The Psychology and Physiology Behind the Piano

Piano, for many of us, is one of our oldest and best friends, but many pianists do not enjoy the same relationship. It becomes a foe, an enemy, or an adversary. Over 50% of skilled pianists in their lifetimes will develop a playing-related injury. It can start as simple fatigue, progress to pain and discomfort, and from there, tendonitis, carpal tunnel, medial epicondylitis, spinal compression, focal dystonia, and the list goes on. The statistics are staggering and terrifying.

In 2006, women showed 50% higher chances of developing injuries at the piano than men. in 2006, a Japanese study showed that 77% of female pianists there who are skilled at the advanced high school level, and above, have playing-related injuries. A 2010 Australian study showed that 72% of collegiate-level pianists and above had experienced a playing-related injury. So far, not much has changed. It is about time it did. These playing-related injuries remain staggeringly high today, and not much is being done about it.

One of the worst things about injuries in music is the psychological toll it carries. Out of a study done at Columbia University by Barbara Lister-Sink, when talking to participants who had been severely injured, they were self-described as “depressed”, “clinically depressed”, “mentally unstable”, and the worst of them all, “suicidal”. Two quotes from that study have particularly stood the test of time: “I have been very depressed. I have thought about ending my life almost every day.” —Research Participant. “Since music is at the core of my soul, I felt that there was no purpose for me to live any longer.” —Research Participant 2. It is one of the great, often times unspoken tragedies of the music world, and something needs to be done about it.

Not only is the basis of all technique taught at the Duruflé Academy injury-preventive, but furthermore it is a lifestyle. Hardly anybody I can think of embodies this lifestyle and technique better than Bjorn, and that is why we have invited him to our faculty on the server, and he so graciously accepted.

Bjorn is a wonderful human being, as well as pedagogue, and musician. Here, Bjorn dives deeply into exactly this topic: What causes injuries? How do we start to reverse them when they onset—how do we prevent them, and are all injuries physical? He talks here about the psychology of piano, and what it takes, in the beginning, to start to embody not only the mindset but the lifestyle of a musician, in a healthy way.

The link to the video is here, and his biography is below. It is absolutely worth checking out. VIDEO LINK:

“Bjørn Hegstad is a Norwegian pianist, choral conductor, and teacher. He graduated with a music pedagogy degree in Tromsø in 2015 with prof. Tori Stødle and prof. Sergei Osadchuk, before studying choral conducting with prof. Ragnar Rasmussen and Ursa Lah. He also studied conducting at the Norwegian Academy for Music with Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl. Bjørn currently resides in Oslo, where he conducts several choirs, of which the most notable is Rådhuskoret (the City Hall choir). His choirs have performed in various concerts around Norway, in the Norwegian Choir Championship, as well as festivals abroad, the last being in Ohrid, Makedonia. Prior to shifting focus to conducting, Bjørn taught piano students in all skill ranges from young beginners to experienced adults. Bjørn specializes in Timani, which is a method for efficient technique and injury prevention developed by pianist Tina Margareta Nilssen. As a teacher, Bjørn has a holistic approach to each student and emphasizes personal development along with technical refinement. His diverse talents have allowed him to coach a wide range of musicians. “I have had the great pleasure of having regular coaching with Bjørn for half a year. It never ceases to amaze me how much knowledge and many tools Bjørn has, and how he always knows how to communicate this to me. With his very good intuition and strong empathy, he understands what I need at all times to work with myself. He is a miracle of goodness and wisdom; present, generous, down to earth, patient, committed, listening and confident.” Marika Schultze, Mezzo-soprano (edited)

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