When I was seven years old, I desperately wanted to learn how to play the piano. My parents sent me to a performing arts day camp that summer which gave me the opportunity to take lessons, and I made the decision that I was going to learn how to play. One major obstacle was that we didn’t have a piano at home, but I was so determined to play that I asked our next-door neighbors, an elderly couple that had a piano that was sadly neglected and never played, if I could come over and practice piano in their living room. They were gracious and thrilled to have me play their piano each day. My parents, humiliated by my audacious request to our neighbors, realized that my desire to play the piano wasn’t just a passing fancy. I came home from camp, trotted over to my neighbors, and practiced daily. I was serious about it even at such a young age.
Long story short, my parents bought me a piano a few months later and arranged for me to have private lessons. I hated the restrictions of the metronome and a couple of my instructors, including one German man, who was cold and strict, never smiled or said a nice word, but I stayed with the lessons until middle school. Fur Elise was one of my favorite songs to play.
Time passed. My parents retired, downsized and moved to Florida, and let me have the piano. I was happy to have it. I was married, had kids, and later got divorced. The piano stayed with me. I didn’t continue to play it, but the piano moved with me to numerous homes. At this point, it was simply a sentimental attachment to my childhood. My kids weren’t interested in lessons, although my son, pretty much taught himself and would play occasionally. Eventually, I sold the piano. It didn’t make sense to keep moving it. I was now an empty nester and I no longer had the time or desire to continue playing.
Now fast forward more than three decades, through circumstances that I won’t bore you with here, I now have a brand new Yamaha keyboard in my home. No one plays it and it’s gathering dust. But given the current pandemic pressure to stay home, I discovered a new desire to play. Of course, I have to start all over again. It ain’t easy, but I downloaded an app which requires me to place my iphone on the piano and dutifully following the directions for which keys and notes to play. And though I feel like a dummy, so far so good. You know what? I’m proud of myself for trying to learn (ok, relearn) something new.
Here’s why it’s good that I’m playing the piano again. Pandemic or no pandemic, your brain goes stale without new challenges. Learning new skills stimulates brain activity and playing the piano also involves hand eye coordination. I’ve always admired people who play by ear, but that’s never going to be me and I’m ok with that. There’s great satisfaction in getting acquainted once again with how to read music and learn new songs. After all, it’s been ages since my Fur Elise days. As long as I don’t have the high expectations of being a concert pianist, (I would truly be delusional at this point to even fantasize about that), I take it slow and plod along for about twenty minutes each day. It’s surprisingly joyful!
Challenging your brain is critical to improve and maintain your cognitive functioning. I’m learning how challenging it is to basically learn a new skill. I’m also learning to resist the impulse to judge myself too harshly. That may be harder to do than anything.