Friday, November 23, 2018

My Mom, The Piano & Me + An Easy Hack for Playing Hard Songs

 My Mom, The Piano & Me + An Easy Hack for Playing Hard Songs //

My mom taught me to play the piano when I was a child. At the time, it was one of the worst things we ever had to do together. I could never get away with skipping my practices, or making little mistakes, because she’d know. She was there during my practice sessions. It wasn’t fun for me because I couldn’t ever just sit down and play what I wanted. She’d come stand behind me and make me play it right, critiquing my technique, and making me start over. Often, the piano ended up causing a fight between us and became a source of negativity for me.

When I was twelve, I begged her to let me quit. After some long-winded convincing on my behalf, she told me I could but that I’d always regret it. In a true act of pre-teen hormonal dramatics, I vowed that I NEVER WOULD.

I hated the piano and knew I’d never miss it. She would NEVER be right. (Insert your own visual of a tear-stained, emotional, frantic, twelve-year old girl in the throes of puberty hormones, and possibly a foot stomp.)

My lifelong vow lasted roughly 3 months. Are you even surprised?

I started sneaking piano sessions in when no one was home. She still made me play in front of her sometimes, but I loved my secret piano playing sessions. No one critiqued my hand placement, my technique, whether I was playing too loud or soft or fast or slow for what the song said to. It was just me and the 88 keys... and my mom’s massive piano book library. 

I began playing harder songs. Playing songs I’d never been able to play, and my free practices improved my skills dramatically. I was still too proud to admit I’d been wrong to make a vow that I’d never play again, so as soon as I heard a car pull into the driveway, I’d stop playing, and run away to another room and pretend I hadn’t been playing at all.

In a true act of wise mothering, my mom didn't say anything… but she always knew. 

She knew she hadn’t left the books I was using out on the piano. When I was around age 15 or 16, my mom mentioned to me one day in passing, "If you're going to continue your charade for much longer, I ought to let you know you should put your books away before I get home." I stood there stunned as she walked away.

THE BOOKS! The one thing I never thought of when I was panicking to hide my secret! I'm sure my look of shock was her favorite part about that day. I started playing regularly in front of my family after that. Occasionally she’d teach me tricks when I’d ask, and piano time became a love of mine, instead of a hatred. It also became a moment for us to connect instead of fight.

When she was dying of brain cancer, one of the biggest things to go was her ability to play the piano and sing. Music had always been such a massive part of her personality, it's something we all missed. 

When she was home on hospice care, I was visiting, and had brought my Les Miserables piano book with me. She asked if it would be ok if she sat and listened to me play for a while, so I got my book out and she sat down on the couch with her eyes closed. 

I played through the entire book, and she sat there listening, only saying a few sentences like, “I’ve always loved this one,” or “This song has always been so beautiful.” 

The Christmas before she got cancer, we all went to Les Miserables (the movie) as a family. It was my first time seeing the play/film/story. I had only heard the music. It was incredibly moving, and now whenever I play, “I Dreamed A Dream”,  I get a little choked up at the very last few lines. 

I’m so grateful that she was willing to sit through the pain of a dramatic angry child to teach me a talent that makes me think of her every time I use it. I now have my own piano and I think of her every time I sit down to play.


One of the simple music tricks that she taught me regarding the piano was this — if the key has too many sharps or flats and it’s killing you to play it, just play the opposite key of what it’s asking you to play. For example, in the photo above, the key requested includes sharps to be played on F, C, G, D, and A. The only two notes not sharped are the E and the B, so to make this easier, I would play this song with an E and B flat, and all the other notes as their natural notes (no sharps). This has come in handy so many times for me. There are some songs I love to play that have every note sharped except for the B, and all I have to do is play a B flat instead of a million sharps. For me this is genius because I tend to struggle on sharps but handle flats like a champion.

Thanks, Mom. Your musical skills always amazed us. 

++ What is a simple trick that one or both of your parents taught you?

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