The piano teacher in our town, the one I had ridden my bicycle to, had decided it was time for me to move on to a teacher who could bring me a bit more of a challenge. She suggested the University — about a 45 minute drive south.
I cut my bicycle teeth on that teacher. I had memorized the precise location of the big crevices on the sidewalk, and knew when to turn the monkey bar handle bars, with the white basket attached with the purple plastic flowers, so that I could have a smooth ride, without any bumps for the 7 blocks to her house. The one with the pool on the side yard.
Apparently, they wanted me to pay a bit more attention to other things; because “I had potential.” Those were the words an Ohio Music Education Association judge had written on my performance sheet.
Our tiny little house actually had a music room, with a door we could close, and it was my refuge. I would go there, if I didn’t like what was showing on TV, and just play for hours, exploring melodies, songs, and just listening to the sounds my fingers would make.
There was no rhyme or reason. No discipline to what I was doing. I was exploring.
One of the first gifts I received at the University was a Piano Book of finger exercises. One of the best was The Little Pischna. But I didn’t know what gems these books were. I didn’t know that the words “little” and “exercises” carried such a heavy weight in creating masters. I did them, only because I preferred the sounds the pages in this little exercise book made. I was so naieve.
I didn’t see it at the time — but each set of exercises in that book did more than just exercise my fingers — each one built on each of the 8 chords, and through practice, taught my brain how to navigate the sharps and flats of each one. Automatically — without effort. All I had to do was to sit and play the scales, in the rhythm provided, and in the order provided, and with the correct fingers. This was vital — knowing that g is played with a 5, otherwise you’ll run out of fingers when you’re playing the f.
Luckily, I did the exercises. I played them, and I learned the chords, and the sharps and flats of each chord, almost subliminally. Without any effort, and the best part is, I still know those chords, and what comes next. Almost as if I have always known — like where the sun rises.
My instructor’s biggest problem with me, I remember now, as I look over her notes, written on the pages of my books, is how timid I was. “drop weight and move…”
I tried it, the drop weight and move, just a few hours ago, and it was amazing how quickly I could fly thru those notes, without stumbling… without giving my brain a chance to think and fail.
This, I just discovered about myself. I’ll explain why in the next few days… But the question I keep pondering is — what if I had known back then how much I really did know about those scales and chords? What if I did really understand my talent, the people that were teaching me, and the gift of these amazing practice books I had sitting in front of me. What if I had known? What if I had been paying attention?