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Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Learn to Play the Piano Badly in only Five Years

Sound too good to be true? I wouldn’t have believed it myself but I am now living proof that it can be done. Wait a second people; I’ll answer all of your questions if you’ll only act like civilized human beings for a few minutes instead of the unruly bunch of animals that you are.

Does it cost a lot to learn to play badly?

Oh, my lord, yes. It is as expensive as all get out. First you need a piano which is one of the most costly of all musical instruments, not to mention the doctor bills that will pile up quickly if you decide to move the thing by yourself. Next you’ll need instruction--but what is $40-50 an hour for a big shot like you? Just take the money from your food budget (you don’t think I would tap into my booze budget do you?).

Will I need to practice a lot?

Yes. If you are looking to play this instrument with anything approaching my level of incompetence you’ll need to practice constantly.

If I spend a lot of money and practice a lot will I always suck?

At this writing I am not qualified to reply to that question but if I may speculate I would say the answer is ‘yes.’

I’m probably not as bad as I think I am but then again I probably am pretty bad. I’m too stubborn to quit and I have begun a new practice regimen with the vain hope of making a marked improvement in my playing. It takes a lot of work to hump over and beyond the plateau's (or ruts) that I encounter in my playing.

A couple of things conspired to get me to take up the piano in the first place. This may sound corny but the movie Groundhog Day was a big motivation. In the film Bill Murray is sitting in a diner when he hears a Mozart piano sonata and is prompted to seek lessons. He makes a triumphant public appearance at the end and impresses the gal.

The other big motivating factor was the discovery of Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. The first track is the prelude in C major--a simple yet infinitely charming piece. I probably had this CD for six months before I listened to any of the other tracks. I was not only struck by the beauty of this little prelude but I thought that it would be easy to play.

That prelude was the first piece that I learned to play closely followed by the andante movement from Mozart’s first piano sonata. Playing an instrument is very similar to learning another language. It is a life-long process of learning with no definitive goal but there are plenty of rewards along the way.

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