When I was about eight years old, I started piano lessons. I really have no idea why I started taking them. There isn’t a conversation in which I remember discussing this with my mom. Honestly, my first memories of piano lessons are of simply being in a room the size of a closet with a 30-something prude who would put check marks and smiley faces next to the exercises that I had mastered in the book.
I still shudder at the thought of those check marks.
Every week, she would assign something as homework for the next lesson, the same way I do now with my band students. For some reason, that check mark was really intimidating to my third grade brain. It was as if she were standing behind me as I practiced, scolding me for bad hand position and missing accidentals.
My main memory of piano lessons actually has nothing to do with the piano. The adult in me says that my audience might not find it as funny as I do, but the child in me says keep typing, so here I go. My family was always very open in our home. We never felt the need to stifle our enjoyment of potty humor and thus, we never apologized for rude noises at home. During one particular lesson, my worst nightmare came true. It turns out that a piano bench, with its flat wood structure and hollow middle for storing music, is a wonderful amplifier for noise. Yes, I farted during a piano lesson.
My teacher looked as shocked as I felt. I’m sure she thought about ignoring it for my sake, but instead she asked, “What do you say?”
I didn’t know.
Normally at home, the response would simply have been to laugh. Now I realized, all too late, that there was some sort of protocol in civilized society for this situation, and I had never been taught.
“I’m sorry?” The look on my teacher’s face indicated I had guessed the wrong response.
“Say excuse me.” And I did.
Anyway, I digress. The point of this little foray into my two year stint in piano lessons is that I never really learned to play the piano. Our piano ended up being repossessed and I had to stop lessons. My piano lessons were a great primer for the instrument I ended up playing for life, which is the flute. Don’t ask me why I chose the flute. I’m pretty sure that I only chose it because it didn’t require reeds and I was trying to save my mom money. (Our family’s financial situation was bleak, to put it mildly.)
So here I am, 16 years later, and it has occurred to me that I should have learned a cooler instrument. I mean, seriously, how often is the flute featured in popular music?
Anyone says Jethro Tull, I’ll cut you. My mom bought me a couple CDs when I was in middle school and I couldn’t stomach it. Now, the Marshall Tucker Band is a whole different story. Badass.
Overall, you never hear the flute used in a cool way. Piano, though, is used all the time. It’s versatile. It’s…just cool.
Allow me to cite some examples of why I probably should have stuck with the piano lessons.
First of all, Matt Bellamy of Muse’s Rachmaninov-inspired piano intro to “Space Dementia”:
Regina Spektor’s ballad “Samson”:
Amy Lee of Evanescence begins gently, but turns “Your Star” into a collage of crunching guitar and arpeggiated piano:
One of the greatest piano rockers needs no introduction for “Crocodile Rock”:
Ben Folds is one of my inspirations for improving my piano skills. Here’s “Zac and Sara”:
And yes, it’s cliche, but I have to include the original piano rocker, Ludvig van Beethoven. “Moonlight Sonata” is one of the pieces that inspired me to teach music.
Had I not stopped piano lessons about 17 years ago, I could have been pretty good by now. And much cooler. I guess I need to start practicing again.
Just don’t expect to see any check marks on my music any time soon.