Piano Lessons: 10 Life Lessons the Piano Taught Me

PC: Evy Beach

I have been enamored with the piano since I was a little girl.  Both of my parents played and all of us children had lessons.  I remember watching my mother's hands as she played and just could not understand how she knew which notes to press.  

I started piano lessons when I was nine years old and have been a student of the piano ever since. I'm no virtuoso, but I really enjoy playing.  It is a gift my parents gave me that I reopen almost every day. I even get to play in church frequently. However, there have been many times even as an adult that I wanted to give it up, but it is never long until I find myself right back on that bench again.  It is my relaxation and my communion with God.  Even if no one ever heard me play, it is mine to enjoy.

I have gone from piano student to piano teacher. Ha! "Piano teacher." I've never taught the piano a thing, but it sure has taught me a lot.

Lessons the piano taught me:

1. Don't dwell on mistakes. Keep going.    
"What just happened? B flat is right, isn't it? I can't believe I missed that! I am ruining this worship service!" These are my thoughts after a mistake as I continue playing the rest of the song. Being paralyzed by a mistake causes me to be unprepared for the next thing. Mistakes should be like a glass of cold water in my face--now on full alert and focused on what is next. There will be time for reflection later but now it's time to get it done. God's mercies are new every morning.

Don't let the past debilitate you. Move on.

2. I can do hard things.  
I could give up on a piece after the first try saying "It's too hard for me. I can't do it." But I have seen too many times what consistent work can do to let something difficult stop me. The first time is the hardest. Once that's behind me, it gets easier and easier...and I become a stronger and stronger musician. As a Christian, I can call on God to strengthen me and He does for me what I could not do on my own.

Let God surprise you with what He can do through you.

3. Just because I am focused on my mistakes doesn't mean everyone else is.  
I have felt like a failure after playing less than ideally in church and those are the times people tell me they were so blessed, and not just because they felt sorry for me -- they honestly didn't hear anything wrong. I wonder if God does a miracle on people's ears and allows them to hear right notes when I hear wrong ones. I have learned to just thank them instead of trying to convince them that it wasn't as good as they think.

Be glad for the good you did.

4.  The journey is more fun than arriving at the destination.  
How I enjoy playing the piano at home preparing to play in church! It's fun. I worship. I cry.  I express myself to God and am focused on Who He is. I think through problems and feelings. The creative juices flow. When it's time to play in church, I am just sharing with others what's been going on at home and hoping they hear my heart. However, sometimes I get this "can I get off the roller coaster at the top of the hill" feeling when it is time to approach the bench, and I feel relieved when it is over. I still enjoy it, but the most enjoyment was in the preparation.

Enjoy the process.

5.  Performance is a mind game.  
If I'm thinking about who's listening, that my shoe is squeaking, my leg is shaking, someone just sneezed, my nose itches, I hear people talking, I should have trimmed my nails, and so on, I will lose my place or not be ready for the hard part or even botch the part I never missed before. Focus is the challenge, and it is a life skill that helps me perform.

Be in the moment.

6. It is rarely as good in performance as it was in practice.
An unfamiliar piano and nerves are two challenges I didn't face at home. Also, there is no need to think I will get it even mostly right this one time if I haven't done it perfectly right many times in practice.

Your private performance must surpass your public performance.

(By the way, did you ever realize that pianists are musicians who rarely perform on their own instruments? We have to adjust during performance to an instrument that we have had little to no experience playing. The touch, the pedal, the music stand, the sound--it's all different than the many times we practiced. At least we don't have to put it together, tune it, and worry about it being lost or stolen everywhere we go.)

7.  I will miss it if i don't anticipate it.
Here comes that tricky part. Flag it. Write a note. It will trip me up every time if I am not  expecting it. In practice, I have to comb through the measures to pinpoint the problem. This works a lot better than just playing through the whole piece the same way over and over.

Deal with problems head on.

8.  When there is too much to do, I must leave something out. 
When accompanying, the beat goes on whether or not I play every note.  Maybe I can put them in once I get more familiar with the piece, but there is no sense in sacrificing the whole piece just to say I played it all. Moms and students, I hope you get this one especially.  This can take the panic out of your life.

Are you going to do the important stuff well, or are you going to do everything? 

9.  When I am solo, no one is controlling my tempo but me.  
There is no need to go faster than I am able to go.  If I am the only one playing, I can play the speed I want to play. I will get there eventually, but it might be better if I get there at a slower pace.

Don't get ahead of yourself.

10. A modest success is better than a fantastic failure.
I can play advanced hymn arrangements. At home alone. On my instrument. On my best day. After a ton of practice. But add one listening ear and I am no longer at the top of my game. Therefore, I should take one step back and perform intermediate or early advanced pieces in public. Playing an easier piece well feels better than quivering through a harder one.

Know your strength level and shine there.

PC: Evy Beach

I am finding that the things in my life that frustrate me the most and tempt me to give up--playing the piano, being a wife, being a mother--are the things that are instruments of my greatest growth and joy. I'm (figuratively) screaming "I QUIT!" in the same breath that I'm (literally) whispering "God, help me! OK. Let's figure this thing out." There is something magnetic about these challenges that has my mind programmed to keep on with it. Try again. This is my life and it's not going away.  As much as I wish I could escape the difficulties, I jump right back in and keep working at it. 

You see, once you love something, you don't WANT to give it up. I'm talking about a committed love that says, "Good or bad, I'm here to stay." And honing a skill, being a wife, and rearing children are all worth the blood, sweat, and tears. Easily.

Faithfulness. Going on in spite of difficulty. THAT is what the piano taught me. And THAT is the key to success.