- Life Lesson #1: Learning to Play the Piano Takes Time
- Life Lesson #2: Don't Repeat Mistakes in Piano Lessons
- Life Lesson #3: Work on Your Own, Outside of Your Piano Lessons
- Life Lesson #4: Learning Requires Patience
- Life Lesson #5: Perseverance
- Life Lesson #6: You must Extend Your Reach when Learning to Play the Piano
- Bonus Life Lessons: How Else Does Learning the Piano Apply to Daily Life?
Deciding to learn to play the piano and become a pianist means consciously diving into several centuries of musical history.
Developed around the 18th century and evolved from the clavichord and the dulcimer, the piano has become one of the world's favourite and most recognisable musical instruments.
Consider the long and illustrious list of people whose lives have revolved around piano playing: Bach, Debussy, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Chick Corea, to name a very few.
In spite of the explosion of online piano tutorials, if you genuinely want to learn how to play the piano - as opposed to just tinkering with it when you're in the mood, you'll need to find a good piano teacher who knows how to impart the basics of this stringed instrument (how to read music, for example), but it often goes further than that...
Learning to play the piano is a very complex undertaking.
You'll encounter frustration, difficulties, admonishing (and praise!) from your piano teacher and the challenges of mastering complex melodies.
But these piano lessons, in many ways, will be a collection of lessons that also apply to life in general.
Perseverance, patience, self-correction and self-improvement...
So, does that mean your piano teacher is essentially a life teacher? Let's take a closer look at how learning to play the piano mirrors learning life lessons.
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Life Lesson #1: Learning to Play the Piano Takes Time
This life lesson that you'll undoubtedly learn from your piano teacher can be applied to almost facet of life.
When you get started with piano lessons, it's often recommended that you begin slowly; mastering this instrument is not something that can be rushed!
Your teacher will go over the introductory aspects of music (whole notes, half, quarter, eighth, silent...) during your lessons. In fact, your first few lessons will comprise mostly of musical theory and mechanics. To illustrate the reason for that, we'll use a sports analogy.
Have you ever seen a beginner skier or snowboarder on the trails?
Might you perhaps recall your own fledgeling attempts to navigate the slopes without taking a tumble? Do you remember wanting to go faster than sound, yearning for exhilarating runs on the black diamond trails all the other skiers brag about, even though you'd only just strapped on your first pair of skis?
Don't you know you first must learn how to brake and turn? How to read the slope? Otherwise, you have a roughly one in three chance of crashing into something or simply losing control and careening down to a disastrous, possibly deadly stop.
Likewise, as a budding pianist, you will have to learn about chords and keys before you can attempt to play any of Liszt's piano concertos!
Playing the piano means starting with the basics: how to read music, time signatures, rhythmic notations and more.
You may wonder what you need all of that for - after all, you don't need to know how an engine works in order to drive a car, so the temptation to gloss over teachers' instructions on these subjects would be strong.
Unless you are wildly talented, you don't start out playing the piano like a world-renown pianist. Even if you are endowed with tons of raw talent like Stephen Hough who, by the way, started piano lessons when he was only five years old, you would still have to learn music rudiments.
Like learning anything worthwhile, learning the piano will take time.
Discover also 10 reasons why you should play the piano...
Life Lesson #2: Don't Repeat Mistakes in Piano Lessons
Making mistakes when you're learning to play the piano is normal.
Making mistakes is a natural part of life and a natural part of learning to play the piano. Though maxims specifically related to piano playing are scant, there are hundreds of adages that address the virtue of failure:
- "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." — Friedrich Nietzche
- "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." — Winston Churchill
- "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." — Michael Jordan
Fortunately, mistakes in piano playing cost you little - you won't lose your livelihood or your life if you repeatedly play in the wrong key when learning a new piece, unlike if you were to, say, repeatedly make bad investments.
Striking the keys incorrectly, missing a transition, playing the wrong note, confusing the rhythm... while perfectly normal for any piano student, would show as carelessness if you failed to address such errors.
