Back to the Basics
I quit playing the piano when I was eleven. My mom warned me I would regret it, but of course, I knew better. How could I ever lament trading hours of lessons and practice for more time with friends and Hannah Montana? I could not fathom a reality where that was the case.
Thirteen years later, I realize I made a bad trade. Mom, you were right. No one is surprised.
It’s not that I didn’t like practicing—I enjoyed wrestling through a difficult song to finally play it perfectly. I loved being able to make music.
But I hated the lessons. What my teacher thought was a lack of effort and practice was actually a deep lack of understanding; I couldn’t read the music. This frustrated both of us to no end.
My strategy for playing was to determine the first note of the piece and then wing it. This worked for a while, especially with songs I could sound out from memory, and with enough practice, I could master harder songs. But I was always looking at my hands, not at the music. And the process was agonizing because “sounding it out” on the piano meant hitting a lot of wrong notes and wishing for earplugs.
So I quit. And for all the years since, pianos have ever so slightly haunted me with regret. I wish I could have played my favorite songs in the coffee shop in Frankfort, Michigan, or in the church in York, England, or on my grandmother’s treasured grand piano.
But because I don’t want my eleven-year-old decision-making skills to keep me from ever playing again, this fall I’ve decided to re-learn how to play piano. I’ve borrowed a keyboard, printed off some free sheet music, and begun searching YouTube for a quality instructional video I can actually sit through (a greater challenge than I anticipated—there are some very painful piano analogies out there). So far, I’ve only mastered “Happy Birthday,” and I didn’t need sheet music for that one.
I’ve surprised myself with what I’ve remembered and with what I somehow never knew during my years of playing. I recalled the acronym for the lines on the treble clef (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, obviously), but the world of sharps and flats only made sense to me as of yesterday. I forgot the amount of focus and coordination it takes to play different notes on both hands at different times, but the frustration when I mess up for the thirtieth time in a row feels very familiar.
I’m writing this partially to keep myself accountable—I am determined not to quit again. My nights spent with various internet instructors and free sheet music will hopefully be rewarding, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever play as well as my grandmother. In the meantime, I sincerely apologize to all of my neighbors.
Olivia graduated from Calvin in May 2018 with a double major in business and writing. She now works as an editor in Nashville, Tennessee and is eating her way through the restaurants of her new town. She enjoys weekend trips with friends, petting other people’s dogs, and drinking coffee like a Gilmore Girl.