notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Music Lessons

When I was a little girl, my mother told me, “You can do anything you want.”

But she added a caveat: “You won’t be good at everything, but you can do everything.”

This was such sane advice. And as a result, I always felt a level of calm security entering into anything new. I could do it. And I might do it well or I might do it poorly – but I could do it.

Secretly though, I never wanted to do anything poorly. I was smart. If only I applied myself, I could not only do everything. I could do it well.

And I am smart. And I do a lot of thing pretty well.

But my mother was right.

As usual.

I hate that. Not that Mom was right. That’s inevitable. I hate sucking at something.

My mother did not have a lot of advantages as a kid. But she was never very envious of other people’s lives either. But one thing she did envy. Musicians.

How she loved people who could make music. So as soon as she could scrape up a few dollars, she bought a huge old upright piano (an old player piano, rollers and bellows included) and had it hoisted up to our second floor apartment. I think they had to take out the window frame to get it through. And then she scraped up enough additional money to give us girls piano lessons. Actually, just barely enough for two lessons a week, so with three daughters, we rotated – each taking a week off from lessons every third week.

My oldest sister – Chris, the most brilliant of us – took her lessons and practiced to an adequate level of competence, but did not care very much. When she entered high school and could make her own decisions about her courses of study, she dropped music. As far as I know, she hasn’t played anything since but the radio.

The middle sister was born to play. Claudia loved her lessons, she loved her piano, she loved to practice. How many kids have to be told to stop practicing for a while, and come and eat supper? And what a connection she had to the music, and still has. She’s a natural musician. And she not only played piano, once she had the opportunity to learn more, she played cello and bassoon and glockenspiel and marimba. Now she plays violin. Terrific violin. She belongs to a Fiddler’s group and plays at fairs and events.

Skipping down to my little brother, who came late enough in our family to miss our neighbor-lady piano teacher. He took saxophone as a kid, and later took up electric bass for a rock back, bass fiddle for the local symphony, and now – believe it or not – the bagpipes for a pipers marching band. He wears a kilt and everything. My brother is one of those determined types, who sets his mind to something and will not give up. I can’t say he has the natural soul for the music that Claudia does, but he plays well through practice, hard work and pig-headed determination.

Then there’s me. Me of the two-weeks-on, one-week-off piano lessons. I have music in my soul. I really do. But I don’t have music in my fingers. I really don’t. I haven’t got the sheer willpower to master an instrument that my brother has, and I don’t have the practicality of my older sister, who easily gave it up.

I tried piano. I play haltingly. Years ago I memorized Fur Elise and Silent Night, so if someone ever asked me play something, I could. I can still do it… the first eight bars of each anyway.

And I tried guitar. As a teenager I wanted to be Joan Baez. But my fingers are tiny and I can’t quite manage the chords. I learned FOUR songs. (in four years)

I gave the guitar to my brother years ago. I have my own piano though, and I sit and stumble through “Over The Rainbow” when I dust.

Then several months ago, Groupon gave me a terrific offer – One whole year of online ukulele lessons for $15.  What did I have to lose? My musician sister, Claudia, lent me a beautiful ukulele to practice with. (Yeah, she had a spare gorgeous ukulele.)

ukulele

Claudia’s Ukulele. With mother-of-pearl inlay.

I thought, now THIS I can do. My small fingers can fit around a little ukulele. And there are only four strings, as opposed to six (or more) on the guitar. Anyone can play the ukulele. Tiny Tim could play the ukulele. I am smarter than Tiny Tim.

But I can’t.

I can’t get through Lesson 14. Bryan is so patient with me. He says exactly the same thing and plays the same thing over and over. (It’s a video.) He never loses his temper.

But I can’t play it.

I will give the ukulele back to my sister.

Mom is right. I can do everything. But I can’t do everything well.

I have the heart.

I don’t have the talent.

Practicing on the toilet bowl brush. If my lessons with JT continue this well, I am definitely buying a guitar.

Practicing on the toilet bowl brush. I’m afraid the ukulele is in pain. It’s hiding in the closet in my guest bedroom.

54 Comments

  1. Annette Rochelle Aben

    Ah yes, I sat down at my mother’s Baldwin Acrosonic 40 years ago and whipped open the Liberace BIG NOTE Song Book. Nailed (at least it sounded like I did) the right hand on a couple tunes, and simply assumed that my left hand was there to turn pages. (deep sigh)

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    • With the ukulele, my right hand only has to strum. But I can’t get my left hand to do anything right.