This could cause a slowdown of instruction and frustration at not mastering simple rudiments quickly and effortlessly. It may even stall your progress as you learn to become a pianist.
Continually making the same mistakes as you learn to play the piano will bring you no gains, just as repeating the same mistakes in life or in a sports arena will award you nothing but frustration and shame; possibly even ruination.
There is nothing your piano teacher can do about your repeating mistakes. It's up to you to get things right and overcome all of the other challenges!
You may find you can achieve a variety of goals through piano lessons!
Life Lesson #3: Work on Your Own, Outside of Your Piano Lessons
In order to become a good pianist, you must work on it on your own.
Mastering the concepts of piano playing isn't done strictly within the confines of the lessons you take with your teacher. To progress, you will need to spend at least two to three hours per week, practising on your own.
That is only a guideline, of course. If you are a particularly motivated student, it is quite possible you will spend hours practising chords and your fingering.
How does that principle correlate to other areas of your life?
Let's say you are an economist: wouldn't you read publications related to economics? If you were in advertising, you would pass idle moments thinking up attention-grabbing slogans. If you were a chef, you would probably visit competing restaurants to check out their menu.
In short: unless you are only working a job for your paycheck, you will have an interest in your work that will inevitably spill over into your leisure time.
Why should learning how to play the piano be any different?
Ideally, you'd practice every day in order to learn the basics quickly. If you're really drawn to the piano or you have some urgent reason for learning how to tinkle the ivories - say, your parents' upcoming silver jubilee, you may take your place on the piano bench for more than an hour every day!
Each lesson that your piano teacher plans will invariably include new skills and aspects of playing that you will need to at least grasp before moving on. It would be safe to say that your hour with your teacher will not be enough time to cement this knowledge; you will have to spend time on your own, working through those new concepts.
A piano teacher will give you the keys to unlock the mysteries of music. It's up to you to open that door and take the knowledge you seek by practising diligently outside of the lessons.
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Life Lesson #4: Learning Requires Patience
Impulsive people, unfortunately, don't always make the best students.
Confessions from an overeager student: frustration abounds when I cannot master something quickly. Like so many other learners, my desire to cut through the muck and get to the meat of things is sometimes overwhelming.
When I started taking piano lessons, I quickly realised that the metronome, ticking slowly and steadily, could be made to count so much faster: why did the teacher set it at such a low speed?
How I yearned to slide its weight to the bottom of the pendulum, make it lash furiously back and forth! One day, I did... and the gentle scales I'd been practising suddenly took off like a bolting horse, galloping away with nostrils flaring and tail flying!
It was not exhilarating but frightening.
I couldn't keep up. I couldn't make my fingers move that quickly and soon started dropping notes, misplacing my hands and flubbing the entire exercise. Red-faced and ashamed at my inability to meet my own ego's aspirations, I settled into my prescribed rhythm and never again challenged the tempo set by my teacher.
Fortunately, I did that while practising on my own, not in lessons.
A metronome could serve as a symbol of how to pace ourselves in life. You could go faster, work longer, run farther... but what are you sacrificing for the sake of speed?
Another fine example of the need for patience is the QWERTY keyboard layout.
Christopher Sholes, one of the inventors of the early typewriter had a nagging problem: if a typist was quick, the machine's keys would jam. Rather than sacrificing typing speed to constantly jamming equipment, he mixed up the order of the keys. Frequently used letters were placed next to infrequently used ones.
Typists now had to work more slowly in order to strike the right key, thus preventing further machine jams. Interestingly enough, once they got used to the new layout, they could work faster and more accurately!
The takeaway? Go slower, learn those fundamentals - internalise them! If you get through your head the fact that learning the piano properly takes time and patience, you will ultimately learn to play better than you ever thought you could!
What's really great is that your newfound patience will temper every aspect of your life. Won't it be great to finally slow down and smell the roses?
