Monday, March 3, 2014

And Now We Try The Piano

I've been dithering on the subject of learning piano for a while. My tryst with musical instruments goes back a long way, and it's more sporadic than I would like.

I've learned guitar from at least 3 teachers so far, spread out over several years and only for a few months at a time. I'm more self-taught than anything else, and definitely not the self-taught genius variety - more the dabbler-sorts. And now, for several months I haven't touched my guitar, which makes me feel guilty, given that I bought this new one just a couple of years ago.

Then, there was the time when I was learning drums in Bangalore. It features in my first book, as -

I had recently started these under the tutelage of a young man with the extremely engaging name of Ryan Mario Crispin Colaco. He was the drummer for a band called Kryptos and had what Vijay termed ‘bhayanak talent’.
I would later come to know the kind of fan following Ryan had amongst music lovers but at that point, he was somebody whose number I had got from someone else. When I spoke to him on the phone to set up my first lesson, we planned to meet outside the Lifestyle mall near his house. I waited a tad nervously for him to show up. Suddenly, a really tall, dark, well-built man sporting a French beard with his long hair in a ponytail came walking up to me. He matched the mental picture that I had formed of Ryan and I became even more nervous. Just as I was reaching out to shake his hand, he walked past me and as I looked after him in confusion, a voice behind me rang out, ‘Yashodhara?’
I turned to see a skinny, fair young man who was nearly a head shorter than me. This was the real Ryan Mario Crispin Colaco. His languid gait, extremely long curly hair and the fact that the smell of smoke lingered about him identified him as a real Rocker. We shook hands and I grinned at him as he led me to his house to start up the lessons. This dude wasn’t scary at all.
Ryan was humorous, talented and would turn out to be a great teacher. It was another matter that I didn’t practise at home at all and therefore never made any real progress, though he assured me that I ‘had the rhythm within me’. Clearly, it wasn’t going to come out anytime soon, but I had fun during the weekend lessons anyway – although I got a bigger kick out of just hearing him play new and incredibly complicated beats. 

The drums are currently packed up somewhere in my mom's house and haven't been touched for years. 

And now, as of yesterday, I am trying out the piano. It was a natural choice really, given that I've been sitting in on Peanut's classes and helping her for the last year, and have therefore picked up quite a bit, at least in theory. I realised that she's now moving much faster than I'm able to keep up with and I thought I should brush up a bit so that we can maybe someday play more duets like this one

My respect for my child went up immensely after yesterday's lesson, which I've started in a different music school from hers. I found that while my brain was able to read some of the music, it was a whole different matter sending the message to my damned fingers to just MOVE. The very nice, laugh-y teacher kept asking me to relax and gave me a few tips and tricks about how to practise, but I was quite mortified. I often point out mistakes in Peanut's playing (purely basis my ear for music, which is pretty good), but I don't think I've ever fully appreciated what it takes to learn a whole new language, to have read two sets of notes simultaneously (one for the right hand, one for the left) , and then to actually put those notes to work on the piano. The kid made it look so easy, and the regular practice of every single day ( enforced by me, in sickness and in health, very Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) has got her to progress really well. 

She was curious about my lesson yesterday and announced her intention to accompany me next time. I'm glad that it's bringing a certain degree of excitement to her - it's also bringing out her condescending and competitive side. 

'Having some trouble, Ma?' She called breezily from the other room as I practiced for 5 minutes this morning. 

'I'm fine, thanks.' I muttered, fingers hovering uncertainly over the keys. 

'That's an F-G on the left hand.' She offered helpfully. 

'Peanut, don't help.' I growled. 'Let me figure it out on my own.'

She came over and sat down next to me on the small piano stool. I tried to ignore her, but she was impatient, and kept humming the notes that I was missing. This irritated me. 

'Peanut, I know the tune myself, okay, I'm just trying to figure out how to read this.'

'But ma, why are you playing so slow?'

'Because I started learning yesterday, vis-a-vis you, who's been playing a whole year.'

'What's vis-a-vee?'

'Never mind!'

'So play properly, na.' Now it was her turn to get irritated. 

'Peanut, I'm trying, will you just give me a break? Go away and play. Have you brushed your teeth?'

'Yeah, see.' She gave me a wide, gap-toothed grin. 

'Okay, okay. Do something else.'

'No.' She was obstinate. 'I want to watch you. Shall I play the song with you?'

'No!' I swallowed. 'Not yet. Let me learn it myself first.'

She watched me like a hawk as I grit my teeth and played the song to the finish, slowly and carefully and very painfully. As the last note rang out, she reached out and quickly played the song flawlessly from start to end, with a little show-off-y flourish. She then gave me the gap-toothed grin again, this time triumphantly, with the clear unsaid message of 'I'm better'n you and always will be, old lady.' 

I rolled my eyes and got up. To my surprise, she continued to sit there - and for the first time in ages, she proceeded to practice on her own, without my having to say a word. 

I know I've been pushing this kid to practise, but my new teacher hinted to me that it may be a good idea to lay off the six-year-old and let her play more out of just the love for music and come to the piano herself. I had listened sceptically to this advise, knowing fully well that Peanut would rather watch cartoons or read a book than willingly practise. 

Well, if not the inherent love for music yet, at least the innate competitiveness that she's inherited from me will keep her at it, at least while I'm regular about my own ten minutes of practice. Yes, that's all my teacher said I need to do- which is a real relief because the idea of taking out 30-45 minutes each day to do this was a little overwhelming. 

Vijay was listening on the phone as I cribbed about Peanut and he warned me that I shouldn't get too competitive about this whole thing. I snapped at him, Of COURSE I want her to be better than me, don't be so's just that she keeps humming the notes in a condescending manner and saying things like 'Having trouble, Ma?'. But overall, the idea is for HER to develop faster, I assured him - I don't need to feel superior to a six year old, for God's sake! 

Luckily, on the phone, he couldn't see my fingers were crossed. 

Let the games begin. 


  1. Ha! This sounds familiar. The boy is still a few pieces behind me in the book we are both learning from but he plays then far more effortlessly than I ever did.


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