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      • Brian

        It’s the left hand. Of COURSE it won’t do anything right!

        Sorry, had to. It was just hanging there . . .

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  2. “You won’t be good at everything, but you can do everything.” What great advice and a good lesson for anybody. I’m going to use it with my daughter who tends to get frustrated when she cant do something well. I too struggled with the piano. I wanted to play so badly and my mom and sister made it look so easy…..

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    • My mother’s advice is always true and useful.

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  3. sassycoupleok

    Yes unfortunately we don’t all have the same god given talents or maybe it fortunately. This way we appreciate more those who do have the talent.

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    • You have a wonderful point. I am in awe of my sister’s skill.

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      • sassycoupleok

        That’s wonderful !! 🙂 It’s very easy to be jealous of our siblings. I bet she admires you as well !!

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  4. I started piano lessons when I was 5 or 6 and I stopped with the lessons at about 16 I think. My parents always thought I should have kept at it but I knew I didn’t have the natural talent that’s needed to really go somewhere with it, no matter how hard I worked (or didn’t) at it. So I see where you’re coming from. 🙂

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    • I wish I had the talent. But I know I don’t. I will stick to writing.

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  5. I really wish I had just the right words to thank you for this. Sighing with relief reading these uncommon, uplifting words.

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  6. Maybe you shouldn’t give up just yet on the ukulele–I’d never played an instrument before, either, other than a few simple piano songs I learned while my kids were taking lessons. Even when I bought a concert ukulele a few years ago I still didn’t learn to play except for a few lessons I took on a cruise ship to Hawaii and back around the same time. But last fall I began to learn tenor ukulele in order to be in a newly-formed family band with my sister, brother, and sister-in-law. And guess what–I can actually play the ukulele now! I am as surprised as anyone over this turn of events, believe me. And now I am learning to play electric bass guitar for the band (to sub for our regular bass player, my brother, when he is playing banjo), and I’m really enjoying that instrument, too. Now the band members want me to learn the bodhran (a type of Irish drum) so that is next on my list. Now, I will never be great at playing any of these musical items, but as long as I play them okay and don’t scare away dogs or make little children cry when I play, I’m fine with that. And, I’m having tons of fun. So maybe you don’t need to give up your ‘ukulele dream’–you just need to find a band that is searching for a new member. And just think, you could be the hit at the next ‘kitchen party’ you attend! Loved your post, as usual.

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    • You know, I have another 10 months of lessons left. Maybe I’ll give it one more try. If I can play a couple of little ditties eventually, it might be something I can break out at a party.

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      • It’s especially great for playing along with guitars…you don’t have much of the responsibility because guitars can drown out ukuleles really east but you get to share in the glory! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…LOL

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        • Like singing in the church choir – and hoping that everyone thinks you are really carrying a tune.

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      • Ray G

        Once your retirement takes hold, you’ll have plenty of time for “diversions”.

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  7. Do you enjoy it though? If so, then I’d say just continue to suck at it, and suck at it proudly and with joy! It’s nonsense, this always needing to be good at things in order to feel like we’re usefully spending our time. (This sounds like I’m just plugging my blog lol, but it’s so relevant here!)

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    • Sucking at something with Joy… what a concept! But now that I reflect on it – that’s where I am with Yoga.

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  8. My sister hated me over the piano. She had the lessons, practiced and struggled, then lost heart. What clinched it was I have a natural gift, can’t read a note, but could hear a melody once or twice, then pick it out on the keyboard, adding my own twiddly bits and interpretation. I couldn’t get to grips with a guitar ( like you, my fingers wouldn’t co-operate for the chords), but always wanted to play sax. Sadly I didn’t have the puff to get a squeak out of it, let alone a tune!
    I haven’t played now for almost 2 years and sold my piano in November 2013. My finger joints are swollen and my hands hurt most of the time, but one day, I will sit down again and play.

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    • I had a great-aunt who could play by ear like that – she was awesome! I’m sure you were too. I hope you do play again!

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      • I like to think so. I did a post on it (The Day the Music Died) and tried to explain how I felt. Music had been such an important part of my life and seen me through some difficult times. I must admit though I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would and who knows, maybe I’ll eventually get that baby grand I promised myself.

