The Body – Wiser than the Mind?

In this week’s guest post, William Westney explores the concept of “tacit knowing” – how our bodies can often be wiser than our minds and discusses what implications this has for pianists and teachers.


When we make music, we experience a fascinating integration of body and mind. The body knows wonderful things about piano performance, much of which cannot be explained using words or logic. Unfortunately, our analytical minds can often get in the way of tapping into this wisdom, making it easy to become bogged down when tackling a challenge.

Bypassing the Mind

You may have experienced moments where it feels like everything is just falling into place beautifully without significant thought. In these moments it’s likely that you’ve been able to “get out of your own way” by bypassing the mind and relied in an inherent “felt sense”.

Here is an example of how the body can bypass the mind to solve a technical problem. Chopin’s Prelude in F-sharp major (Op. 28 No. 13) presents a cross-rhythm which will be new to most students – and can seem most perplexing and intimidating: five against six:

Polyrhythm in chopin's prelude in f-sharp major

How does one approach this challenge? Mathematical charts? Super-slow practice? Fortunately there is a far easier and better way that dispenses with thinking and controlling:

Implications for Interpretation

Interpretively, our bodies can also inspire us with creativity. Here is an example of how that can work with Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca”:

Right and left brain, body and mind, personal feeling – we use it all at the piano and integrating it can lead to a highly satisfying experience of piano playing.

In my new video series on the Online Academy, I explore these ideas and the exciting possibilities they unlock for students of the piano further in seven videos. Using several repertoire examples, I examine the implications for technique, interpretation and teaching. Click here to find out more and to view the series index.

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