I had wanted to write about this a month ago, but then I had NaNoWriMo, and so I’m more than a month late. I know that I always complain how I don’t make enough music. And you can see it. Every time something comes along the first thing to go is sleeping enough and the next the music. But this is not what I want to focus on today. Last year on the ninth of November I started a music journal. Before I had had piano lessons for the first time in ages. Even though I am teaching piano myself I have had only six years of training and then got better by not stopping to play. (It’s weird, my husband found the same. When you are a teenager there are lots of better musicians than you. Then they get a job, they get children and they stop playing. Then you’re middle-aged and suddenly you’re playing better than them.)
Back to the music journal. I took lessons from a fabulous jazz player because I wanted to learn to accompany myself and my students better. And I had just realized that my music depended on strong singing and a weak piano tagging along. So I wanted to improve my piano playing. Before that I had spent ages to find the right pianist. Without luck. And then I found that I had one already in the house. I would like her to play better, but at least she play whenever I want.
So, I took piano lessons and opened every single lesson with the traditional call of the adult student, “I feel so bad because I didn’t practice since last time.” As a teacher I know this from the other side too. Take any mother who wants to learn an instrument and all of them have the feeling that they don’t practice enough. Even if they do. Guilt. I think this is a mother thing.
After a couple of months I decided to stop taking lessons and start applying what I had learned. I opened up a fresh notebook and after a few preliminary sentences wrote down my goal to practice and make music in earnest. I didn’t want to continue to just play a couple of songs through twice a week, I wanted to work on my piano skills, or better, on my music skills. I made a plan and a list as always. I wrote down my goals.
I want to make the music that only I can make.
For this I want to improve my technical skills until I don’t have to think about the how anymore.
I want to become able to play what I hear in my head.
I want to feel at home in music.
The basis for my music should be voice and piano.
I want to become a better piano player.
And then I made a plan what I had to do to reach these goals. Improvise on a regular basis, transcribe songs from CD, and so on. I wrote that on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’d practice while my son was in play group, at least two times per week I would practice in the morning while my son played in the same room, and I’d practice on weekends once. And then I started right away.
Each time I played I wrote down when, what, how I felt, and what I wanted to do next. One other thing that I did in the beginning was to give myself stickers for every time I played. And I put the stickers on a calendar that I had in my room where all my students could see them and I told them what they were for. That was motivating! Imagine being a piano teacher and having to tell your students that you didn’t practice the whole week. That never happened.
All the time I was – of course – not content with what I achieved. It never seemed enough. And in a way it is, but in a way that’s how art works. It never is enough. Even if you spend all your waking moments on you art it won’t be enough. And this is what I have kept telling people again and again, “I don’t play enough, I don’t write songs.”
But if I were my own student I would be quite proud of myself. Making music has become a habit again. Only very rarely do three days go by without an entry in my journal. And one has to keep in mind that even if there is no “practice” I usually play some music every workday because I teach. When I teach singing or guitar I play all the time. When I teach piano I often sit and listen for long times but even then I get to play about ten minutes of every thirty.
And my playing has changed. I really feel better as a pianist. My tone has changed. It sounds better. when I started a year ago I was desperate because my piano is bad. And if I had 10,000 € to spare I’d buy another one in a minute, but I’m not desperate about my piano’s sound anymore. Because now I can make it sound better than before.
So during the past year I have been gone from playing one or two songs about twice a week to real practice sessions complete with improvisation, scales and concentration about three to five times a week. Sometimes more. That’s good. I don’t need to put stickers on a chart where my students can see them. And through playing guitar I found a way to make my music portable.
So my next goal is to to even more and not only improvise but make songs again.