This is exactly the kind of practice discussed in the 10,000 hours of practice approach, and you will surely improve!

  7. I'm glad you pushed through the nerves of being videotaped. I recognized the song and heard the melodic voice of Bach. I have professional musicians on both sides of my family so I know capturing the essence of a composer is not a small thing.