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Applying the 10 Essences of Taiji to Piano Playing

My name is Giulia Gaglioti Askins.

I have been teaching piano for a number of years. I enjoy what I do and I am always looking for ways to keep every individual student motivated and looking forward to what is next in their musical journey.

The 10 Essences in Taiji, taught to me by Coach Christopher Pei, and an essential part of this ancient discipline, can also be applied to piano playing. For example, young pianists who often slouch can be corrected with the First Essence, specifically dealing with the need to lift the head to maintain good posture while playing the piano. Many other essences, found in this article, can be of use in piano as well as Taiji.

I can say that awareness of the 10 essences has made me a better teacher and performer.

Thank you Coach Pei for your tireless and patient teaching.


Release Tension

Slow Abdominal Breathing

Calm the Mind, soften the body

Play the first 2, 3 measures in your mind

Let the music play silently, then keep the flow with the physical motion

Do not produce the sound tentatively but execute precisely


First Essence: Keep the Head Erect

Keep the head naturally straight, look ahead while letting the upper body weight sink into the piano bench. Feel pulled up and down at once.

Second Essence: Sink Shoulders and Elbows

Allow the shoulders to drop, then the elbows. Without their release playing will be tiring and awkward. The wrists, an open passage for Qi to flow to the fingertips, must always be supple, never tensed nor heavy. Many types of articulation, such as legato and staccato (to name a few), cannot be produced on the piano without flexibility in the wrists.

Third Essence: Loose Chest and Round Back

Keep the chest and back rounded, following the natural curve of the spine. Doing so will allow calming abdominal breathing.

Fourth Essence: Loosen the Waist

The coccyx is slightly turned in while sitting on the bench; the weight on the lower body, firmly planted all the way to the feet, permits the release of shoulders, elbows and wrists. The waist is loosened and turns easily to cover the length of the keyboard from one end to the other.

The lower body is heavy and balanced, while the arms move freely.


Fifth Essence: Differentiate Substantial and Insubstantial

Follow the forward motion of the music with its “up and down” shape while allowing the physical weight to shift accordingly. In music interpretation, this concept is comparable to the constant

adjustment required in the position of the hand. The hand position varies according to touch, dynamics and phrasing when a part/voice needs to be emphasized over others.


Sixth Essence: Coordinate Upper and Lower Body

Physical coordination is essential in piano performance. Coordination of upper and lower body, as well as coordination between the 2 hands in technique, articulation and dynamics.

Seventh Essence: Continuous Movement

Maintain an uninterrupted forward movement, even within the required pauses and rests written in the music. Follow “up with down and down with up”. Be aware of the beginning and ending of phrases, without breaking the overall flow of musical thought. An interruption reflects a lack of thought within the motion. Like Taiji movements, the end of a phrase leads to the beginning of a new one, creating a feel of continuity. Without continuity the music stagnates.

Eight Essence: Unite Internal Intent with the Body

From the first sound produced there must be intent. Let the sound resonate in your mind, even visualize it - and it will materialize.

Ninth Essence: Use the Mind, not Brute Force

“Forte” or “Piano” are produced by the mind, not physical strength.

Similar to the mental visualization in Taiji, in Music, after analyzing the structural elements of the composition and its interpretative markings, the mind sees and hears before the music plays. Many hours at the piano are no substitute for mindful practicing. Memorization based only on physical repetition is vulnerable while mental memorization cannot be deterred.

Tenth Essence: Seek Stillness in Motion and Motion within Stillness

Tranquility in movement is the result of physical practice. After hours, months, years and consistent mindful repetition - at all levels, the pianist conquers the physical difficulty of playing the instrument. Artistry is a result of going beyond the physical into a state of pure creativity

and joy.

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