Time is ticking away. This time tomorrow, the year 2010 will be taking its last gasps. Time has run out for the Democrats, and time will tell if the Republicans live up to their promises or if they think now that they’re in office, they have nothing to fear from the Tea Parties.
My brother’s ex’s cousin’s parents bought their twin granddaughters a piano for Christmas. These are wealthy people, which means they’re smart; the girls have been taking lessons for six months, and practicing on an electronic keyboard for the time being.
Once the grandparents were certain the lessons were taking, they bought the piano.
They have a problem, as most piano students do, with keeping in tempo. My brother asked me if I would show them my metronome and demonstrate a little piano playing, while I’m at it. I’ll gladly show them my metronome but I’m not going to give it to them, as it’s 40 years old, still in prime condition, and may be worth something. I had a gift card for one of the music-sites-for-real-musicians websites and ordered them a new, electronic metronome. It keeps time in color, can tune wind and string instruments, and even has an outlet for headphones.
I’ll also demonstrate a little piano playing, but I’m afraid it will be a very little piano playing. I’m aces on the bells, but seldom play my piano. Like all adults, I have very little time for extraneous pleasures. What time I have is taken up practicing with two community bands. Although, every once in awhile, I’ll sit down and play a tune or two.
My brothers are the very reason I’m not better than I am. My childhood piano teacher is the other reason. Like these girls, I started taking piano lessons before I actually had a piano. My maternal grandmother did have a piano, and as my grandparents lived nearby, we visited them frequently, and I had opportunities to practice.
When a piano wasn’t available, I would practice on the diagrams in my lesson book. My mother thought taking lessons would be a good idea. I loved music. I loved to sing. I would love to piano. The family, especially my brothers, it turned out, did not love the piano or me playing it.
So my grandmother, seeing that I really enjoyed playing (up until that point, at least) bought me a very good used piano, a Griffith spinet. But things starting going sour, almost as soon as the instrument entered the house.
First, the music school changed my piano teacher. I went from being taught by a very kindly, middle-aged lady to a young, tempermental, impatient young man who had a tendency to yell and scream at me. I wasn’t practicing enough.
No, I wasn’t. When I said, “Sure, I’d love to take piano lessons!” I thought I was going to play songs like my grandmother did, popular songs, songs you could sing to, happy music. Instead, my music teacher handed me a red, Thompson method lesson book, Grade One, filled with horrible, minor key classical tunes. I hated my lessons, my music, and I hated practicing.
If matters weren’t bad enough, unlike the young girls who live in a huge McMansion with about 100 rooms, we lived in small, three-bedroom bi-level. The biggest room was the kitchen. The piano was placed in the living room, where the television was and my brothers and their friends were constantly running in and out, and up and down. I was allotted a half an hour at the piano only, and was forced to listen to the boys’ grumbling and even my father’s complaints about the repetitious music.
The music teacher complained that I wasn’t keeping in tempo. So, my grandmother bought me a mechanical metronome. It’s really quite a beautiful contraption, made by Seth Thomas, the clock-maker. It has an obelisk shape. The front piece lifts off to reveal the metronome itself. A metal strip is in the center, with stoppers on each side, up at the top. You move a weight on the metal strip up and down to set the speed, according to the guide on the inside.
The only trouble was, I was afraid of it. Not in the psychotic sense. But it made a loud, very distracting tick-tocking sound that tended to make me forget all about the notes on the page and the keys on the piano. It sounded rather like the ticking of a bomb to my 9 year old ears. I was already having a hard enough time getting from note to note. I just didn’t need this thing reminding me that I was also off-tempo. Oh, the pressure.
I think these twins are going to find the same problem. Music teacher friends tell me that the “key” to successful piano playing is scales. Scales, scales, scales. I’ve found myself that I’m much more comfortable playing a song after I’ve warmed on some scales and exercises. That, I believe, is what I’m going to tell these young students.
I certainly shall make a splendid example of what happens when you don’t practice. But I’ll also give the parents and grandparents some tips on what and what not to do. The first tip will be – don’t let my brother anywhere near them while they’re trying to learn their songs or practice their scales. One time, he and my younger brother put our hound dog in the cellar to make him howl while I practiced.
My lessons finally ended when my grandmother happened to accompany my mother to pick me up from the lessons. I was crying, as usual. Before I even got in the car, my grandmother told my mother to cancel the lessons, immediately. My mother got out of the car andtold the piano teacher that was it. He had the nerve to demand to know why. “She’s come out of these lessons one too many times cying.” He said, “Well, that’s because she doesn’t practice!” “And making her cry is your solution to the problem?” My grandmother said it was all wrong; music was supposed to be fun, and obviously, if I was crying, I wasn’t enjoying making music.
Since these ex-in-law relatives of my brother’s have such a big house, I’d advise them to place the piano in a room far away from the television and from complaining relatives. I’d also make sure that these girls have some easy music to play that they actually enjoy and know. I don’t know what lesson book they have; they may be okay with it. But I’d still buy some Disney music or Hannah Montana tunes for beginning pianists or something like that.
They need to listen to music as well as play it. Music is all about sound, not sight. If the teacher is too harsh, they need to find another one (although that’s not my impression; they would have quit by now). My advice for the metronome would be to use it only for playing scales for the time being. Scales are easy; it’s just one note after another up and down the scale, so they can concentrate on the tempo without being distracted.
Leave them alone about the tempo while they’re learning songs. Once they’re familiar enough with a tune, then they can start worrying about their tempo. Sometimes I just don’t know what music teachers are thinking.
I’m glad I learned to play piano (though not very well). The music lessons did lead to playing the bells in the band, which I love. I love the piano, too; it’s not that I hate it. Life and stupid people just kind of got in the way. I live alone now, so there’s no one to hassle me about playing. I have a neighbor upstairs who, luckily, doesn’t care.
Family members have urged me to get rid of the piano. But, while it needs tuning, it’s quite a good instrument. Some day, I intend to defeat the world and learn to play well. Probably that time won’t come until I’m retired – or unemployed. I just worry that time is ticking away. Chiefly, I’m concerned about my upcoming “performance.” My metronome is clacking ominously away.