Returning to Playing Music

I love music, but when it comes to serious study and practice of an instrument, the love and enjoyment gets sucked out of the room.

I had a slightly atypical musical background.  My mom insisted on piano lessons for my sister and I, even past the “I hate it and I don’t want to do it anymore” phase, which I grew out of.  I progressed, but I did not practice.  I played.  When I found a song I wanted to play, I played it.  If I really liked it, I’d play it again and again.  There was no method to my practicing, no beginning with scales (until I learned to play two-octave scales, then I felt cool and started actually learning my scales), no breaking up the piece into one hand at a time, no focusing on a certain part of the song to work through the kinks.  I just played music.

My piano teacher, of course, had other plans.  For every lesson, I started off with scales and exercises — what absolute drudgery.  If I showed trouble playing a piece, she’d make me play one hand a time, or she’d make me play a small chunk over and over again — I considered these signs of failure, like, “You did so terribly that now, instead of playing the song, we have to play parts of it in isolation at a super-slow speed.”  I did not take these experiences as the examples for serious practice that they were.  I just learned to differentiate between playing the piano and practicing the piano.  I also learned to play by ear and sight read well, skills that made up for my lack of at-home practice.

In band, it was a similar story.  I played the flute and trombone.  I found my own pieces to play, and had a good time.  In band, we played songs together, and the band director assumed we practiced at home (though, oddly enough, gave very little guidance one what such practice should look like).  I liked playing through songs.  I hated that we had compete for chairs (first chair, second chair, etc) using scales or dinky songs from a beginner’s book, but fortunately such competitions were brief.  Also, I made up for my lack of practice by practicing silently while waiting for my turn.

Up to now, I’ve fought tooth and nail against practice.  It was the bane of my musical existence, and eventually led to its temporary demise.  I stopped piano lessons in middle school (though continued to “play” until college).  I stopped band my senior year.  Then I went to college, and while I sometimes got back into music for a few weeks here or there, I largely abandoned it.  I actually got a guitar my first year of college, but after learning to play the chords for a few songs I liked, I got busy and it, too, was abandoned.  I ended up selling it my last year in college to my brother in law, figuring that at least it would get played.

I graduated, some years passed, which brings me to a few months ago.

This school year has been trying.  I’m a first year public school teacher, new to this area with only one local friend I’ve kept in touch with, and completely overworked.  It has been the turning point for my spirituality.  Before, spirituality was a nice addition to life, but it never felt necessary.  I treated it more like a luxury — that thing you learn about and practice when you have extra time to do so.  This year has shown me otherwise.  I feel crushed under the amount of work and pressure I have, yet I feel empty doing little else but work.

Along with this need came a growing need for music.  Listening wasn’t enough.  Singing was getting closer, but I wanted to play.  So when I mom decided to give me money for Christmas instead of a gift, and I saw it was half the price of a guitar, I jumped for it.

There’s so much I want to do with the guitar.  I want to play, and I want it to be beautiful.  As an adult yearning for this experience, rather than a child quietly rebelling against what I’m told I “should” do, I realize that the way to make sure I play well is to add some practice along with the play.  I also realize that even the practice can be playful.

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