I worked somewhere that made me feel sad about my life and affected my self-esteem. I had no choice but to leave when I did. It was surprising…the level of grief and loss I felt. I didn’t even know it was possible to grieve over something that wasn’t physical.
During this difficult time, I already owned an unused piano. Playing was a distant memory of my childhood. I don’t know how to sight read and couldn’t remember any of the pieces I once knew.
The grief was overwhelming and some days all I could do was sit, motionless. One day, I sat on the piano stool. And I pressed a key. I held my finger on it for a while, soaking up the pitch. The sound matched the pain I was feeling in my heart. I pressed the key to the left and noticed instantly that this note didn’t feel like it ‘belonged to me’… not at that moment anyway.
I continued to press keys in this manner, memorising the notes and sequences that seemed to match the way I was feeling at that moment. Those sequences became a melody that encompassed all I felt about my journey at that job. The highs, and the lows, and the grief. It was my first ever composition.
I felt accomplished. But that wasn’t the best part. This song helped me process my feelings in a way I’d never processed them before. It helped me remember the good times and the bad. It’s not a masterpiece like Beethoven, but it’s not meant to be. The melody, and the process of creating, was my way of saying goodbye. It had become a part of what helped me move on.
I’ve revisited the piano a few times, and I’ve noticed a pattern. I tend to create pieces of music that reflect how I feel in the moment. I’ve created ‘I love you’ melodies and ‘thank you for your friendship’ melodies. I rarely share them, I’m shy! But they’re not for show anyway.
This experience has taught me that if I’m not sure how I’m feeling about something, playing the piano can help me process and identify it; and with this knowledge comes control over my mental health; because by knowing how I feel, I can start the process of addressing it.
I’ve since obtained a few other percussion instruments and use those to manage my wellbeing too. When I’m feeling particularly frustrated, I tend to pick up the tambourine or maracas and shake the frustration away. If I’m feeling joyful, I play these same instruments to upbeat music (and secretly dance to it). When curious, I tend to play the triangle and just listen to the slight changes in pitch. Piano, however, is the one that gets me practicing mindfulness. When playing the piano, I get swept into the moment; and even if only briefly, it can bring peace.
When I think, I seem to tap things with my hands too, making melodies on tables, park benches, furniture… anything that makes a sound. I don’t think people need to ‘feel’ musically gifted to benefit from music. Especially from the mindfulness and spirituality that comes from listening or playing. Anyone can make a melody by clapping their hands, tapping their fingers, and banging on an object. Even just listening to music can change how you feel. During breakups, I cannot listen to love songs, but any other time I enjoy it. When I was depressed and unable to get out of bed, simply playing one uplifting song would swiftly change my mood and get me up.
Clearly, music has the power to truly influence mood and support personal recovery. Believe me, it’s worth harnessing it!