One evening after work, I wander into the new Tom Lee store that I see from my office everyday and slip into the fancy glass room that’s filled with acoustic pianos. No one pays attention to me in my t-shirt and jeans.
I play cadences on pianos that I pass by, until I stop at one to play for a short while.
“Can I help you find something?”
“No, I’m just looking,” I say, gesturing with my chin. “Baby grands.”
“You are obviously pretty good,” he says. “That was, you know, Liszt.”
I nod. I didn’t know that was Liszt. I thought I got lucky pressing the keys.
He gestures to another piano nearby — which happens to be a cheaper Steinway brand. I play it for a little bit and realize the keys are too light.
“Want to play a Steinway?”
He walks over towards one and pulls out the bench, like at a restaurant. How do I get rid of him?
I start to play part of Un Sospiro, which is exactly what I played earlier, before switching to a Waltz by Chopin. He leaves, and I start to bang out a messy Polanaise. Every (wrong) note echoes in the chamber and I stop playing partway.
But really, people in the room couldn’t care how much I sucked and I should’ve kept playing for myself–it was a lot of fun and two minutes of wrong notes wouldn’t have killed anyone.
Sometimes we are so conscious of others that we forget why we do things in the first place: to make beautiful sounds, to express ourselves, to play great music from hundreds of years ago.
I realize that I miss my dreadful scales. I miss nailing precise, mechanical notes. If you’ve stopped doing an activity for a while, your muscle memory recalls how to do the activity itself, but it doesn’t give you precision nor confidence. Sometimes it leaves you longing for the days when you had better performance.
So maybe you’re not that great anymore, but hey, we’re here to improve ourselves.
These “boring” tasks, like scales and drills, are only worth your while when you do them consistently, so I propose a mini-challenge:
For the next 4 weeks, take 15 mins to do a drill that will give you more confidence in an activity. For example, if you want to be a cleaner pianist, you could do drills; if you want to be better at internet security, you could try hacking routers. Math exercises. Run outside. Anything goes.
Do these drills at the same time each day to build up a habit, and it will get easier as time goes on.
I can’t pound on the keys like I used to but it still feels good to make music. It feels natural, like walking or running. That’s the way it should be: making music should leave you wanting more, and I work right across from a chamber of grand pianos.
I left the building itching to play scales, my dreadful scales.