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Reduce Stress by Learning to Play Piano

Updated on June 18, 2012
Learn to Play the Piano
Learn to Play the Piano | Source

A Great Way to Manage Stress

How would you like to have a place where you could go, just for a short time, and leave behind all the struggles and the frustrations and the headaches of daily life? A kind of prime vacation spot for your mind. Not only do you get to escape the drudgery of daily life, but what you do while you are there will sharpen your mind, connect you deeply with other people and other cultures of the world, and will leave you refreshed and renewed and energized, ready to return to your life. And what if I said I could take all of this and put it down right in the middle of your living room, ready and convenient for whenever you have a spare moment so sit and take a brief mental vacation?

This is what it is like to play piano for fun.

Apparently, I was a bit of a trial.
Apparently, I was a bit of a trial. | Source

Musicians speak anecdotally all the time about how playing their instruments relieves stress. There have even been a few studies that demonstrate the value of playing music in helping people to relax. I myself used to throw torrential fits when I was young—knock down, drag out, flailing on the floor screeching sessions—but they went away around the age of nine, which was, coincidentally, the same age I was when I started taking piano lessons.

Even now, as a grown adult with a job and kids, a wife and a life, if I am away from the piano for more than about a week, I start to get grumpy and irritable. After thirty minutes to an hour at the piano, I am back to my normal self again. In my life, there is nothing like playing piano for releasing a bit of stress.

This article is designed to help you understand why by giving you a window into what the experience of playing piano is like—not as a performance musician, but in the living room by yourself for fun. It also provides practical tools and advice for how and where to begin.

Three Easy Ways to "Mess Around" on the Piano

Getting Away From It All by Playing Piano

I have been playing piano for almost thirty years. Over that time, my knowledge and skills have grown tremendously. Still, the fundamental character of the experience of playing piano was the same in the week after my very first lesson as it is today. It is the nature of the experience that makes all the difference for stress relief, not the level of your skill.

You see, playing piano is a chance to create your own space—to create your own world. You choose where to go and what to see while you’re there, and the places you can go are limitless.

My preferences are for classical music, but that is by no means a limitation—jazz, rock, new-age, hip-hop and ragtime all are an open landscape when you learn to play piano. No matter what genre you might be working in, or even in you’re just playing around, you have the unique opportunity for self expression.

Starting with the very simplest elements of sound, you can create something that is uniquely you—something that is a personalized expression of who you are in that moment. As your skills progress and your knowledge of the instrument grows, your ability to articulate your thoughts and feelings musically expands.

Take a moment to watch the very short video just to the right in which I model three simple ways you can do this right away.

Visit Eighteenth-Century Spain and Meet Its People with Padre Antonio Soler!

Meeting People and Exploring the World through Music

Once you learn to read a little bit of music, you now have direct access to many of the greatest souls the world has ever known: Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Selena Gomez and Bob Dylan, just to scratch the surface. Each of them is intimately connected to his or her music. Each spent careful hours crafting a musical experience that is—somehow—a reflection of who they were as people. Performing their music—learning to play it well—you get the chance to dance with them. What comes out is neither entirely you nor is it entirely them. It is a synergy of spirits in which you get to share something personal to you with something that was dearly personal to them.

Playing piano is also a chance to explore the world. Music is a part of every culture and, in the technological world that we live in today, access to that is as simple as the click of a button. In my years as a musician, through the music I’ve played at the piano, I have travelled throughout Europe, into several different places in Asia, spent some wonderful time in Africa, and discovered some thrilling locations in South America and Mexico, not to mention the joys of spending time in New Orleans and the Great American Plains of the United States.

It may sound like I’m being a bit facetious, but I’m not. Every piece of music speaks with a unique voice, and the roots of that music go deeply into the culture from which it was produced. By playing Padre Antonio Soler's “Sonata in Db Major,” I am, in some small but important way, experiencing eighteenth-century Spain and its people. Truly, it is with this kind of world-traveller excitement that I sit down to a new piece of music.

Stories and Research to Support Why Making Music Works

These are the reasons why playing piano is so much fun, but, when it comes to relieving stress, the important part of all of this is the focus that is takes to do it. It’s the concentration required to engage in this kind of activity that pulls my attention away from all of the other things that are going on in my life. It is this that lets my mind relax because I drop the baggage of all my other worries and frustrations.

I also know this to be true not only for me but also for others because I taught piano lessons for a period of about seven years and that time I had two adult students. One, a mother who had finally sent all of her children off to college, had decided to return to playing piano after about twenty years away. The other was a businessman in his mid-forties, who had always wanted to play, but had never had the chance. He decided to set aside a small bit of time to catch up on that old dream, in part because he was seeking a way to relieve the stress of owning his own business. Both spoke frequently of how much the enjoyed their time at the piano and how it helped them to let the rest of the world fall away as they engaged their minds with the challenges and the joys that the music brought to them.

