My friend Cheryl is back to chat about and get a deeper understanding of the practical ways in which we can become truly great pianists by bringing the psychological skills I’ve demonstrated in recent episodes into our learning and practising

Show Notes

  • [3:15] A reminder of the 4 skills:
    1. Look for what there is to love in every moment
    2. Magic wand practice
    3. Cultivate the felt sense of always good enough
    4. Every few minutes, change the focus of your musical awareness
  • [17:25] A deeper look at skill 1 with Cheryl
    • Rather than just trying to love the bits you don’t like so much, see this skill as like an infinite well to explore in every single moment
  • [21:10] A deeper look at skill 2 with Cheryl
    • Magic wand practice as a compass heading
    • After recording this podcast, when I got home, I suddenly made massive improvements on my Rachmaninov Sonata by actually applying ‘magic wand’ practice, rather than just aim to make everything feel as easy as possible- it really does make a profound difference!
    • Flow states need an optimum level of challenge for an activity to have that effortless flow experience
    • Imagining effortless ‘magical’ playing is literally the absolute opposite of the psychological state of ‘choking’ under pressure
  • [30:05] A deeper look at skill 3 with Cheryl
    • Important to realise felt sense of good enough in the body- possible to catch it there before it moves to the mind!
    • Very obvious that we play worse when we don’t feel good enough
    • State of feeling not good enough= narrow focus, neck forwards, shoulders up & forwards, tension, etc
    • Conversely, state of feeling good enough= more awareness of music & phrasing etc, relaxation
    • Important to practise ‘good enough’ from very first moment of learning new piece- rather than feeling of not good enough until we can play it note perfect up to speed. It’s too late by then!!
  • [43:35] A deeper look at skill 4 with Cheryl
    • Left brain hemisphere: binary, black & white, glued to individual unrelated details, either notes are correct or not correct. Attention sucked in a compulsive way into details
    • Right brain hemisphere: organic flow of narrative where everything flows into everything else. Responsible for choosing what we pay attention to
    • This skill is basically meditation/ mindfulness- challenging at first, a lifetime of improving!
    • Every time we realise out awareness is not where we’d like it and direct it to where we want it- this is the magic moment when the brain ‘learns’ and rewires itself
  • [49:45] Getting past the challenges
    • Can be challenging & threatening to the ego at first if felt as something we’re not good at
    • Motivating ourselves to practice these things similar to motivating ourselves to meditate- very similar states, undeniable benefits, but often tricky to turn away from dopamine goal-oriented striving & effort which is addictive- instead be wholesome!
    • Getting past society’s expectations
    • Self Determination Theory & intrinsic/ extrinsic motivation
    • Balancing extrinsic motivation away from the instrument with letting go of the ego/ striving while practising
    • The science of receiving advice, and the particular danger of getting stuck in ‘I suck’ when having lessons!


Many thanks to Forsyth’s Music Shop in Manchester for letting me use one of their teaching/practice rooms to record this podcast episode:
I thoroughly recommend them for all your sheet music/ piano/ digital piano/ loads of other instruments(!) needs

Links for the podcast episodes for the individual 4 skills:
E26: The #1 psychological skill you need to practise at the piano to be deeply musical

E29: The #2 psychological skill you need to practise at the piano to be deeply musical

E31: The #3 psychological skill you need to practise at the piano to be deeply musical

E32: The #4 psychological skill you need to practise at the piano to be deeply musical

Link to episode 11 which I referenced several times in this episode:
E11: Most common mistakes made by non-professional pianists- Part 3

The article about the science of advice giving:
Positive feedback: the science of criticism that actually works

The intro/outro music is my jazz arrangement of the Rachmaninov Adagio from Symphony #2, you can watch the whole thing here if you like:

I have availability for online students at the moment- if you’re interested, do get in touch using the contact page at