Learning the Piano Part 1: The Why
Recently, my friends Zann and JS got married. I wanted to do something special to celebrate this, so I learnt to play a piano piece and then shared this with them on Facebook.
When I first thought of doing this, I was apprehensive, the Internet being what it is. At best, I knew it would be ignored by many highbrow connoisseurs as unworthy of their attention. At worst, it was an open invitation to the internet experts to lay into me, critiquing this or that, missing the point of my endeavor altogether.
But ultimately it was my friends I was doing this for, not the snobs who have to assert their level of sophistication and who could probably find something to critique about Lang Lang’s or Wang Yuja’s playing too. So I made the leap and did it.
The result was my friends were delighted, I felt pleased to have done this, and I’m now motivated for more.
It’s been more than a year since I decided to try learning the piano again. Although it’s been hard, it’s also been lots of fun. Like starting an exercise programme to get your health back after a long period of inactivity, anything worth doing often takes time and effort.
So why did I choose to learn the piano again, after abandoning it more than twenty years ago as a hopeless cause?
Lifelong Learning and CANI
There’s an acronym I learnt years ago from Anthony Robbins.
CANI – Continuous And Neverending Improvement
CANI is an important part of the AA35 philosophy, and on a very obvious level, learning the piano has to do with my personal belief in Lifelong Learning. You should always be learning something to keep yourself challenged, your mind fresh, and your experiences and abilities growing. That’s one aspect of living a Full Life: maximizing your potential in the things you deem important.
I like that it also spells “Can I?”
Anything worth doing and learning will involve challenges. Can I do this?
Learning the piano presented challenges for me, such as time, age, coordination, and sensitivity of touch.
Can I do this?
I thought of all the benefits I would get from learning it, and decided I wanted to make it one of my Lifelong Learning goals. Indeed, considering how bad I am now with where I hope to be, it probably is going to be a lifelong endeavour! That’s great because it will improve in parallel with my Life as it rolls on. I can’t wait to see what I can do six months, a year, three, five from now! That accumulation of experience and skill is going to be exhilarating!
Relive the Past
As you’d expect reading this blog, I am not a believer in decrying the passage of time and bemoaning our inability to reverse it. Certainly my way of staying young isn’t manipulation of time unless it’s freeing some up for exercise and cooking! That said, just because you can’t go home again doesn’t mean you can’t keep memories of home in your heart… whatever that “home” may refer to.
There is something special about music that makes it a powerful memory anchor.
Many tunes can trigger a memory of something past, whether momentous or trivial, often because that song was playing at the time. When we hear this song years later, everything about that past comes into clear focus: people, location, situation… even if it happened years ago!
There are songs that make me happy, sad, hopeful, depressed, or any mix of a spectrum of feelings because of the memories they link me back to. All these memories have meaning and are precious, because they helped shape who I am today. If I can play those songs, it’s another way to reconnect with those experiences. If I can play 小白船 for example, it connects me to the time I was seven years old and my mum sang it to us every night.
In a way, it’s reliving the past, but in a more active way.
Being able to play music means you can entertain, delight and make a connection with people from strangers to loved ones. Imagine playing Christmas songs during Christmas, a favourite song for someone’s birthday, or a popular tune that everyone can recognize.
Learning and then playing a tune can make a very good gift too. It takes a lot of time, effort, dedication and focus on this one goal to do this, especially if it’s a song you don’t particularly like yourself! But it will be special and meaningful to the right person.
Music can also move people, and you don’t necessarily have to be the most soulful player too. This is especially if you are playing for special people who will understand your meaning and intention rather than quarreling about the finer points of whether you played a part with p or mp.
A Break from Boredom
Ever had the feeling that you had too much time to kill?
Me neither! After all when you’re living Life to the Full and maximizing your experiences, you often feel you have too little!
BUT… there’s only so much you can do for a protracted period before your focus and energy falter. When that happens, it’s good to have something to do for a break, not just sleep or watch TV while scarfing down a donut.
I believe a break should be something sufficiently different from what you’re doing, but equally contributive to your Life in other ways so that you rest times are never wasted.
Learning the piano fulfils those criteria for me. Often, when my creativity is at an impasse, learning a piano piece takes my mind off a forced generation of bad ideas. Minutes and hours can pass without my knowing it, but after I’m finished, I can return to whatever challenge I’m facing with renewed energy and mental acuity.
As a little bonus, a digital piano has been a tremendous boon during bouts of insomnia. You can turn the volume of a digital piano low, or just plug earphones in. You won’t disturb the neighbours, and you spend the time doing something useful instead of staring up at the ceiling for aeons.
Mode of Expression
Being able to play an instrument gives you an additional avenue for expressing yourself.
Be it emotions or intentions, there are some things that words, spoken or written, just cannot adequately give you that catharsis that playing a musical instrument can. This is especially useful for when it would, indeed, be best to keep some of those thoughts to yourself! Here, music can help – be it the choice of song, the way you play it, or both.
Listen to this rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp Minor (No.20)
What do you think the player is feeling?
At a very basic level, learning is gaining knowledge. Learning to play the piano has given me knowledge of an absolutely fascinating subject.
I have developed an appreciation for the structure of music: how a song or tune is put together with notes and rhythms, how different chords create different moods and nuances, and how changing a single element can affect the entire mood of the composition.
Don’t get me wrong. I disagree with the bovarism of some highbrow snobs and their conceit that they can enjoy music more because they know more. That’s nonsense. You don’t need inside knowledge to be moved by music, and deconstructing the whys and hows of music won’t make you more qualified to enjoy it.
Still, knowing a bit of musical theory has deepened my understanding of music, an appreciation for how it works, and learning itself imparts a joy of its own.
I’m really excited to have started this, and look forward to a wonderful learning experience. I am confident that this is something that will add to my Life in many ways, some which I cannot even begin to imagine.
Being excited is the first step of course.
But it’s the subsequent, practical action steps, that will make that dream a reality.
That’s what I want to share next time – a process that will benefit you in anything you care to do, whether it’s to lose weight or gain financial freedom.
Till then, half of the first month for 2015 has gone already. Hope you’ve had a running start!
For more on the AA35 take on Lifelong Learning, check out these articles.