The University of Chicago
The University of Chicago | Source

And the reality of this is not just me making up stories and presenting anecdotal experiences. Mihaly Chicksentmihalyi, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, developed a concept called “Flow.” In his book by the same name, he lays out a theory that supports what I have just said.

Briefly, here’s how the idea works. The moments that we recognize as being the most in our lives are those in which the challenge of doing what we are doing is precisely met by our skill in doing it. When we are in that place, our mind is fully focused and we forget about everything—even ourselves—and concentrate fully on the task. We feel elated because what we are doing is working well. When the task becomes too easy and drops below our skill level, we become bored. If the difficulty of the task rises too far above our skill level, we become frustrated and want to quit. This is precisely how music works.

When you begin, your skills are very low, but the task is not very hard. As your skill level increases there are always new pieces and new challenges to meet that newly developed skill level. Since no one ever reaches true perfection, even Mozart regularly faced musical tasks that were challenging for him. Thus, whether you are a beginning or a professional, playing piano has the power to capture and hold your imagination, releasing you for a short time from the rest of life.

Me playing piano with my sister singing just a few years after getting started.
Me playing piano with my sister singing just a few years after getting started. | Source
Me playing piano late in high school.
Me playing piano late in high school. | Source
Me playing piano at the end of my college days.
Me playing piano at the end of my college days. | Source

How to Get Started Playing Piano

Getting started is as simple as owning a keyboard. Simple Casio keyboards are available for almost nothing these days, and even something as basic as this gives you a tool for playing around, which, as the research indicates, is one of the most important parts of how playing piano can relieve stress.

Should you decide to actually start taking lessons, it will be important to get a hold of a real piano, or at least a high-end keyboard with weighted keys. The kinesthetic feel of the keyboard is a very important part of learning to play well. Your instrument needs to respond the way a real piano would respond in order for your skill to develop properly. Otherwise it’s like trying to learn to play volleyball with a football; you can mess around but you’re never really going to get anywhere.

If you look around, you can get a piano for as little as about $300 to $400 dollars. Lesson books are very inexpensive. For $15 to $30 you will be set with materials for months.

The tricky part is finding a teacher. This is the part that can become a real financial investment. You can, of course, find free lessons online or simply buy a book and try to teach yourself. For many people, this is not a bad way to go. You can learn enough to be dangerous and have fun, and, when it comes to stress relief, this is the most important part of it anyway. If, however, you are interested in experiencing something like what I have described here, you will need guidance from a trained musician.

The best sources for finding teachers are these:

  • Church pianists and organists
  • University music programs
  • Local music stores
  • The local library’s community board

Once you find someone, be sure to ask them about their experience and their background. Generally speaking, the best teachers will be those who studied music of some kind in college.

A Casual Conversation about Playing Piano

To close I have put together a movie for you in which I invite you into my living room to talk a little bit about “messing around” on the piano. This is not a performance video. You will see me in my casual clothes and hear me just playing around on the keyboard. This discussion is not about becoming a concert pianist. This is about learning to have fun at the piano, and so I want to show you what having fun at the piano looks like and the reality of trying to do it with a job and a family and a life.

Thanks for reading. This was great fun to put together.

Now go find a piano and make some noise!

Having Fun Playing Piano


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    • wayseeker profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Colorado

      no body,

      What a beautiful story you have shared here. There is, of course, joy in sharing music with others, but there is also something very personal about it. Ultimately, I do not believe that the value of a musical experience is in any way amplified by the number of people who share it. A person playing ocarina alone in the forest has as much musical authenticity and integrity to it as the concert for thousands of people...if anything, it may have more.

      I, for one, applaud your pursuit of your music, and celebrate with you the fact that you have finally found yourself in a place in your life where you have the freedom to do it. Life is not about how others see us--keep the music playing!



    • no body profile image

      Robert E Smith 

      6 years ago from Rochester, New York

      Music is such a funny thing. Much too taken for granted, if you ask me.

      When I was a boy I wanted to make music because it was like singing but in a way that was singularly YOU. I could hear myself in my mind singing and it would sound so wonderful that I was sure the rest of my family would hear its quality too, but they told me to stop because it was hurting momma. (Momma wore a hearing aid and sharp sounds or noises were not tolerated.) I knew that singing was out but maybe I could get a small guitar, or fife or something and go outside. Maybe I could practice and produce sounds that would please the people I care for.

      I was young. I didn't understand money and economics. But I could understand waiting and patience. I anxiously waited to sign up for band. The year finally came wherein I could sign up. I saw the tension on my parents' face. They felt they shouldn't stop me from playing but could they afford it? Well, as "luck" would have it (for them and the family budget), the only instrument that made me want to fly was the flute. That instrument that could talk to the birds one moment and then accompany the thunder the next. Sound effects and musical pieces.

