I took piano lessons as a teenager, but hadn’t touched a keyboard in a couple of years, until recently.
I wasn’t always the best piano student, but I loved taking lessons. I fell in love with piano basics: practicing scales, arpeggios and chord progressions. I still love playing scales. There’s something about the tidy way a keyboard is laid out, each note a half step away from the next, that makes the universe feel under control. It’s easy to zone out, or zone in, when you play through scales. It’s meditative. All those worries and fears fall away.
I distinctly remember having a bad case of senioritis my last year in high school. Practicing began to feel like an overwhelming chore on top of the many anxieties about the future I was walking around with. I really feel for current high school students. Being a teenager comes with enough anxieties already. Friend groups can be dramatic, romance can seem overwhelming, homework may be never-ending and the question of what to do with your future looms overhead. I can’t imagine having a pandemic stacked on top of those.
Despite my lack of commitment in my final year of high school, I did keep playing piano semi-regularly post high school. I played often enough to keep a few pieces polished, but not often enough to really build skill or learn anything new. Then I moved out of state, and my keyboard did not move with me.
It’s hard to play piano without a piano.
I left my keyboard in New Mexico with my parents. Upon moving back instate, they were kind enough to transport the keyboard to my little apartment in Socorro.
Clearing a space for it along one wall, I felt like I was about to see an ex-boyfriend. My heart was all aflutter. I’ve since fallen in love again. The first couple of weeks I didn’t play much. I’d sit down on the bench and admire the keys, play a few scales and get back up again. Then I dug through old sheet music and found some pieces I used to play over and over. I am so rusty and bad. My fingers move too slowly and without any real finesse. My sight-reading is slow going. I can tell I don’t have the same strength and dexterity in my hands as when I learned these pieces the first time around.
But re-learning old music is almost time travel.
I remember the hours I spent fiddling around on my parents’ piano, an old upright that my dad also grew up with, which was often at least a little out of tune. I remember the rush of going from plunking through a piece to playing it and the pride I felt the first time I learned something impressive.
I remember being 16, when I was much more convinced that I usually knew the right answer, but also full of so many many insecurities. I was also a better pianist than I am a decade later. But who knows what the next decade will bring? Maybe I can practice enough to outshine my teen self.
Getting good is not really the point of this re-learning though. The point is life is short and playing piano is fun.
When every hobby can be monetized, it’s tempting to think every hobby should be monetized. It’s easy enough these days to turn anything into a side hustle, or to at least attempt to turn anything into a side hustle. There’s a lot of power in doing something just for yourself and in doing something for the sake of joy and fun. Not to further a career, or to make money, or to impress anyone, or to be healthier, or as part of some self-improvement plan. Just, for fun.