My son began taking piano lessons at our local community center almost exactly a year ago. Students were allowed to practice on the baby grand in the center’s common room whenever it was available but Gray was shy about showing up unannounced, so at first, I accompanied him.
I sat on the carpet nearby, masking my emotions by keeping my nose in a book. Gray practiced the opening measures of an untitled etude written by the 18th century Italian composer Antonio Diabelli. I was amazed that after only a single lesson, he was playing with both hands. The air was filled with notes; my heart was filled with joy.
As for me…
When I was in elementary school, I was a clarinetist. Staying after for band practice on Tuesdays was the highlight of my week. I loved playing music, but there was no music program at my high school. My pursuit of music evaporated, along with my clarinet and everything that I had learned.
As an adult I grew to love classical guitar and even took lessons for a while, but my small artist hands—already overworked by constant drawing—couldn’t assume the guitar’s requisite chord positions. The practice hurt my hands. Having strong, flexible, long fingers would have made things easier, but there was also the issue of my brain, which was not cooperating at all. Despite a lot of very real effort, learning to read and play music again seemed impossible. I gave up and moved on. At least I had tried!
An Amazing Surprise
A few days ago my son offered to give me a piano lesson. After the guitar debacle I had no hope of actually learning to play, but Gray is fifteen! Any shared activity that he suggests is welcome. I sat down with him at his keyboard, his battered copy of the Diabelli etude propped on the music stand. Hearing the opening run of notes took me back to that day in the community center.
Because I’d heard Gray stumble through the same notes at the start of his practice, my own blunders were not discouraging. The fumbles sounded familiar, even beautiful. Right. And despite actual pain in my brain (I feared an aneurism), there was no pain at all in my hands. At the end of an hour-long lesson I had learned to play four measures. With both hands! Today in my third lesson with Gray, we’ll have made it to the end of the piece. Astounding.
Gray’s piano practice is one of the inspirations for this blog. After only one year of practice, he is becoming quite the pianist. Watching him learn to play the piano reminded me of the joys and benefits of learning, and also showed me that a little practice every day is effective.
Days dissolve into years whether we are learning and acquiring new skills or not… so why not spend a few minutes every day so that, in a year’s time, you’ll have a new skill? Trust me, after you push through the initial agony of shaking the cobwebs off your brain, it gets easier. And the benefits are staggering.
In her recent TED talk, Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, suggests learning as an effective way to prevent Alheimer’s Disease (click here for the talk). We should always be learning, to keep our brains healthy, young and supple.
How would your life be different a year from now if you spent a little time every day to learn how to _________________?