Can’t Play the Piano – An Update

Back at the end of February, I posted a thing about how I couldn’t play the piano.

This had been a source of consternation for me for a very long time although to be honest, I’d never made any efforts to rectify the situation. I had all the equipment – functioning hands and ears – but was sadly lacking in the piano department. In February, all that changed when we became the proud owners of my Mother-in-Law’s childhood piano. You know the story, built in Cincinnati, moved to London, coveted from the dining table, yada yada, until it turned up in my house. It’s a beaut.

There’s obviously little point in having a piano if you can’t play it so despite my advancing years and tiny hands, that’s what I set out to do. And do you know what? I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that I can now play the piano. If someone came up to me in the street, perhaps with a clipboard and asked me, for some undisclosed reason, if I can play the piano, I could answer in all truthfulness that yes, I can play the piano. I know. I can hardly believe it myself. I’m not quite ready to go and join a swing band yet (unless they’re a really bad one) but there has definitely been progress.

Using learning to drive as a handy metaphor, I’m now at a stage where I could probably just about pass my test as long as they don’t ask me to reverse around a corner. I could absolutely get you to the supermarket though, or to the beach on a sunny day, without killing anyone. No one has yet died listening to me practise Bach’s Prelude in C for the squillienth time (they just wish they had). There will come a time, in piano terms, when I can parallel park in a space only fractionally larger than my car, with a busted wing mirror.

I have a way to go yet, it’s true. I’m not yet at the end of my level one learn to play the piano book and I’m still struggling with lots of the things inside it. My hands can find a chord progression quite easily but a lot of the time, still refuse to work independently of each other. I still have to stop and think when I’m reading a piece of music for the first time. The music theory that I’m learning along the way, whilst making perfect sense at the time, is refusing to stick as fast as I would like. I have not yet perfected Somewhere Over the Rainbow but I can do a pretty good Scarborough Fair. I’m not quite ready yet to take my grade 1 exam but that’s because I haven’t practised the pieces enough not because I’m not good enough yet. I think.

I have some major barriers to overcome too. Not least my six year old who likes to come into the room and dance around shouting “plinky plonky” as I’m trying to learn a really fiddly bit. I’m also trying to instil the notion into my children that when someone’s playing, it’s not ok to squeeze onto the piano stool and hammer on the high notes while demanding food. But perhaps that’s my unreasonableness. At least they’re showing an interest.

There’s also the neighbours to consider. “No honestly” said my adjoining neighbour a few weeks ago “it’s not that I dislike hearing the piano through the wall”… I could sense where this was going… “just if you could not play it at seven o’clock in the morning, we’d appreciate it”. Oops. She makes a reasonable point I guess but remove my early morning practise and that leaves a small window of time between making tea for small children and putting small children to bed. If I get half an hour a day then I’m doing pretty well and when you put it like that, three and a half months is no time at all. I have the rest of my life to perfect it.


  1. The painting I used to illustrate this – piano lesson with bored onlooker and annoying child (not really, it’s called Music Lesson) is by Gustave Leonhard de Jonghe

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