Tuesday, August 02, 2011

All cows eat grass

No, alas, I haven't seen Grandson today - not since Sunday. I must remedy this, though life is currently a bit full of thrills such as booking a coach for guests at Daughter 2's forthcoming wedding, taking my mum to the hairdresser, hearing her various woes, arranging for a chap to come and unblock her downpipe and so on. Tomorrow features the dentist and getting Daughter 2's oven cleaned in preparation for her tenants.

In between, I've been having a go at teaching myself to play the piano. I'm not impressed with my progress.

I have various problems. One is that I'm not good at reading music - though I can read it a bit. Many years ago, at school, I played the violin, but was never really taught any music theory. I know about the length of the notes and what sharps and flats are and, if I think about it, which lines/spaces signify which notes. But the notes I know best are the ones of the violin strings - GDAE - and of course these are all in the treble clef. Though I've sung in choirs for most of my life, being a soprano hasn't necessitated any great familiarity with the bass clef either. Both in playing the violin and in singing, I've relied a lot on my ear and my memory - the music is a great help but really I need to hear the piece first and then I can read the music. I don't really think that this is reading! It's more following.

However, I think I can learn this all right. It will just take practice and a book - which I've bought. But the thing I find really difficult is getting the two hands to do different (but similar) things at the same time. I'm sure everyone finds this problem. I just wonder whether there are some people - maybe including me - whose brains find it particularly hard to divide themselves into two. Or if you practise enough, does the breakthrough happen?

I only started last Wednesday and haven't practised every day so it's not suprising that I'm not at concert standard yet, and I am getting slightly better at playing the little tune at the beginning of one of my children's old piano books. Maybe it's a mistake to start with Book 3, but we don't seem to have Books 1 and 2. And I can play the hands separately - neither is difficult. It's the co-ordination! I'm okay for a few bars but I keep falling apart.

However, I often think that, if I couldn't read words and someone told me about it, it would sound like an impossible accomplishment. But it's easy. Touch typing sounds hard but can be learnt within a few hours. And piano playing (with both hands) can't be impossible. People do it. Children do it! My children used to, though none of them practised enough to become particularly good. My father was very good, though, as are my brother, my sister-in-law, my nephew and my niece. But they're all scientists. I wonder if this is relevant. Maybe my arty brain isn't up to it.

I'm going to have a go for a few weeks and if I feel there is hope of ever achieving even modest skills then I'll probably find a teacher. I just don't know whether I'm going to live long enough to train those hands to work independently.

Is there anyone out there who has succeeded in learning the piano at my advanced age?


  1. I don't know about piano specifically, but I do teach adults how to tap dance and my experience is that age doesn't stop you learning a new skill, it just slows you down. The brain is no longer the adaptable sponge it is when one is <18. If, during the lesson, I attempt to make students add some arm choreography to be done at the same time as the footwork, there are groans and giggles and panics! Which is probably the equivalent of making one's left hand do something different to one's right. Persevere, do it slowly and correctly to build your neural pathway, and repeat, repeat, repeat!

    Good luck.

  2. Also, PS: I learned piano as a child, including music theory, and I can not remember how to read the bass clef at ALL any more.

  3. Keep going.....it will come. While I have been singing since I was a child, and playing guitar since my mid-20s (two lifetimes ago, or so it seems) last year I took up ukulele. I could be better than I am if I practiced more, but it is hard to get up the oomph to play alone at home; it's more fun in a group.

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  5. All Good Boys Deserve Fudge.

    I am re-learning at 31 after a long (10+ years) hiatus, my advice is to learn the hands separately (which you are already doing), then when you combine them play it slowly. Very slowly. Ridiculously slowly. Plod. Plod. Plod. Plunk. Plod. Pay no attention to regular tempo, merely where in the bar the notes happen.

    This is how my piano teacher told me to do it when I was little, and I find this somehow shows my hands what each needs to do at the same time as the other. Then I can work on bringing it up to speed.

  6. I think there's an element of fear involved here, especially if there's someone around to hear mistakes! I know someone who had a large electronic keyboard, which meant he could wear headphones. Only he could hear what he was doing!

  7. I've concluded that as far reading music I am dyslexic. I can sing in tune quite nicely and I can tell if a musical instrument is in tune and pick out a tune by ear, but I can't relate the dots on the page to a sound at all - a big disadvantage in a house where both husband and daughter are very musically competent.
    Husband (61)has just gone back to having organ lessons after a very large gap and is enjoying it immensely. At least the piano doesn't require you to play with your feet as well!

  8. Good luck with the piano. There is a co-relation between music and mathematics and since I am not very good at maths, I am certain this is why I am also not very good at grasping reading music. I also am more of a 'follower'. When I attended church, I would pretend to read the music, but really, if I was sitting near someone singing bass (loudly) I would sing along with him and if my neighbour was alto, so was I.

  9. Well, it sounds like a lot of fun, anyway, Isabelle! I'm afraid I won't be a very encouraging word. I took piano for years as a child and then again for a few as an adult and I STILL can't just sit down and make those two hands read music together. I can EASILY read each hand separately, but, like you said, it's the coordination that's the problem. If I practice a song a lot, then I can play it fairly well, but I attribute that mostly to memory and repetition. Have Fun and Good Luck!!!

  10. A Cat Eats Grass, actually, and Good Boys Deserve Fresh Apples, and then, naturally ascending to higher planes FACE, and Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit. This comment comes from a very terminally challenged piano player, whose teacher advised her parents to stop wasting their money. I subsequently took up violin. I was not much better at it, but it was heaps more fun.
    Music teaching may have improved in the intervening years, and maybe they have stopped bashing the hand for making mistakes, but in the olden days each hand was learned separately and then slowly (and painfully) combined. Then the brain moves directly to the fingers and the fingers remember what to do. Strange, but true.
    At choir when I try to read the bass clef, it is a VERY slow process. Nor does it stick in the brain. But, like you at choir, I don't need the bass clef.
    I think my eyesight has a lot to do with my failure, as my eyes focus separately, which made trying to read two lines simultaneously and an absolute bugger, and pretty impossible, but no one realised this, and I never knew my eyesight was not like everybody else's. God, how I suffered!
    I admire you for going back to piano. What a Wonderwoman you are.
    And, Violet Sky, the ear is even more important than the eye.

  11. I started teaching myself piano about 5 years ago, a slow progress at first but I stuck with it and like you had to teach those 2 hands to work together. Stick with it you'll love it.

  12. I've been playing piano since I was 5... but the most important thing about learning piano isn't how old you are. What matters is starting with beginner piano books. Scales. As boring as it may seem, learning the proper fingering and practising your scales from a book (I recommend the books by Charles Hanon) will increase not only your ability to read music, but your finger mobility, flexibility, and strength.

  13. I just watched a programme, that said learning piano is very helpful in developing neural pathways in the brain, so keep at it.
    I used to read music when I learned (shudder) the recorder. Have forgotten all I knew!