      I was heartbroken when the 4 places for flute were taken in the band (given to girls) and I was offered a tuba. I was not ready to give up music itself and asked if I could take tuba. Could tuba sound like a bird? No. Could tuba sound real good as a single voice in my own personal space? No not like a flute. Could I carry a tuba around as I walked in the woods and communed with nature? No not like a flute.

      My parents' look of relief was all I needed to tell me that they had been given the outcome they had wished for all along. There was a laundry list of reasons I could not do any music. It was because the price of a tuba or any instrument was much too much money for my parents, as was music lessons themselves. My mom even was given a piano FREE. My dad brought it home. I was excited but as it turned out I "made too much noise" on it and I never had any lessons or opportunity when I was a child. I tried to think of any way to obtain that sound but it was not to be when I was young.

      So I put away my childhood dream of singing with an instrument and went about getting older. I discovered the ocarina a little less than 2 years ago. I was sitting and daydreaming and listening to music on YouTube. I had been listening to videos of flutes, recorders and panflutes, when I ran across some of people playing the vessel flute, xun, and ocarina. I stopped dead in my tracks. That was the sound I wanted. That was the size I wanted. That was the portability I wanted. It was perfect.

      Last week I turned 60 years old. I have begun to learn this ancient music maker. It turns out that ocarinas are even better than I ever imagined. I have 4 of them and have managed to teach myself enough music to play simple pieces. The sound is so awesome, it never ceases to amaze me. I still wish I could give my parents joy or that my wife would love it and be entertained by it but at least she supports me learning and is patient with my progress. I loved your article and voted up, useful and beautiful.

    • wayseeker profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Colorado


      Thanks so very much for sharing your personal experience with the piano. As I've mentioned to others here, it is wonderful to find those who have experienced the same peace and joy in the instrument.

      I've tried guitar a few times, but I'm with you on the lack of patience issue. I think my problem is that I've developed my skills on piano so far at this point that I find it frustrating to return to the simple things required to learn a new instrument well. I'd just rather spend my time at the piano--I just wish I could get one around the campfire!

      Thanks for spending some time here,


    • wayseeker profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Colorado


      Yep. The world goes right out the window. Do you still play?

      Thanks for popping in!


    • wayseeker profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Colorado


      I found as I was writing this that, while it is music that does this for me, art and writing are also things that function very much this way. Writing has a certain place in my heart in this regard as well, but music will of course always be my "first love."

      Sincerest thanks for stopping in to listen and read, and thanks for your support!


    • wayseeker profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Colorado


      It is a great pleasure to me to he hear of kindred musical spirits. It is among the greater joys of my life. Thanks so very much for taking the time to read, and I hope that music continues to be a big part of your daughter's life.

      Blessing to you and your family as well,


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you for your article on playing the piano...I like the photos you've included...and the stories you've is very well done!! Voting this up & useful!

      As a pianist, I have to agree completely with you regarding stress reduction....that's exactly what happens to me when I play....everything is tuned out...sometimes I'll be playing two or three hours without realizing that much time has gone by....yes the piano is my favorite instrument to play. I can play the guitar, but don't have enough patience with playing it...I'm really not that good at it yet.

    • ElizaDoole profile image

      Lisa McKnight 

      9 years ago from London

      I loved learning the piano when I was young. It is true, you really zone out and de stress.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      9 years ago from UK

      A very interesting hub. One of my fondest childhood memories is of listening to my mother play piano. (My favourite was a ditty called “Fairy wedding waltz, and we also had plenty of singsongs at Christmas.) I had never thought about it being a stress relieve for her, but looking back it seems likely.

      Neither my sisters or I learned the piano but my kids both play and I love listening to them too. (Ode to Joy is my current favourite!) I certainly get pleasure from listening even if I don’t play. I guess for me art used to fulfil a similar function and now writing does.

      Your video is great and your playing is beautiful!

    • Mekenzie profile image

      Susan Ream 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      My youngest daughter has the same connection to music and playing the piano that you do. As she was growing up I would always know if she were troubled because she would sit and play her heart out. She is grown and a mother of 5 now and she still goes to her piano to work through life's hard times.

      I enjoyed your video so much ... I believe I too would benefit from the pleasure of making music at the piano. Great demonstration. Thank you - voted up and awesome!



    • wayseeker profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Colorado


      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment here. I have no doubt that the Doctor band is blowing off a great deal of steam and in a great way. Music is a marvellous way to forget about the rest of the world and yet still engage with it deeply. I look forward to a month here where I can be more present here on Hubpages.

      Thanks again,


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      You are such a renaissance person! As always I love your art work. A group of doctors my husband works with formed a band and they play for local charities. I've often wondered what kept them going after a long day at work. Now I will assume this is a great way for them to relieve stress.


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