Freshman year of high school, I felt the urge to start playing an instrument. I always admired people who could play the piano, so I decided to take it up and hopefully learn a song or two, create some sort of relationship with the instrument. I was hoping it would become a close friend, more than just an occasional visit.
I remember my living room being taken over by a huge Steinway piano when I was about seven or eight. I recognized it from my grandma’s house and didn’t give it much of a thought beyond its enormity taking up a huge portion of the room. Those are my early memories of the instrument I had so long neglected.
In freshman year, my musical theater-obsessed self realized that my interest in piano was becoming quite serious. It was time to start developing my skills.
I began learning simply by watching others play. I was fascinated by what I saw and honestly regretful that I’d taken so long to recognize such amazing talent. Then there I was, in my living room, rolling out the bench of my piano — in time, a place I would visit daily.
My observations quickly led to application. I found some of my sister’s old piano books, from when she took formal lessons (prior to my instrumental revelation, so I never participated in those) and began matching the keys to letters, learning how to move my fingers to each key. I’m forever grateful for the patience of my family during this experimental stage; I can’t imagine anything I was playing was pleasant to listen to.
These beginner lessons were followed by hours spent watching people on YouTube play popular songs and talk through tutorials. I ditched my beginner piano books for my own head and began with Adele. Listening to songs on the radio encouraged me to go home and try to play them. It was a mixture of learning the notes on paper and playing by ear. As I spent months doing this, I started to learn a lot about myself.
Learning an instrument teaches you much more beyond just how to play the instrument itself. Music is a form of escape and relaxation, and as I learned more, I began to notice patterns in my own behavior. If there was something I couldn’t figure out, like how to move my fingers from one note to the next properly, I would have to repeat the process a million times until it felt easy. Patience was something I had never been able to develop in any other part of my life, until I was sitting there at my piano bench.
I feel like most things I’ve ever learned to do in my life have been guided by some sort of set way of teaching and learning. You learn how to read through established techniques, you learn a new language from an instructor in an organized fashion. But piano was entirely up to me. I had to decide what worked best for me. Watching, listening, taking notes, reading practice books — there were so many options, and through a series of trial and error, I found what worked. If I couldn’t figure out a rhythm, I would just listen. If I didn’t know how to move from one note to the next, I would watch. I learned to teach myself how to teach myself.
Learning the piano also broadened the scope of my appreciation for art. As a singer, I always focused narrowly on vocals. I could appreciate talented artists, classmates and teachers, but piano was always something in the background — until it became something that I was absolutely enthralled by. Not only was I aware of the talent of singers I listened to, I was equally enamored with the piano accompanying them.
What I love most about this hobby is that it’s a work in progress. But so am I. I’m constantly learning more about myself, noting what my strengths are and what needs to improve. Piano is the same way. It’s a parallel to my life. It takes time to figure out what brings the most satisfaction and enjoyment. But we’re all aiming to get there.
So thank you to my freshman year self, who decided it was time for a new hobby. The benefits continue to reward me.