Author & Teacher

Spring is near, in so many ways…

New learnings, new living, new life…

I’ve spoken of my piano lessons more on Facebook than here. I have had a vision of a music project for years that didn’t pan out; there was never time for a quid pro quo. I started my own training – taking an online course deconstructing Beethoven’s sonatas as a first step. That’s right – starting with the “easy” stuff.

Then I decided that to really learn, I’d have to learn from the inside. So I went back and took lessons.

Like many of my other obsessions (writing, running, teaching) over the years, this one just exploded into a million questions. Why does it work like this? Why do I like that sound, or that progression of notes? Why does tension resolution resonate as it does? How do you decide what sounds work? How does cadence and rhythm figure into things?

To watch a talented pianist play is to be enthralled. My family’s piano teacher has small hands – smaller than my daughter’s – so to watch him play is something special. His hands move differently depending on genre, but it’s the certainty and economy of that movement that is so spectacular. He’s played jazz, ragtime, blues, classical, and his own compositions for me, always showing me HOW he makes things work.

Something interesting and new besides the music always comes out of a lesson. I’ve learned that my learning style is closer to my son’s (more loose, intuitive, try-based) than my daughter’s (she knows all the rules and applies them).

It’s been a long time since anyone watched how I learn something new. My teacher watches how I work out intervals, or time, or time, or melodic minors, in theory and knows exactly how to transfer that to the practical.

All this to say – playing by ear has been demystified for me. I always thought it was something that only really talented people could do. My teacher tells me that while it’s not something everyone can do, I do have the ability to hear the melody and re-create it. This is a huge confidence builder – to be able to apply the theory I’ve been learning (I can sing better, now as well – a few well-placed hints, and my work with intervals has been invaluable) and see that I am capable, that there’s a reason I experience music as I do. My teacher is synesthesic, (synesthetic?) and I read recently that this is something that can be trained as well. (This, however, does not fall on my obsession list.)

For now I’m going to concentrate on putting melodies with chords – and, yes, I’ve learned to stack chords in a way that doesn’t offer a dull clang tone, but allows the notes to sing. For a former barbershop chorus singer, this is as close to heaven as I’ll probably ever get.

I was afraid to take piano, having been told that I was too old to really excel at it. There is no question I can do it – my teacher keeps telling me I can. But, with playing, as in writing, or running, I didn’t believe it until I actually did. And no, I’ll never be a prodigy, but that’s ok.

Learning to play has made me a better teacher. It’s made me appreciate the different kinds of learning my grade eights do – it’s impossible to have everyone learn from one teaching style. A good teacher is able to read his or her student, and adjust the teaching to match the learner.

I am more aware now of the effect self-confidence has on the outcome of my students’ efforts. I want to be the kind of teacher that inspires my students to at least try something new or scary. I want to show that I support those efforts, even if they end in failure at first. I want to be able to read my students like my piano teacher can, and say – “hey, you should try this – it’s definitely something you can do.” Confidence in them, above all.

That kind of faith is what has allowed my daughter to play songs two grades above her RCM level, and to push her toward improvisation – something that is very difficult for her perfectionist soul. My son, once ready to quit, has found an affinity for blues. Of all of us, he has the best natural rhythm. And I’ve been able to figure out Greensleeves – still working on playing the left hand. (The fact that the first song* I will learn to play by ear is at times a song about Mary gives me great joy.)

“Just try different things, Kim. Play. Play around. Trust what you hear. You’ll know when it sounds right.”

And all of this, all of this, applies to writing.

And life itself, really.

*PIECE (okay, okay, Jen)

For Kelly

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