by Rob Price via the Business Insider.
When I was about seven or eight, I went for a taster violin lesson at school. The idea was to get an idea for the instrument, and see if I wanted to learn properly. I enjoyed it — but the expected lessons never materialised.
A few years later, I asked my mother why: Apparently the tutor had refused to teach me.
It’s fair to say that I am not a natural musician.
But at the start of 2016, I resolved to change that. I decided to learn the piano.
It was a year of immense frustrations, and deep satisfaction — and endless Philip Glass. It expanded my horizons, and forced me to confront my failings head on. And for that reason alone, I’d recommend it to anyone.
Why? I wanted to do something totally new
I’m 24 years old, I live in London, and I’ve gone through life without knowing the first thing about music. I love to listen to it — I’ve got a pretty big collection, and I go to gigs regularly. But how it’s made has always been one great big opaque mystery to me.
Both of my brothers play — saxophone and guitar, respectively — but the extent of my musical education was tapping out basic beats on a glockenspiel and learning the first few bars of “Neighbours” on the piano at school. So why did I take the plunge now? Well, there were a few reasons:
- I wanted to challenge myself. 2016 was the start of my third year living in London. I’d settled into a routine, and wanted to add some variety to my life — and something that would push me in a new direction.
- I wanted to do something totally new. Learning music for the first time isn’t like taking up a new team ball-sport, or an unusual arts-and-crafts activity. Music is an entirely new category of human endeavour I have never meaningfully engaged in before. That makes it pretty exciting — and intimidating.
- I love music. Pretty self-explanatory. I hoped that learning an instrument for the first time would enrich my appreciation of the artform.
I also set myself a few goals — some strict, and some more nebulous.
- Pass my Grade 1 piano exam by the end of 2016. If you’re not familiar with the system, you can take exams as you learn instruments, from Grade 1 through to Grade 8. A clear target of reaching Grade 1 by the end of the year would give me something to work towards, a way to measure my success or failure.
- Improve my knowledge of classical music. I had no strict timeframe for this, or a set point when it would be “completed.” But I’ve never known my Bach from my Beethoven, and I wanted to change that.
- Learn “Metamorphosis II,” by Philip Glass. This was a longer-term goal, beyond 2016 — it’s a beautiful, flowing, and technically tricky bit of music that I wanted to work towards as I got better.
How did it all go? The short version is that it was fantastic — I’m extremely glad I did it, and I’d strongly urge to anyone thinking about taking up an instrument to do it, whatever your age.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however.
Learning something new is a lesson in humility and patience
Note: The following sections go into some detail on what and how I learned. If you just want to know whether I passed the exam or not, skip down to the “arcane mystery” section below.
Let me make this clear: Piano is hard. Really hard. It requires you to think in a way you’ve never done before, juggling a thousand balls simultaneously. Interpret the music. Keep the tempo. Vary the volume. Move both hands independently of one-another. Make sure it all actually sounds good.
You know that brain-straining feeling when you try and multiply three three-digit numbers together? That’s what it felt like to be interpreting and playing music on the fly.