Learning to play the piano

I’ve been teaching myself how to play the piano, and I really enjoy it.

My parents arranged piano lessons for us when we were kids. I didn’t enjoy that nearly as much. The pieces were unfamiliar, and the rules of piano-playing seemed so strange. Read the notes, play the drills, curve the fingers. One piano teacher kept scolding me because I didn’t read the notes–but that was because I had figured out the pattern of the simple exercises we were doing, and my restless eyes couldn’t keep still.

Fast forward a decade or two, and now it’s one of the things that makes me smile. I like being able to play simple arrangements of Moonlight Sonata and The Entertainer from memory. I’m currently working on learning Prelude: Op. 28 No. 6 by Chopin (PDF, Mutopia link). It’s one of W-‘s favorites. I’ve been looping over his CD of Vladimir Horowitz (A Reminiscence) playing that and other beautiful pieces, and I’ve been slowly making progress on learning the piece. I can do the left hand with a few pauses, and I’m learning the right hand chords. The timing reminds me of The Entertainer, although the prelude is more complex and it’ll be a while before I can do the proper dynamics.

What I enjoy the most about learning how to play the piano is being able to chunk more and more complex segments: first notes, then chords, then phrases, and then eventually even the pattern of a piece. I love the instant feedback of knowing how close you are to doing things right, and the gradual improvement of playing a piece very slowly and then speeding up as I become more familiar with the way my hands must move. It is a welcome break after work, or even sometimes during the work day if I need to perk myself up. Playing the pieces that I’ve learned reinforces that feeling of competence, while working on the piece that I’m learning reinforces the joy of experimentation and growth.

Another reason why I enjoy playing the piano is that I also end up inspiring J- to experiment with it, to play music and to play with music. When I sit down at the piano, she invariably comes to listen. I move to the left so that she can sit on the piano bench, and I help her practice a few pieces she wants to learn. I mostly just point to the notes on the sheet to help her keep track of where she is, and sometimes I’ll play passages for her. This turns it into a bit of a memory game, too.

She told me I’m a better music teacher than the last one she had. Me, I just want to help her get even deeper into the joy of learning. =) And it pays off. Sometimes, when W- and I are working in the kitchen, we hear the faint strains of someone figuring out a new piece of music–from one of the piano books lying around, or from her memory.

These experiences would be much more difficult to have if we didn’t have a piano in the house. Now that I’m starting to get the hang of it, I wish I’d opened up and let myself try it sooner, on the piano in my parents’ house. But maybe I needed to listen to a lot more music in order to enjoy playing it, and now that I can play a little bit, I’ll enjoy listening to music even more.

  • Renan Galang

    exactly the same thoughts I have with my piano playing. I took lessons as a child myself, and like you didn’t think much of what I was doing then. I regret not being able to appreciate it then and continue the lessons … I could’ve been a master now! (well, one can dream!).

  • Guy Eschemann

    Besides my teacher, the following sites have been a great source of inspiration for my piano practice

    – Everything by user Bernhard on the pianostreet.com forums, e.g. http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,4988.msg47452.html#msg47452

    Have fun,

  • Rick Innis

    I’ve been learning to play fiddle over the past few years, and it’s been a source of both intense frustration and great delight. One thing I know is that my ear has improved – I can pick up a guitar, play along with a record and usually work out the key and chord changes within a couple of listens, which is something I used to think I couldn’t do.

  • Renan: You can start now, and get really good in about 10 years… =) Never too late to start!

  • This reminds me that i’m supposed to learn how to play the piano this year. Must find time.

  • The title caught my attention. I actually blog before about my experience with my kids in learning to play the piano. Hehehe.

  • Renan Galang

    i have actually (re)started learning around 5 or 7 years ago. I am proud to say I am significantly better than before … but still not a master! I’m thinking of picking up Jazz piano though, just to spice things up.
    it’s nice to read about other people’s adventures with self-taught piano :)

  • I first learned to play the oboe, and then electric bass. Although guitar players will make jokes about bass only having four strings, the instrument is relatively theoretical in understanding harmony and modes. Thus, I took a group class in jazz piano when I was living in Vancouver … which really jumped me ahead in my systemic understanding of music.

    I like the Berklee methods, and have copies of the Modern Method for Keyboard Study, which has been discontinued. I understand that the Berklee Practice Method is now the substitute. Learning jazz theory is really helpful to figure out where those fingers land.