Yesterday, I was coerced into teaching piano lessons to a 3-year-old. It began with an innocent enough beach walk at sunset when the curly-headed toddler began to draw pictures of pianos in the sand with a stick.
Her drawings were terrible.
But we (her mother and I), tried to help her hold her stick with both hands, keeping it straight, and focus on drawing the lines just so until they connected into the likeness of a rectangular instrument.
I attempted to enhance her design by drawing a stick figure sitting atop the sand piano, legs kicking, the smile wide, and music notes circling around the head.
My drawing was just as terrible, looking more like a giant bug than a lounge singer, but whatever. We were having fun, smashing away at sandy keys, playing rock and roll tunes while the sun dipped down behind the ocean.
It was then that I was asked if I actually knew how to play the piano. For almost 9 years, my mother, who was also a piano teacher, forced me to take lessons with her after school. It was laid on pretty thick just how fortunate I was to have free access to learning a new instrument. And always, always came the threats week after week that I would be grounded for not practicing and learning the songs I was supposed to.
I hated piano lessons. Finally, at the age of 14, mom gave me the option to quit. I did, and I never looked back.
To this day, the most comforting instrumental sound I hear is the piano. The tones are sweet, round, dark, and rich, bringing me to a place of peace and calm.
Growing up, my house was often full of upheaval and discord, as my parents fought their way into divorce court.
However, when the piano was being played, it meant my mom was happy, and the house was full of harmony and song, and joy she had created from the sound.
I don’t tap into that memory very often, or those piano playing skills either. But sometimes what we learn shows up to help in surprising ways.
Those years of banging away at stupid melodies from the songbook I didn’t care about paid off in the way where I can now confidently read sheet music. I understand tabs and chords, and scales and keys.
By being able to read music, I can teach myself how to play new songs, and that’s exactly what I do – on the guitar. I abandoned the piano, but it wasn’t long before I picked up the stringed instrument instead and learned to create music.
The guitar is much easier to travel with than a piano, and easier to pass around the room for others to strum. It turned out to be a creative outlet I’m grateful to have as an adult.
As for teaching piano to a 3-year-old? I can’t promise I’ll be as good of a piano player as my mother, but I can definitely give it a shot.
In the very least, for my young, tiny neighbor, I can teach her how to play the keys, maybe how to read notes and try to pass on the ability to create joy from sound – which is what the piano lessons were really all about anyway.
In the end, isn’t this our role? To learn what lessons we can in what shape they take – music, sand-drawings, or the bigger lessons in life – and then to teach this to the next in line?
We pass on what we learn. Perhaps they will take something that helps them in some way on their journey:
Drawing. Sunsets. Music.
And how to create our own joy.