Plain Piano

Why is it that some people look at the piano with awe and others with dread?  I’ve met some people who think they could never learn to play, even people who play another instrument.  I’ve met other people (including one of my relations) who hate the piano.  Each likes to hear someone else play it well, but would never go play themselves.

I’ve had a conversation or two lately about how hard it is for parents to know when to encourage a child to pursue an instrument (or a lot of other things for that matter) and when to step back and let them alone.  I only know that my mother did a good job with me.  I may not be a concert pianist, I may not be much good at chording, and I may be shaky on expression, but I truly enjoy sitting down at the piano and pulling out some music to play.

I started with piano in third grade.  Mom had played the trumpet when she was in middle school, not piano, but she bought a couple of books and we worked through the lessons.  I would practice for a week on a piece, and then she would listen to me play.  If I hadn’t gotten the piece down in a week, I worked on it for two.  Mom even kept up with me for a few months, learning the lessons herself.  That didn’t last because she just didn’t have the time, with three kids on her hands, but it was an encouragement to me that she thought it was worth the time to try.

From the beginning I had trouble with keeping a steady beat, but we didn’t have a metronome, so I just did the best I could with my foot.  Mom had me practice three times a week, making sure to warm up with some exercises and a few old lessons before I started work on the week’s assigned piece.  Even with the simple stuff I was doing I got frustrated because I couldn’t play it like I thought it should sound.

So Mom had me take a year off.  In fourth grade I did a variety of different instruments and other types of music.  When it came time for fifth grade, I was ready to go back and give piano another try.

This time I remained patient and worked hard to improve.  I liked to play songs and sing along, but we didn’t have a lot of songs that were easy enough for me to play.  The music in my lesson book tended to be silly little songs, not the hymns and children’s songs that I knew.  So I worked toward a day when I could sit down with those songs and sing along.

I still had to practice at least three times a week, but Mom mentioned that if I wanted to get better, I’d need to practice more often, so I started playing more.  Even if I didn’t run through a lesson, I would sit down and try to plunk out a tune that I knew; sometimes with better success than others.  I’ll always be grateful that Mom didn’t make me do scales.  I think she has wondered sometimes whether she ought to have, and I’ll admit that I would be much better with chording and a few other things if I had drilled over my scales.  However, I am sure that if I had felt forced to do my scales every time I practiced, I would have come to dislike piano very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, I know my scales, or at least most of them, I’m just rather slow at playing them.  The reason I’m sure that I would have balked at too much scales is that I balked at the metronome.  When I was eleven, we got a digital piano to replace our old keyboard.  The new piano not only could sound like several different instruments and record your playing, it had a built-in metronome. 

I hated the metronome.  My rhythm had not gotten much better over the years, and I was forever falling behind or going too fast.  Usually falling behind.  Mom had me practice with it for a few weeks, but I got so annoyed at that metronome that she quickly decided not to force the issue.

Thanks to Mom’s hands off approach, I stuck with the piano.  I wasn’t into a classical music much, but I taught myself the “Fur Elise” for fun, when it was actually a level or two beyond my skill.  I even memorized it at one time!  Now, I don’t memorize anything very well, except the words and tunes of songs that I sing, but I memorized the “Fur Elise.”

Eventually, I began playing at church.  Some of the other young girls often played something for Offertory, and the church pianist asked me to help out.  After a few years, I took over scheduling the Offertories and playing whenever I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play for a particular week.  By then, I was also playing for morning services every so often.  I even played a few pieces with my sister.  Four-hand piano music (played by two people at one piano) can be tough to coordinate, but I had improved my skills enough to use the metronome sometimes in order to help me stay with her.  We only did that a few times due to limited music choices, but it was fun.

I don’t play fancy piano.  While I have had fellow church members compliment me by saying that it sounds like I have three hands playing, I do only have two, and they really aren’t playing difficult music.  I’ve seen a few concert pianists play, and I come nowhere close.  I don’t even keep up with my brother 3G, who taught himself to play the piano after he had already taken the clarinet to a great height.  He has more musicality than I’ll ever have, so even if he is not as quick at sight-reading the whole staff (clarinetists usually only have to read one line of notes, while piano music often has four or more notes to play at once), he has much more expression than I have.

At the same time, I like the way that I play.  I don’t have to play fancy piano.  I just like to be able to sit down and play the songs that I like to sing: hymns, choruses, and some contemporary stuff.  I can play quite well enough to do that.  I began taking singing lessons this spring, and my mother says that has actually improved my piano playing, as has teaching TJ and BP to sing.  I’ve got more expression than I had before, so maybe I have a chance to play as well as 3G someday.

Maybe.

Right now, I’m just happy to play plain piano.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Growing Up, Hobbies, Homeschooling, Music, My Family, Parents, Siblings

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