A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, clicked my phone on and downloaded a piano app before going back to sleep. More on that later, but let me backtrack a bit first: I started taking piano lessons when I was around four years old. I continued with lessons until I was probably around 13, and then I began teaching myself. The highlights of my time playing the piano were playing in recitals, learning copious amounts of Taylor Swift songs and having fun practicing every night. The lowlights (is that a word? It is now), on the other hand, involved musical theory, examinations and scales. I put up with those things, though, because I really enjoyed playing the piano.
At some point throughout high school, I fell out of the rhythm (pun intended) of practicing every night. I always wanted to keep practicing, but once I had stopped I was nervous to jump back into it. Piano remained a hobby in the back of my mind—hence why I woke up one night recently and made the immediate decision to begin playing again. I was worried I’d forget the notes; the treble clef I knew, since I played flute throughout high school. The bass clef was another story, however. I remembered the acronyms I had learned as a child to remember the notes—but ledger lines scared me.
As I finished up my semester at school, I occasionally played around on the app, quizzing myself with the flashcards. I remembered more than I thought I would. When I came home for my holiday break, reconnecting with my old hobby of playing the piano was at the top of my to do list (because, if you know me, you’ll know that I actually have several lists of things to do during my break). I don’t remember exactly how I started—maybe I warmed up with a few scales or my old remix of “Chopsticks.”
What I do remember, though, was that once I started playing, my muscle memory immediately kicked in. I sight-read old Taylor Swift songs, using Instagram’s “hands free” filming option to send videos to my friends. My sister was nice enough to give me a version of one of my favourite songs on piano, “River Flows In You” by Yiruma, and I quickly set to work on learning it.
Since then, I’ve been practicing almost daily. I’ve been really surprised at my recognition of notes—although I’ve noticed that I have a funny habit of assuming all Fs are sharp, or all Bs are flat. Even in the key of C Major, which has no sharps or flats, I add them in all over the place. I always laugh at myself when I hear a chord, wince and realize I’m just assuming a note is flat or sharp. It’s not even because I’m so eager to keep going with the song that I forget to check the key signature; my fingers just instinctively land on the flats and sharps, without my mind even realizing it.
I think one of the reasons why it took me so long to get back into piano is that it’s not really a hobby that you can pick up quietly, if that makes sense. I knew my family wouldn’t judge me for any mistakes I made, but it was still scary to think about trying to play again when I knew the sounds of my efforts would carry loudly through my entire house. When I am writing, if I type a sentence I don’t like, no one knows; I can highlight it, delete it and it’s like it was never there. But while playing piano, if I play a wrong chord, even when I take my fingers off the keys the sound still rings out. I often expect to begin playing a song and have it turn out beautifully from start to finish. Obviously, this isn’t always the case—and when it’s not, it can be annoying to start over when I can hear where the song was headed.
Picking up piano again has reminded me of a valuable lesson. It is important, especially with regards to hobbies, to give yourself the freedom to fail. I’ve learned to accept that when I sit down at my piano bench, not every note I play is going to be perfect. I’m going to fumble some chords by adding flats and sharps where they’re not supposed to be. I’m going to mix up some notes or lose my place in the song or somehow forget the melody of a Taylor Swift song I’ve known for years. But by making the decision to play anyways, I am giving myself the freedom to make those mistakes and keep going despite them. Because if you give yourself the opportunity to “fail” then you also give yourself the chance to succeed.
When I woke up in the middle of the night and downloaded the music app, determined to play piano again, I wasn’t concerned with the notions of failing or succeeding. I just wanted to read music again and play new songs. And I am happy to say now I am doing just that—and learning some valuable lessons along the way.