“When I was little, I loved to sit at the piano and explore the sounds I made on the keyboard. But when I started taking lessons, I just wanted to quit!” “My piano teacher never let me play the fun songs because my scales weren’t good enough. I never continued playing”. Or, “Piano was so fun when I started taking lessons, but then I had to practice so much just to pass exams”. So often I hear statements similar to these; stories outlining the death of the passion that once existed for the piano and explore what it has to offer.
Have you ever experienced wanting something so bad, that you did whatever you could to get it? Maybe as a child, it was a toy you saw in a store, and you begged your parents for days to get it. Or perhaps it was a classmate who aced an exam that you thought you studied enough for, and so you put in WAY more effort on the next exam to do the same? Whatever it may have been, there was a spark that ignited a fire in you, so to speak, and drove you to get out of your comfort zone and achieve that desire. The fact is, this state of mind is when we learn the fastest, with the most enjoyment.
The nice thing is, learning to play the piano is no different. There was that first instance, where you saw a piano, heard the sound it makes, and tried pressing keys yourself and generated your own sound. It drew you to play it over and over. Or did it? There was something inside you that once sparked, started burning. It was a fiery passion that started for something you may have never seen before, but you knew you needed to pursue it. But then…
Enter, piano lessons. While in Elementary school, a few of my friends lived in homes that had a piano inside. I would go to their homes to hang out, but would get distracted by this instrument every time. While my friends were playing the latest popular game, I would wander off to the living room and sit at the piano. There was something fascinating to me about pressing down these white and black keys, and producing sound. A unique satisfaction was had when pressing my fingers down on the keys and experimenting with different sounds. Thus, I asked my parents to put me into piano lessons so that I could figure this thing out.
After a few weeks of consistently asking for lessons, my parents finally enrolled me in a local music studio. There, I was assigned a teacher, and began my structured journey to become affluent at this instrument. I got my first music book, and started to learn how to read notes. The short, simple tunes all had lyrics to go along with them, where I could sing along. Insecure with my voice, I generally opted out of this practice. As I was progressing through the short pieces, the enjoyment was there. I got to play in my first recital, and that was exciting. After I completed the beginner books, my teacher started me on a grading system. Here, I had to start learning technique (scales, triads, etc.) and start memorizing a few pieces. My teacher would then inform me that I had an upcoming exam, and would have to memorize a couple more pieces, and had to play my technical exercises at a certain speed. The fun of playing these short little tunes with pictures and lyrics was over.
As a male, according to some research, I had the disposition of having a competitive nature. And the fact is, I certainly did. The fun, more playful part of my piano education seemed to be done, but this new found challenge of playing pieces by memory in front of an adjudicator, as well as scales and triads without mistake was a pleasant challenge. However, the “innocence” of playing pieces for the fun of it seemed to have dissipated.
Years go by, and my skills improve. I make friends at the studio, and we challenge each other to learn more and more difficult pieces. We then had many opportunities to perform our skills in front of our parents and other audience members. It seemed almost “cold”, but efficient. My goal was to get my “black belt” of piano, and pass the grade 10 exam. At this point, I was still struggling getting through grade 8 requirements, but the thought of that accomplishment was appealing. Having to dedicate a minimum of 2 hours a day to practice started to become a stale part of my day. I also had the push to do well in high school, so I toyed with the idea of quitting.
Long story short, I did not quit. Through the encouragement of my peers, and enticement to start teaching and generating an income as a teenager was appealing. But my motivation to continue practicing at this point was the competition with myself. This approach, however, is not for everyone. But what is for everyone, is igniting the fiery passion from within that is naturally there. This is not a forced affair. It is something that occurs naturally, and is sustained through honesty. That honesty is when a person tells themselves why exactly they want to do that motivates them.
That fiery passion doesn’t come around very often. It is an overwhelming feeling of pursuit, that can just as easily be kiboshed. So many a time as a youth, was I so focused in my practice, only to completely halted by a call for dinner or to complete some menial task. Then, once returning to the instrument, have absolutely no desire to continue practicing. That passion really is momentary. And when we can devote maximum, continued effort towards that passion and desire, do we achieve greatness.