Baby steps toward learning to play piano (and it’s grand!)

I should really get back to practicing my major scales ...

This morning I’m practicing piano.

I am a total beginner so that means lots of playing scales, slowly, sometimes hitting the right keys, sometimes missing.

Even though it doesn’t sound good, and probably won’t for a while, I’m giddy.

I have wanted to play piano for almost as long as I can remember.

When I was maybe 6, a friend of my mom’s played piano and I would beg him to show me where to put my fingers, what to do next.

My first elementary school crush was the boy who played piano better than anyone in our school — I’m not totally sure what the chicken and egg is, if I got mesmerized by piano because I had a crush on him or, more likely, if I had a crush on him because he could make music like I wanted to.

For whatever reason, my parents never got me music lessons. I’ve tried before to learn as an adult, but twice I’ve started lessons and twice I’ve gotten a new job that meant leaving town within weeks of starting.

My college boyfriend bought me a keyboard because he knew how much I wanted to play and I’ve toted this thing around for lo these many years, wanting one day to do something about it — but being too intimidated to get started.

Being an absolute beginner at something as an adult is tough if you’re a perfectionist. You have to get comfortable with the idea that you’re going to be terrible before you’re mildly tolerable before you can hope to get good.

It was a lesson I had to learn in business school and I’m reminded of it again as a newbie piano player.

Several things finally pushed me over the edge:

  • I’m approaching 40.  I’d already been dragging this keyboard around for two decades, procrastinating learning to play, and if it’s something I want to do so badly, somehow a significant birthday felt like a good deadline. I want to be able to play at least one song by my 40th birthday.
  • My coworker, David, just started beginning piano lessons. He’s one of the smartest guys I work with and he seems completely OK with being a lousy piano player. He was a great role model for just jumping in.
  • When we went to see New Orleans Bingo Show during Jazz Fest, front man Clint Maedgen got on a rant in between songs about how people shouldn’t let their musical instruments gather dust in a closet. If you have a horn from high school, Clint implored, get it out and play. He even offered anyone who hasn’t played in more than five years the chance to play with Bingo Show if they practiced up and called him.

That idea of music not being a spectator sport, that you should play even if you aren’t as good as a pro, really hit me. I came home from New Orleans inspired to find a piano teacher who could patiently help me reach my goal of learning to play stride piano and boogie woogie.

When I found Sheldon Landa on pianoworld.com, something about his profile felt right:

You are never TOO old to start having some fun with the piano … And if you had a couple of piano lessons long ago but barely remember anything, that is fine just fine … I love students like that … We can easily shine up that dirty diamond … That distant memory is enough to build the new foundation on … But this time with your clever adult brain putting the pieces together.

I had my first lesson on Monday. He threw a lot at me and when I got confused, he said that was good. I’m learning.

I left having played with both hands at the same time. Not well, but I did it, and I was elated.

Someday, I hope to play like Mr. B. But for now, it’s back to practicing scales.

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12 replies

  1. i take my kids for piano lessons because i want them to learn about playing the piano “

  2. Fabulous! I started guitar lessons at age 35. I ALWAYS wanted to play guitar–that’s what all the cool kids played. However, my parents made my play violin. At age 35, I decided that I could either start lessons or close the door on that dream forever. I started lessons. I love, love, love my teacher. He teaches me any song I want to learn. If it’s too hard for me at my level, he puts training wheels on it and teaches me an easier version. The other reason I love him is because he understands that I’m doing this for me, not for anyone else. He never has recitals. He once said, “You want a recital? Go play for your grandma.”

    Good for you for starting piano lessons! I hope you find many years of satisfaction from it.

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