On Learning How to Play Piano as an Adult

A few months ago, I found a piano teacher giving lessons for $15 a lesson (which is JUST my price range). I messaged her, and we set up my first lesson. Malcolm has a keyboard, so I decided to go for it.

Y’all. I was a flute player in college, and toyed with the idea of majoring in music — I even had a music scholarship! I had a plethora of knowledge and thousands of dollars of lessons. Like, I was pretty good. Hard however, I got burnt out and stopped playing for years and felt like I had lost it all. I hated it, the endless hours with people I mostly didn’t connect with, the hours of studious practice. The constant nerves. I needed the space away from music to grow up and learn how to play for fun and not to eat, sleep, and breathe practicing my flute like I literally said one pre-audition period (when I was 13 years old). So stressful!

I’ve had lessons nearly every week since January. It’s slow progress but so far has been fun. Yet, it’s all fun and giggles until my thirty-something-year -old brain attempts to decipher bass clef. When was the last time you learned something completely new? The kind that twists your brain inside out in that equally exhilarating and aggravating way. It’s exhausting. And the thing about music lessons, you see, is you have to perform for your teacher constantly. Scales, etudes, arpeggios, full pieces, even sight reading while your educator literally watches over your shoulder.

It still makes me nervous all this time later, but the stakes are mercifully much lower. My teacher is still in high school, I’m pretty sure, and is a kind and patient genius. We meet over Zoom, so I spend the half hour prior adjusting the screen tilt, height, and preening. I vainly worry about what my hair and nails look like, just like in 2006. At some point, I force myself to forgetta bout it and just do the damn thing.

Now, I make jokes when I mess up instead of internally bashing my very existence for being a half step off. I’m not sure if my giggles read as nervous or a wtf-ever attitude. Truthfully, it feels like another version of my old pal, perfectionism. My teacher gracefully talked me into playing a piece I hadn’t yet perfected which were my exact words of protest. And boy did I fuck up that thing. I constantly stopped and said, “Is that right? That’s not right.” She used to kindly say it, but I find myself asking for her to say “Yes” or “No”, not so much out of validation but because I’m flailing around unsure of this new creature, the piano. I played a whole piece and was one note off the entire time — hah! What else can you do but laugh at yourself?

One of the biggest things I notice in myself this time around: the things that used to flatten me into believing I had no worth are the manifestations of my undiagnosed ADHD. My working memory can’t hold as much for as long as other peoples’ which makes it nearly impossible to do mental math or play some types of music, especially if it’s new to me. Excessive talking is another symptom of ADHD which both my grandmother, mother, and I do when we feel anxious. I told myself that I have to stop taking over the lessons with my chatter, but that’s harder than I thought it would be. She also has to tell me the same thing several times. I remember her telling it to me, which lesson it was, what I was wearing, but I can’t remember what she actually said. And there are times when my brain gets overloaded, shuts down, and says “this does not compute”. I find it difficult to practice something that I don’t find interesting, i.e. going slowly or playing uninteresting music. I just want to cry for 16 year old me who just knew she wasn’t as good as everyone else at music. She was an imposter in the top band in middle school, high school, college.

Now I know the way my brain works is not a personal failing. I am not an imposter. I can let go of my physical appearance enough to actually push through and live. Who knew learning piano could be so healing? 🙂



2 thoughts on “On Learning How to Play Piano as an Adult

  1. angel ungericht

    Awe, sweetheart, I hate that you are reliving the bad parts of music but it is good to look at it through an adult’s eyes. I love you! 💕

  2. Mae Goes West

    Things are much better from adult eyes 🙂 Now I see why I got soul level burnt out. I’m glad I took a break, but I’m glad to be starting again. My teacher will say terms like “variations on a theme” and it takes me right back into high school band. I also need to stop telling my teacher all the memories that come up when she says a musical term, hah!

    Have you thought about returning to music? I love you!

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