What Music Taught Me
When I was in middle school, I asked my mother for music lessons. We had an upright piano in the house which my brothers and I just called it a grandma piano because it looked old and out of fashion, but it was in tune, and I desperately wanted to be good at something. My brothers were all quite athletic and involved with sports, and I needed something that was for me. Thankfully, my mother obliged me, and I started in with Miss Crystal once a week.
I had grand visions of what I was going to be able to do within just a few messages. Beautiful concertos, sing-along pop tunes, and maybe even playing in a band with the other cool kids at school. It was going to be so much fun. Or so I thought.
Starting out I had to learn these things called scales. Over and over again. Up and down the keyboard. Wrong fingers on the wrong keys? Start over. Try it again. Again. Right hand. Now left. Now both together. As a young teen who wanted to just get outside and see my friends, this became boring very quickly.
I bemoaned the thirty minutes my mother made me sit down and run my scales and do my simple finger exercises. It’s not because I couldn’t do it. I was just so bored with it. In the key of C, then G, then D. It was all the same! When was I going to get to the cool stuff?
Finally, after weeks of just playing scales, up and down, up and down the keyboard, my teacher put a simple piece of music in front of me. “Let’s sight read this.” I knew what the notes on the page meant, how the corresponded with the keys on the keyboard. I placed my right hand on the keyboard, and started in very slowly.
I was doing it! I was really doing it! But then, I messed up. Wrong note. “It’s okay. Try again.” I started the line over again. I was doing fine, and then I again, same place, I missed the note. “You’re fine! You’re fine! Here, circle that note as a visual cue, and try again.”
I did. And again. Mess up. Start over. Wrong note again. “Try it one more time.” My frustration growing. Why couldn’t I do this? Why couldn’t I do this right?
“Hey, stop. Take your hands off the piano.” I was so upset. I felt embarrassed because I couldn’t play this simple piece of music perfectly. “Take a deep breath,” my teacher said, “Now, place your hands back on there. And try one more time.”
I started the line, and this time, I didn’t mess up. I got through the line. It was just fine. Granted, I did mess up a few bars later, but in that moment it was perfect!
Now that I’m older, now that I’m in the real world (whatever that means) and have a grown up job (whatever that means), I still take that lessons I learned at that keyboard with me. They apply to so many aspect of my own life.
No matter what it is, whether it’s a new relationship, a new job, a new endeavor, and yes, even in learning a new musical skill, laying the foundation and working on the basics are so important. We will never jump from stranger to lover, entry level to manager, or novice to master over night. It takes time and thoughtful dedication to perfect anything. And honestly, perfection is not even the goal. The goal is becoming better.
Each time I played a scale, it got better, faster, more accurate. And each time I played the line in the sight reading piece I was given, it continually improved. That should always be our goal: improvement, not perfection. There is no arrival point in life, there is only becoming more of who we are meant to become. There is only growth.
When I get frustrated with things in life now, I can still hear Miss Crystal telling me to take my hands off the keyboard, to breathe, and try again. How often do we not do that? How often do we let circumstances and situations that are out of our control drive us batty? And how often, in our attempts to simply fix something, do we end up frustrating ourselves and those around us? Music has taught me that, before I do anything, before I set my hands to something, to breathe. Music has shown me that becoming angry with myself does nothing to improve my life and that if I simply pause, breathe, refocus, and try again, usually it can get better.
Learning a new instrument, or how to sing, or investing our music education is more than just a simple party trick. It’s a commitment to learning how to live a richer, more full life. It is both a joyful act of creation and a meditative choice to give ourselves grace when we fail, along with the courage to try again.
I learned my most valuable life lessons at the piano. And I’m thankful everyday for those annoying scales that taught me so much.
Kevin Garcia is a writer, blogger, musician and content creator based in Atlanta, GA. He received his bachelors of music from Christopher Newport University in 2013 with a concentration on Choral Music Education and Jazz Studies. When he’s not creating blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos, he’s singing jazz standards, writing new worship music and trying to find some delicious tacos in one of Atlanta’s many eclectic neighborhoods. You can find out more about his work at theKevinGarcia.com.
Do you feel a pull towards learning a new instrument? Or maybe your child could benefit from an awesome foundation in music education? Learn more about our programs at B Sharp School of music by clicking here.