Discover our tips for finding your ideal piano teacher...
Life Lesson #5: Perseverance
The show must go on.
Please realise that you might encounter some setbacks as you learn to play the piano. Even as you learn the basics, you no doubt harbour great ambitions for a lasting relationship with that mystical instrument.
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Let's take a peek into the future. Imagine yourself in a small theatre. You are called to the stage for a performance. In the audience are lots of pianists like you, along with your parents and your friends. Of course, your piano teacher is there, too.
This is your first recital and you're stressed. You are expected to play an entire composition, in the spotlight, after only six months spent of learning to play the piano.
You take a bow and sit down on the bench, take a deep breath and start playing. The first notes echo your shakiness and hesitation. Pushing on, you surprise yourself and your music teacher by making a few mistakes even though you had practised daily and know the piece well.
In an instant, you feel dejected. All of your dreams of a life at the keyboard are stripped away. Your future lies ahead, barren and colourless; devoid of music.
Don't give up because of this misstep. It was just a small failure caused by momentary stress. Nothing very serious; in fact, it is quite likely that only you and your teacher noticed.
As a matter of fact, we might venture a step further to state that nobody expected perfection but you.
It is a common impulse for people - everyone, not just burgeoning piano players, to throw in the towel at the first sign of failure. If everyone did that, how would any progress ever be made?
Succeeding in life and learning to play the piano means persevering: through mistakes, through adversity; even through those times when you wonder why you ever set yourself on such a seemingly arduous path.
It takes work and more than a few mistakes to progress. So, if you do flub your first recital, feel free to tell yourself that, apart from your piano teacher - who will remain supportive, no one else in the theatre cared that you made mistakes!
Perhaps you could even adopt the audience's attitude: that you are possessed of amazing bravery, getting up on stage and playing in front of everyone the way you did!
In fact, that paradigm shift could benefit other areas of your life...
But if you, mortified at your error, quit playing in the middle of your recital... everyone will recognise that something is wrong and automatically think the worst.
That is why you must persevere: the show must go on!
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Life Lesson #6: You must Extend Your Reach when Learning to Play the Piano
The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them, to the impossible - Arthur Clarke
Even though children as young as four take piano lessons, their tiny hands learn to stretch so they can play chords and span octaves. The ability to span an octave is vital to playing more complex pieces of music.
Your teacher will probably not expect you to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata until you've progressed sufficiently in your playing - meaning that you've mastered chords and can play several melodies competently.
However, in order to progress beyond simple pieces, your hands will have to become dexterous and swift, able to span a whole octave before contemplating playing more difficult pieces.
The same might be said of life: if you don't push your boundaries, how will you know what you're truly capable of?
All manner of jargon pertaining to reaching beyond one's capabilities has lately taken centre stage in the business world: thinking outside the box means thinking of unconventional solutions to a traditional problem. Life coaches advocate stepping outside one's comfort zone in order to foster psychological and mental growth.
Survivalist Bear Grylls has achieved worldwide recognition by constantly pushing his limits: of endurance, of tolerance; even of what the human body is capable in adverse conditions.
Unless you train your hand to stretch beyond what, till now, has been its normal range, you will forever be a mildly capable piano player, competently rendering only the less challenging pieces - certainly not destined to replace Lang-Lang on the world stage!
Much like learning to palm a basketball, extending your reach for piano playing takes practice and technique. While the size of your hands does matter, by far more critical is the position of your wrist and how fast you can move your hands.
There are steps, tricks and exercises you can do to extend your hands'reach.
As for reaching beyond your comfort zone in life... aren't you already doing that by learning how to play the piano? Why not see where else you might grow beyond your boundaries?
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Bonus Life Lessons: How Else Does Learning the Piano Apply to Daily Life?
It would be overly simplistic to glean only six life truths from a piano's 88 keys and all of the music they can make.
The human experience should not be painted only in black and white; likewise, there is so much more to the piano than those contrasting colours that make up the keyboard!
