Last month I celebrated ten years since I commenced my explorations into the Taubman Approach. When I attended Therese Milanovic’s first workshop on the Taubman Approach in July of 2008, I could never have imagined the change in direction that my playing and teaching were about to take. Although I had a ridiculously busy schedule and really didn’t have time to take lessons, I couldn’t resist exploring this approach, with its promise of playing without pain.
I booked in for fortnightly lessons initially, starting in August 2008. After battling with pain at the piano and in everyday life for decades, I was overwhelmed to find out that at last there was a solution. In those first few lessons I discovered that I could arrive for my lesson in pain and leave in less pain by the end of the hour. I was hooked! As soon as I was able to organise it, I changed to weekly lessons.
Thirty Nine Years Ago
I’ll backtrack a little to an anniversary that does not warrant celebrating. In August 1979, thirty-nine years ago, in my third year at the Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, I noticed my first playing related symptoms. In hindsight, I had already experienced symptoms as early as 1971 (a ganglion on my left wrist) and 1973 (back pain), but I hadn’t realised they were caused by my playing. My teacher at the Conservatorium belonged to the ‘no pain no gain’ school of thought, and considered that it was acceptable for me to continue playing through pain, especially if I didn’t have any alternative career path I wanted to follow.
I kept practising five to six hours a day, in increasing pain and debilitation, and completed my performance degree at the end of the next year as planned, and then did a further year of study to complete my Bachelor of Music Education. This required some playing, but I had already done so much damage, that I was now in pain almost constantly. Everything I did, both at and away from the piano, increased the symptoms.
Everyday tasks such as hair washing and drying, carrying shopping, lifting things, cutting food, all became sources of more pain. I was unable to take up a position as a classroom music teacher, as I could barely write and certainly couldn’t write on a blackboard.
Much of the next decade was filled with searching for the non-existent ‘cure.’ Little was known about playing related injuries in the ‘80s and diagnostic imaging was limited to X-rays, which didn’t show any abnormalities. I continued to teach piano, playing as little as possible and surviving on painkillers. Every now and then I would go back to consistent practising in spite of the pain, but it never lasted long - the pain and debilitation would become intolerable, so I would desist again, only to repeat the process again later.
The short version of the story is that I gave up hope of finding a permanent solution and spent the next couple of decades focussed on managing my symptoms so that I could live as comfortably as possible and limiting my playing to that which caused only tolerable pain and didn’t debilitate me.
Therese’s workshop was the catalyst for change. She presented the basic tenets of Dorothy Taubman’s work, codifying the movements that underlie a coordinated technique, which enables freedom and ease at the piano and resolves pain and injury. I could see immediately that there were many aspects of my technique that were contributing to my injury. I quickly became addicted as I saw my playing and also my teaching transformed. I now had solutions to offer students in tricky passages, instead of telling them to go home and practise more. My playing was feeling ‘delicious and euphoric,’ just as Dorothy Taubman said it should. I also learnt how to write and type and manage lots of other activities of everyday life, without pain.
An upcoming anniversary
I was keen to pursue higher training in the Taubman Approach so that I could help others in the way that I had been helped. I was accepted into the Professional Training Program at the Golandsky Institute in USA, and in October 2018, I will celebrate the two year anniversary of the completion of my certification as an Instructor of the Taubman Approach. It is such a joy to help injured pianists return to playing without pain, and to help uninjured students play with greater freedom and ease than they could have imagined. They are surprised when I’m also able to help them overcome pain at the computer, using electronic devices, handwriting, and activities of everyday life.
Ongoing professional development is vital in any field, and teaching piano is no exception. I continue to take weekly lessons with Therese Milanovic interspersed with Skype lessons with my mentor John Bloomfield in New York. I attend the annual Golandsky Institute Summer Symposium in the US and usually spend two to three weeks in New York each year to have intensive in person lessons with John, revelling in the ability to practise four to five hours a day - pain free!
If you are in pain, feel like playing the piano is hopeless because of injury, or have questions abou