Saturday, March 19, 2005

Discouraged

This is going to be a really boring post.

I'm discouraged about piano. As much as I love music and piano, there's a reason that I never pursued a career in it.

I've been through a million piano teachers. I generally spend the first few months wow-ing them. They're all excited about my natural talent and potential. I'm all excited about my natural talent and potential. I'm excited that they're excited.

I work really hard. I practice obsessively. My mantra is, "If you're not going to do it right, then just don't do it." It's a good mantra for practice sessions. It keeps me working until I have it "right."

After a while, I stop improving exponentially. I get bored, or tired. I get frustrated. The piano teacher gets frustrated. Bad feelings all around. Her naturally talented student with so much potential apparently isn't going to live up to that potential after all. Either the piano teacher was wrong, or I've somehow bamboozled him/her.

This leads to shorter and shorter practice sessions. I get discouraged more and more easily, and the discouragement causes me to fumble more, and the fumbling leads me to end my practice sessions early and frustrated.

I feel like I'm getting to that point now. There are no bad feelings right now as far as my piano teacher is concerned ... I love my piano teacher, and she doesn't put a lot of pressure on me, or any of her adult students for that matter. We all just a bunch of business professionals, moms, and cubicle dwellers. We do piano in our spare time.

I think part of my discouragement to do with the fact that other things in life get in the way of piano. Part of me is not happy with piano being "just a hobby," something I do when I have nothing else to do. Something I fit in when I can.

But what else can it be? If I'd gone to music school and spent most of my life practicing 8 hours a day, I can guarantee that be a pretty damn good pianist. As it happens, I'm just someone who has a nice touch, beautiful expression, a genuine love for music and piano ... but no great skills. Even if I could start devoting 8 hours a day to piano ... what would I do with it? Perform? Do weddings and funerals? Become a white-haired church pianist?

And then there is the whole other world of composition, but this post isn't about composition.

It's already gone on too long, in fact. So I'll separate the truly boring stuff (my practice session frustrations) in a little box below.

Practice Session Frustrations

Suzuki: Sometimes I feel like these are a waste of time. Basically, I am to learn these little pieces by ear, which is not all that difficult. Then we need to learn the Suzuki fingering, which I don't particularly like. We also need to learn the louds and softs ... and if feels very "kiddie." Why can't I just focus on the louds and softs in my Mozart piece, or another more interesting piece? My piano teacher reassures me that there is a point to this, and I trust her, which is why I diligently work on Suzuki at every practice session.

So I spend about 10 or 15 minutes on Suzuki. Twenty minutes if I'm working on something new.

Scales & inversions: These are a breeze. I've been playing all scales in all keys since I was a kid. They are more or less a warm-up for my fingers and a massage for my theory-loving brain. They take about five or ten minutes, depending on how many I do. But then I'm doing inversions using the octave (striking four notes per hand rather than just three), and it hurts my hand to stretch that much. (I have tiny li'l hands.)

Also, my right thumb always hurts. Imagine flexing/arching it backwards, really hard, for a few minutes. Imagine the dull ache it might feel afterwards. That's how my right thumb feels after two minutes of playing. I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. It's not a problem with my left thumb.

Contrary-motion scales: Why can't I do these? Wrong question. I can do them. I'm finally getting them. But I can't do them fast or even at a moderately brisk pace. It has taken me FOREVER to learn them. My brain and fingers struggle with them. To get an idea of it, imagine doing addition and multiplication all of your life, and then, at the age of 35, being introduced to subtraction and division. Or being told that, from now on, you must read everything as reflected in a mirror. Ack! It's all backwards. And it is very discouraging that I, a person who usually picks things up pretty easily, still cannot play these things with any real skill.

These take me a good twenty minutes every night. That's because I want to do them right, and I can't stand to leave off them until I've played each assigned scale through four times perfectly.

Arpeggios and contrary-motion arpeggios: These are a breeze. Five minutes.

So. I've been practicing nearly an hour, and I haven't even started on the Mozart or the Dett--the "real" music I'm supposed to be learning. And by now, I feel tired and discouraged. So my patience is worn a little thin.

I end up spending maybe 10 minutes on the Mozart before I give up. I am starting to get sick of the Mozart. I love it, but I am sooo ready to move on to something new. I think that's part of the reason I haven't made a lot of progress on it lately ... I'm just not motivated. And I rarely even get around to the Dett. So it languishes. What progress I've made in the past is no longer there. (The little progress I do make is when I work on it before the Mozart in my practice sessions. But then I don't get around to the Mozart.)

My best practices are when I have maybe 20 minutes to spare between dinner and Law and Order: SVU, so I rush into the Inner Sanctum, go straight to a specific measure or set of measures in Mozart or Dett, and drill them over and over again for those 20 minutes. Maybe I should re-assess my practice time. Maybe I should plan 20-minute practices throughout the evening after work ... but that wouldn't be very realistic, since I do have other things outside of piano (husband, dinner, working out, reading, sleeping, and simply vegging out after a long and frustrating day at work.

Frustrating. I sure do use that word a lot lately, don't I.


P.S. I learned how to make pretty green tables. Cool, huh? :-)

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