If ever there were a life lesson to be had from the piano, wouldn't the above statement be the most apt?
Little in life or piano playing is binary. As a matter of fact, the piano makes an excellent case for shading and nuance that is reflected in real life!
It is true that the keys are black and white. However, playing the piano involves the use of both black and white keys simultaneously, often within the same bar of music.
And then, those lines of distinction are further blurred. Depending on which key the piece is written, those enharmonics can represent either a sharp or flat note. Furthermore, you have the use of pedals to contend with: a sustaining pedal and a soft pedal; some pianos even have a third pedal called the sostenuto!
The use of pedals represents yet another dichotomy: one plays the piano with one's hands but footwork, the application of the pedals, changes the tone and quality of any note or piece.
Finally, let us consider the instrument itself: it is a stringed instrument that must be regularly tuned, like a guitar, Yet hammers beat those strings as a mallet would beat a drum. Should it be considered a percussion instrument, then? But isn't its keyboard a defining feature, putting it in the same class as organs and harpsichords?
Like Churchill's 'riddle, mystery, enigma' quote, the piano is a multi-layered, complex proposition that is perpetually difficult to pigeonhole - so is life!
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Bonus Lesson#2: The Right Hand Doesn't Know What the Left is Doing
This remark, often derisively made about management and political factions, is also suitable for the particular talent piano players have of playing chords with one hand while the other thunders out the melody.
You might not like or even see the point of management handing down an edict that is seemingly counterproductive to your daily tasks, but you have to realise that upper management sees more of the (figurative) pie than your individual slice.
Let's say you work on an assembly line. Whereas you've always put the product's components together in a certain order, management changes that order, causing uncertainty in your ability to fulfil your tasks in a timely manner and confusion at the sudden, new direction.
Confusion that, as is often the case, did not get assuaged by much explanation.
It is not likely that the change was brought on just to make workers' lives more difficult. The more probable scenario is that an efficiency expert advocated that change with the caveat that there would be a difficult time during the transition to the new production method.
Even though you might intuit the reason for such a change, you may still walk away from the meeting informing of those changes, shaking your head and muttering 'here again, a case where the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing!'
No matter what your personal feeling is about upper management and all of their follies, you will still have to adopt the change in process, challenging yourself to get good at the new order, and fast... or risk losing your job.
The same will happen to you when you learn to play the piano: you will have the challenge of retraining your hands to fulfil completely different functions, entirely independent of one another.
However, your piano teacher will be far more generous than any factory boss about communicating the need for such independence and retraining and you won't risk losing your livelihood.
Most likely, to effectively train your hands, you will first play chords and scales with both hands, only later progressing to split hand movement, when your left hand will play the scales or pick out the melody while your right hand plays the chords.
Will your left hand know what its right counterpart is doing when you play the piano? Probably; they are both your hands, after all.
However, just like management versus labour, they will function seemingly independent of one another to achieve a common goal. In the case of piano playing, that goal is making beautiful music.
Seen in that light, one hand not knowing what the other is doing is a pretty good thing, isn't it?
Bonus Lesson #3: What Should Your Focus be On?
The feet! The hands... and turning the page, too?
You might say that playing the piano is a total body exercise: your feet work the pedals, your hands ply the keys and your eyes travel back and forth between the sheet music and your hands...
And let's not forget that you have to reach up to turn to the next page of your sheet music!
Here again, there is a parallel to life. Seldom does anyone have just one thing to focus on; there is work, family, friends, health concerns, financial worries, the future, the environment...
And, just like playing the piano, several aspects of life clamour for your attention at once: could one sacrifice work for the sake of family or vice versa? Should one ignore one's health for the sake of financial stability?
In fact, all of these aspects of life - and piano - must happen simultaneously and harmoniously to ensure success.
What your piano teacher will strive to instil in you is the ability to do what is needed when it is needed without consciously planning or thinking of the action.
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