For about the past month, or so, playing the piano has been a frustrating experience. Here’s why:
- It seems like I’ve been playing more wrong notes than normal
- I cannot play more than two arpeggios in a row without a finger fumble
- My thumb, my thumb, my thumb…it’s so big and clunky that it’s always striking two keys at a time
- I don’t feel like I’m making progress learning about how the fingers work with the wrist and how it all works together with the arm
At my last lesson, my piano teacher told me I was being too hard on myself and that I was doing an excellent job. She said that I was much farther along than I thought and that she was proud of my progress. But if you know me, you know I didn’t really hear a word she said.
At this stage in my piano career, learning is very slow but sometimes very rewarding. When playing slowly, I feel that I am developing sound technique (which is paramount to me) and I can really appreciate the process. Sometimes, though, the process can be painful, repetitive, and outright discouraging. What makes it worse is that I have a natural tendency to be impatient and strive for an unrealistic level of perfection.
The logical part of me realizes that piano playing (like any other skill or sport) requires patience and dedication – regardless of one’s level of natural talent and ability. To help remind me of this, my totally awesome piano teacher (Gretchen Sterling http://www.scmusicarts.com/) said that I should look at piano playing as a science project.
Here’s what most pianists do. We hear a song we like, find the sheet music, and try to recreate what we heard in the recording. Of course we never actually reach the level of the recording and then we get frustrated and quit. But what about scientists?
Even though they understand a peer’s hypothesis on an academic level, they are very careful to repeat every step of the experiment themselves – but they don’t try to recreate anything. They carefully observe every step in the process, take painstaking notes, and are always open to the idea that the other person’s findings were wrong or that their own findings may take them somewhere unexpected. Either way, they’re ok with the results; the important thing is that they don’t rush the experiment or they would run the risk of botching the whole deal. The experiment itself, then, is just as important as the end result.
To take it a step further, isn’t life kind of like that? It’s really good to have a plan but we should remain open to adjusting it. Isn’t it better to enjoy and appreciate both the highs and the lows? That way, when the “music” ends, we won’t be so worried about how the song was played, but more about the meaning behind the notes.
So, simply put, (and back to the piano) I’m learning to relax and enjoy the learning process. And a big thanks to my awesome piano teacher…who’s also apparently my therapist.