Tech CEO on Yamaha Disklavier: The One Item I Cannot Work Without

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The Yamaha Disklavier (Phil Libin not pictured)


Evernote’s Phil Libin began playing piano at age 41. Now, his company is more harmonious, too.

By Phil Libin, Co-Founder & CEO of Evernote

A new intern here recently asked me, “What’s the one item that you can’t work without?”

Can’t is too strong a word, but I did get something a few months ago that is helping my work more than I expected: an acoustic grand piano with a robot crammed into it, the Yamaha Disklavier E3.

Am I a musician? No. Do I know how to play the piano? Not exactly. Do I use the Disklavier at the office? No way. So how does it help me work? Well, here’s the thing: It’s an acoustic grand piano. With a robot crammed into it.

I spend about an hour a day sitting in front of the piano, teaching myself music theory and trying to play the sad theme from the end of the Incredible Hulk ’80s TV series. Trying to learn a big new skill, at the age of 41, is exhausting. And astonishingly brain stretching.

The Disklavier presents a completely new axis of learning. You can play, see your mistakes played back, download lessons and videos, play again. You can feel synapses firing and new connections being made. The best part is being completely stymied by a particular segment, giving up in frustration, and then coming back the next day and playing it through on the first try.

When you learn a new skill, you learn new patterns. And then you start seeing these patterns interwoven into the familiar world. The impenetrable becomes less so. Things you always knew, you now know better.

For instance, many musical pieces follow a common structure: a short preamble to set the stage, followed by a tonal phrase or “tonic,” then elaboration of a theme, and finally a return to the tonic at the very end. That return makes the piece feel psychologically complete. It provides a satisfying finish.

I never really grokked this until I started fiddling around on the piano. Now I see it everywhere: in speeches, in magazine articles, in successful software design, in compelling presentations, in a well-planned dinner menu. And now that I see it, I can make use of it. A small increase in my musical ability–from nonexistent to imperceptible–has given me a bigger lever with which to try to move the world.

Plus, I feel the effects at the office. I’m smarter than I was a few months ago, with new ways of seeing things, a new mental vocabulary, and greater cognitive dexterity. I feel more creative than ever, and I get more done every day.

Read more here.

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