If at first you don’t succeed . . .

I can see my piano in the other room. My metronome, my light, my music, everything I need to practice. What am I waiting for?

Like most adult piano students, I took lessons as a kid. But it was tough and I quit. I’ve always regretted that decision, especially when I hear Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique, Vivaldi’s Winter, or Schumann’s Of Foreign Lands and People. And then there’s Chopin. (If I stick with piano, I’m at least 10 years from playing anything by Chopin.) This music inspires me to put in the time for a weekly 45-minute lesson and 30 minutes of practice each day.

My progress has been sluggish.  After three years, I can play simple arrangements of classic pieces, such as Fur Elise and New World Symphony I’m not where I want to be, leaving me to wonder if my reach has exceeded my grasp.

Perfectionist that I am, I don’t like not being good at something. It’s a daily struggle to keep playing when I make mistake after mistake after mistake. Sometimes I learn songs the wrong way and then I have to start over. Then there are the songs that I simply cannot play no matter how much I practice.

Compound this perfectionism with my stubbornness and you begin to see my dilemma. I am no quitter and can be tenacious to a fault. Do I keep playing even though I may never be any good? Should I just give up and enjoy listening to music instead of playing it. I’m stuck between a hard place and a hard place. . . not wanting to be bad at something and refusing to quit.

That’s why I’m sitting here writing this and not practicing. Now I know what you’re thinking. Maybe if I practiced more I would be better. Maybe if I had bigger hands or was more coordinated. Maybe if I had never quit as a kid. While these assertions may certainly be true, “maybe” isn’t getting me in front of the piano.

Over the years, many adult students have come and gone through my teacher’s studio. I’ve stuck it out the longest and I am currently her only adult student. Once I asked her to grade me on my progress. (Please, please, tell me that I’m an “A” student in piano.) She refused to grade me and told me to stop worrying about playing perfectly and have fun. Be expressive.  I was reminded of the line from Immortal Beloved: “A mistake is nothing. But the fact that you thump out the notes without the least sensitivity to their meaning is unforgivable.”

After three years and countless hours practicing, quitting would be unforgivable. It would mean that I was bad at something and a quitter. And I certainly can’t have that.

4 Responses to “If at first you don’t succeed . . .”

  1. SanD says:

    Dear LJ,
    It is inspirational to see one go back in life and pick-up where you left something unfinished. Many of us do it through our children. So, please do continue to inspire. If anything, the music you hear sounds sweeter, I’m sure.

  2. A reader says:

    Oh, this one is hard…your efforts and tenacity are inspiring and I find myself wanting you to play more perfectly than you do!

    For you, stopping lessons means you’d be a ‘quitter’, so continuing lessons makes you ‘not that’.

    If continuing your piano lessons were defined as something other than solely mastering a musical arrangement to also include a personal assertion of the love of musical genius, then stopping your lessons would never change your passion.

    Your musical passion could be re-defined as a thirty minute daily committment to Vivaldi in your car or Chopin on the iPhone.

    Maybe you won’t be ready for the MidWest Piano Tour & Rodeo no matter how long you practice.

    But the practicing alone of your passion makes you an A+ student. There is nothing that is not A+ about an adult that practices every day with lessons every week for three years.

    *If* you decide to ‘quit’ the lessons, try to re-define what it means to be a ‘quitter’.

    Maybe you could be someone who having now finished a footrace in a lifetime marathon of music and melody decides to take on the next race of flute lessons, polka lessons or a Beethoven blog.

    • laurajane says:

      Wow. I never even considered these options. I was just looking at it as black and white . . . quit or not.