Designing Music: Classical Pianist and Designer, I-Lin Tsai on how she works her magic as a composer and graphic designer

If you walk into any coffee shop in America, there will always be someone drawing or designing something interesting. When I first met up with Pianist and Graphic Designer I-Lin Tsai earlier today, she was working on the graphics for the cover of her new album Scenes & Songs. The amazingly talented Solo Pianist also spends much of her time studying design and using programs like Illustrator, Photoshop and After Effects to create art. 

This type of creative outlet is just an ancillary service to her life as a pianist. But this pursuit of graphic design clearly demonstrates her way of learning and supplementing her creative pathways as an artist. She is completely driven in everything she does and commits to. I was fortunate enough to sit down and talk with her today about all that she’s doing – from being a remote-first professor of piano at Oclef, an education and software  company to traveling the west coast as a concert musician and graphic designer.

Q: How do you balance everything that you do?

A: “I actually see everything that I do as completely interconnected. Creativity, for me, is at my core as a musician, but I get to explore that through my passion for composition, graphic design and education. By having everything interconnected in my work, it allows me to find synergies in the various creative disciplines that I do and over time the results compound from the network that is produced between them. So I don’t really see them all as separate or many things. Instead it’s more about my creative journey using a variety of filters.”

Q: How has piano affected your life from the time you were a kid to now?

A: “I get this question a lot from parents of students I teach. They really want to understand what piano does for development over many years. Intuitively they know that it’s good for their kids, but they don’t know the details or the ‘facts’. I suppose that the best way to answer this question is to point out that when I was a kid, [laughing] I had absolutely no idea I would be sitting  here with you today. That says a lot about piano right? How would I know that piano can take me around the world literally, allow me to live the life I want – teach, perform, and create, and my ‘job’ would be music. I never knew this could be possible as a child. So it’s fun to look back on how I got here and still know that 10 years from now, I have an idea of where I’ll be – in music – but who knows how life will be by then.”

Q: It seems like you see creativity as your guide to everything you’re doing, can you explain what you want long term for yourself as a creative?  

A: “Definitely. I see myself as a designer of music and visuals. And you can take that literally – as a composer, as a pianist crafting phrases, dynamics, balance and more – or – you can take it as someone who is looking at music like a graphic designer would. Creativity is my guiding light when I’m working and making the personality or character come out of the music, graphic or composition is what I’m focusing on. How that creativity is delivered is the music or graphics, but really it’s just expression and communication in a creative form.

To learn more about I-Lin Tsai, her creative work and music, just visit her website at 

Written by TedFuel