Sunday, December 13, 2009

A New Tune

She plays - even on a cardboard guitar - just for the joy of it.

"Oh, I used to play the piano, but not anymore."

"I just can't find the time to practice."

"I wish I'd kept it up."

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too. Our house contains, among all the other accoutrements of daily life, a piano, two flutes, and two guitars (one acoustic and one electric). Four of these instruments belong to me, and I used to be pretty good at two of them, but I do not play them anymore. One day, I just sort of stopped. It's definitely a source of regret. And when I do find a minute to sit down and try to play something, the loss of what I used to know becomes painfully clear. It's overwhelming and discouraging and humbling.

My friends, all of that is about to change.

I am a busy mama with too many commitments and not enough hours in the day. It's definitely not going to be easy, I know. But right here, right now, I am committing. I will find the time; and if I can't find it, I will make the time. I will practice playing music every day. I will play the scales and arpeggios. I will do the fingering exercises. I will callous my fingers on the strings.

Want to join me?

I know, I know. You don't have time either. You aren't quite sure where to start. So here are some suggestions:

1. Begin where you left off. Play what you know.
When my 4-year-old daughter came to me with one of my old piano books and said, "Can you play this on the piano?" I got lucky. She had the book opened to Beethoven's "Fur Elise" - one of the very few pieces my fingers remember how to play. And so I played it for her. And then I played it again. And again. And suddenly I wanted more. This is where I'd left off, and so I play this piece often as a reminder.

2. Then, go back to the basics, and play what you don't know anymore.
"Fur Elise" is beautiful, but in order to really get back what I lost from not practicing, I will have to take some steps backward. I will have to go back to my beginner books and re-learn things that my fingers have forgotten. It will take some humility. And patience. Especially if you have small children. Just today I ended my practice session near tears because I couldn't manage to make it through even the most basic exercises without interruptions throwing me off. Luckily, tomorrow is another day.

3. Find something new and make it your goal.
When I had music teachers, there was always some particular piece to study, always a specific goal to have one thing ready for recital. Do the same thing. Choose something - one thing - you want to learn, and then learn it. And don't give up because it's too hard now.

As for finding the time, oh how I wish I could just weave those extra hours into all of our days. But if you can find - or make - the time to do it, here's some good advice on how to make the most of your time with whatever instrument you're practicing:

Making the Most of Your Practice Time, an article from Hudson Music
How to Practice a Musical Instrument, from the blog Notes and Lines

When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to play my flute for the Seattle Symphony. Then, one day, too early to make such a judgment, I decided that I wasn't good enough. And I wasn't. Yet. So I stopped playing. It's like what Mo Willems says about drawing, though: " ... people stop when they decide they're not good at it. [But] Nobody stops playing basketball once they realize they're not going to be a professional." I don't know if the Symphony was ever a realistic goal, and it certainly isn't anymore. But who cares? I remember how I used to feel when I played music, how magical it was, and how important it was - no, is - to me. And I want it back. I'm going to get it back.

Jack Kerouac wrote, "You can't teach the old maestro a new tune." I'm going to prove it wrong.

Ready, set, go!


  1. Oh I want to do this too! I'm going to try!

  2. I'm in...and it will be on piano!