Throughout this year, several bloggers will engage in a conversation here and on their blogs — asking questions of each other and responding. Others are absolutely welcome to join the conversation, as well. Learn more about the ladies of Blogversation 2012.
I did not grow up in a musical family. My parents didn’t sing or play an instrument, and didn’t worry that I should to build out my college application or be a well-rounded cultured child. It just wasn’t on their radar.
But I was fascinated by music pretty much as far back as I can remember. My mom was friends with a couple whose band played at a bowling alley in Saginaw, Mich. where my mom was a bartender. There’s a photo of me at I think 4 years old grinning like crazy when they sang me Happy Birthday. I didn’t care if it was Madison Square Garden or Timber Town bowling alley, these people made music and I was in awe.
One of my mom’s friends played piano and I watched in fascination. My first elementary school crush was a boy who played piano.
Yet I never learned to play an instrument. When we had the option to sign up for band in middle school, I thought you had to already know how to play. If I’d known the good taxpayers of Saginaw would pay for me to learn to play music, I’d have done it in an instant. Instead, I took choir. And hated it. I was a terrible singer, and a shy singer because of it, and spent the year jealously listening to the girls with the lovely soprano voices. Maybe someone could have told me it was OK I was an alto?
My college boyfriend bought me perhaps the most appropriate gift anyone’s ever given me: a small Yamaha keyboard. He wanted to encourage me to finally learn to play.
I dragged the keyboard with me through maybe a dozen moves before I finally began weekly lessons almost two years ago.
Here’s a funny video of me torturing “When the Saints Go Marching In” a year ago:
Lauren, one of the Blogversation members, wrote a post this fall, You’re Not Too Old to Switch Careers. Or Play The Harp. that hit me hard. When practice is going badly, I lament not having taken middle school band, or grouse that my parents really should have gotten me piano lessons, or anything else to make my progress farther along than it is. Lauren wrote:
We didn’t start an instrument, our careers, a language at some magical age, 10? 17? 20? and our brain went into lockdown and whatever talents we managed to eck out by sheer luck and childhood fancy, are the ones that we are destined with forever. If we haven’t learned music, mastered a language, become a writer, we never will.
Thus the people who sigh, “I wish had learned the piano when I was young. It would be such a great talent to have.”
And the others that pine, “If only they had offered Spanish in school when I was ten. I would be bilingual.”
And me who shouts, “Shut up and starting practicing!” Because piano playing and language speaking might be easier at younger ages, but they can come greatly at any age if you decide to sit down, practice, and persist.
A recent NPR story said something similar — a psychologist who learned guitar to study musical learning wrote a book called “Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning.” NPR’s interview with Gary Marcus says:
“… although it’s definitely easier to learn some things when you’re a kid, it’s not the case that you just absolutely lose the ability later in life. There’s more of a gradual decline, but it is still possible.”
he maintains there is hope for nonmusical adults who would like to pick up an instrument — as long as they’re willing to swallow their pride and practice hard.
“A lot of people just do what they’re good at. They don’t focus on what they’re bad at,” Marcus says. “In my case, I really had to focus on the rhythm. If I had just done what I was good at, I would still sound terrible. Now I don’t quite sound terrible, and that’s because I focused so much on that. So don’t expect overnight success; try to enjoy each incremental bit of progress that you make.”
I still sometimes struggle to read sheet music, I don’t remember what notes are in which chords and my timing needs work. But I persist, because that 4-year-old me wanted it so desperately and I’m not willing to give up yet.
What’s one thing you’re really passionate about even though you’re not very good at it?