Did you ever take piano lessons as a child? If you did, how old were you when you first began?
I remember my first piano lesson at the not-so-young age of eight and three quarters years old : it was a cold autumn night when my dad took me to my first lesson. Walking up to the door, we rang the door bell, only to be scolded for doing so as their baby was sleeping. Goodness, what a great way to begin my first lesson. My teacher’s name was Mrs Anderson. After a quick introduction to the piano (simply pointing out the black and white keys, and how the keys are grouped into twos and threes), we began looking through my very first piano book – Bastein’s Piano Basics, Primer Level. I learnt the numbering on my fingers, from my thumbs to my pinkies, and discovered that only seven letters of the alphabet are used in music – beginning at A and ending at G. For an eight-and-three-quarters year old, this was rather fascinating.
It would be a nice story if I said that I stayed with Mrs Anderson through my adolescence years but the reality is that I began lessons with another teacher less than a year after my first lesson, right after my Preliminary exam. Though my mum is not a trained musician, she has always and still does love music very much and was highly involved in my piano lessons, listening to me practise and ensuring that I was doing what was outlined in my music journal. After a few months, she noticed that when I played the piano, my wrists were sitting really quite low and my fingers looked rather tense. She went to Mrs Anderson with this concern but my teacher brushed it off as something I will grow out of and insisted that my mum should not be worried. However, being the diligent parent she was, she consulted the opinions of a few close friends and watched their children play the piano, coming to the conclusion that having one’s wrists sit so low and playing with tense fingers really was not the way to go. And so off she went to find me a new teacher.
Looking back today, I am truly grateful to my mum. Playing the music well and accurate but doing so with bad posture and tense hands is definitely not the best way to approach playing the piano. There is more to it than making a few strings resonate and producing a pleasant sound – the physical side of piano (as in the way the hands move in relation to the rest of your body) is very important, despite many teachers in our society seeming to pay little attention to this fact. Where possible, one should be using the least amount of energy possible but yet be producing the best tone and sound. When all muscles and joints are moving well together, playing the piano (not necessarily reading the notes) should be easy! It should be as natural as walking.
I remember when I was in my year one music class, all the children that played the piano were allowed to use the glockenspiels, but those who had no experience were handed the percussion instruments. I didn’t mind the maracas or the clave sticks at first but after a few lessons, I found it unfair that my instrument produced only one sound whilst the glockenspiels produced a much larger range. And it sounded so pretty!
I was never a very good liar. Not only that, I have been described over the many years to be a very sweet child and a straight A student. But the incident with the colourful glockenspiels had me in such envy and I felt so unfairly treated that I crossed the line (especially in the mind of this little six year old) – I lied. My music teacher must have had a very bad memory because when she asked the crucial question of which skilled child had experience playing the beast of the piano, I inconspicuously raised my hand and she didn’t even blink. Surprised at not being caught out, I was overjoyed and quickly picked up the extraordinary skill that was a prerequisite for even going near the bright sounding instrument.
But guilt gripped me so tightly that I confessed to my mum and told her all about the incident. After a gentle warning of the consequences of lying, all was well. But my mum could no longer deny the affect that music had on me – she sought out my first piano teacher and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
-The Fine Duchess
Image via the bluegrass special
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