I started learning the keyboard when I was six, gave it up after two years, and haven’t touched a keyboard or piano since. The fact that I was never too interested in playing didn’t help. Not much stayed with me during my short-lived piano career, to be honest. I don’t even remember how to read sheet music properly.
But things changed once I became a parent. In the past year, when the kids have spent more time than we imagined they could at home, devoid of stimulation, I found myself turning once again to my old nemesis, the piano.
Devoid of stimulation, I found myself turning once again to my old nemesis, the piano.
Most parents can tell you the textbook benefits to learning an instrument: the way it reportedly accelerates early child cognitive development, helps the body and the mind work together, strengthen memory skills. You know the drill.
Even so, I never thought I would see those black and white keys in my home again.
We bought a digital piano this time around. It has a different kind of keyboard from the one I played with as a child. The keys are much thicker, and felt more pleasantly substantial than my old keyboard. Despite its compact size (right now, it fits snugly in the corner of our living room), it’s more like a real piano.
What I didn’t expect were the memories of practising that came rushing back. The way I’ve always had trouble placing my fingers on the piano, how my left little finger would keep popping up involuntarily when I tried to practise. As a child, I did everything to coax it into submission: the exercises given by my piano teacher and remembering to relax my hand when it’s not in use. It got to the the point when all I could think about was my rogue pinkie finger — a topic that my teacher, classmates, and my parents discussed constantly that made me feel oddly embarrassed. Soon, any interest to play was killed off. Until eventually, I wiggled my way out of the painful, hour-long practices.
But something about this new piano feels different. The moment my fingertips touched the keys, I felt an ease that I hadn’t experienced before. I could play an easy song after a few attempts. And while my little finger still popped up, it didn’t seem to annoy me like it used to.
Turns out, having my children by my side helped. My kids managed to show me the one skill no one did before — how to have a sense of play. I felt much more relaxed when I played with them. This time around, I was free to make mistakes, with no judgment or strict rules to live by — only a sense of wonder and lots of excited smiles.
Right now, I am setting some tiny musical goals. I’ve been playing easy refrains with my kids, roaming the keys in simple duets with four hands — sometimes six hands. Even my husband, who has never touched a piano before, is having a go. It’s been fun seeing his big hands travel up and down the keyboard with us. Our new piano has suddenly become the centre of precious parent and children time.
Even my husband, who has never touched a piano before, is having a go. It’s been fun seeing his big hands travel up and down the keyboard with us.
While it hasn't been easy to organise proper lessons during lockdown, I am keen to find a piano teacher who can teach all of us. I love the idea of making progress with my children, and improving alongside them, rather than watching from the sideline.
These days, we usually play for 10 to 15 minutes a day. It’s a small sanctuary in the chaotic work from home environment. Regardless of how our lessons go later on, I am determined not push my children like an over-anxious tiger parent. If being a young piano drop-out has taught me anything, it’s that nourishing interest and enthusiasm is more important in the long run. And don’t let anyone badmouth your fingers — practice doesn’t have to kill all the fun.
Follow Angie on Twitter @angiecuiwrites.