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  9. When I was very little, we had a piano, that my eldest sister played (not especially well). But my parents broke my too-young-for piano lessons heart and got rid of the piano.

    For many years, I was a singer, and always regretted not playing an instrument (I wanted to be Joni Mitchell.). When we moved to Simsbury, the house we bought had an old piano, and I finally started taking lessons. I’m not sure, but my rendition of When The Saints Go Marching in, might have been fatal. Because my piano teacher died. I am pretty sure piano playing was not for me.

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    • Hahaha–I can just picture an elderly piano teacher keeling over to the strains of ‘oh Lord I want to be in that number…’

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, that was pretty much what nearly happened to my non-music-loving husband!

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    • I wouldn’t consider your playing to be fatal unless at least 3 piano teachers died. They didn’t, did they?

      Liked by 1 person

      • No. It was just the one. And it wasn’t suicide so I guess I can take his death off the list of stuff that will keep me out of heaven.

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  10. I like your mother’s wisdom. Like my grandmother’s joke about the little girl trying to be kind who said, “I like you…but not very much.”

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    • I love that! I know a lot of people I could say that to!!!

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  11. I love your mother’s saying. |What a sweet foundation for children. They know when they suck and when they don’t. Nice to allow them to find what they ARE good at. 🙂 I’m with Sylvia. Give it another try. Maybe you’ve just hit a plateau. ❤

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    • It’s a teeth-clenching kind of plateau. I’m not sure my husband can stand too much more of it…. or the cats.

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      • Never mind. You’re worth it for as long as you want to persevere. ❤ ❤ ❤

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  12. Karron

    I was blessed to grow up in a musical family. My parents had a Country and Western band, no matter where we lived in the world. They played every weekend right up until my dad had a stroke a few years ago. Dad could play any instrument with a few minutes of coaching. Couldn’t read music at all. His whole family is that way. So, I started singing with the band when I was seven and my sister was eight. By the time high school rolled around we were doing four part harmony with my two younger sisters. Then my brother came along and he is just like my dad. Oh, and mom is a singer too.

    It wasn’t music that called to me, it was art. I have always always always wanted to paint beautiful art. I do OK, for stuff for my grandkids bedrooms etc. (Murals for their walls.) But I will never be an artists. Sigh…. So, I try to write and paint pictures with my words. Closest I will ever get. Darn it.

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    • We are blessed with the talent that we have. I may not be a musician, but like you, I create through writing. And I love it. (I just wish I could play that damn ukulele too….)

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      • Oh, and it is WAY COOL that you had a family band! The closest I ever came was me on the piano, my brother on the sax, and the dog with the vocals… and we were all pretty bad!

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  13. Christine

    Like Mom, I regret that I can’t make music. As you said, I could remember the notes and play them in the right order, but I never really had a feel for it. There are some things I am satisfied to not be really good at (housework, for instance) but I didn’t want to play the piano badly, though it was disappointing. By the way, I’m not sure I am the most brilliant of the four of us — I never wrote a novel, and probably couldn’t.

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    • I remember Mom always wanting us to show her what we learned, so she could play too…such a sweet memory. And I think it’s a good thing we all have our own unique abilities in the family – how could we ever compete with each other?

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  14. Like Pensititivy101, I have a natural ear for music. I’ve been coming home from movies and playing their soundtracks on the piano from memory ever since Jurassic Park. I learned to read music only to pass the sightreading portions of my Royal Conservatory exams. I took lessons, but they wore on me. I didn’t care about music theory, I just wanted to play. So I quit, and I did my own thing instead, and the joy came back. I may not ever have the dexterity and skill of a concert pianist, but I love what I play and that’s all that matters to me.

    I am, however, completely useless on any kind of stringed instrument. I think the piano ruined me for them. I like my notes laid out all in one row, not in chunks on a bunch of wires. If you listen closely when I attempt to play the guitar, you can actually hear the strings yelling, “YOUR PERFECT PITCH CAN’T HELP YOU NOW, SUCKER!”

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    • I thought at one time, that strings would be easier than the piano… there aren’t so many of them. But you’re right – the piano is so much more logical!

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  15. I took piano for two years. I loved it. My parents scraped the money together and also bought an old upright for $25.00. My dad refinished it and it was lovely. I quit after two years because while in my fourth grade year my piano teacher had me so crazy and nervous about making a mistake all I did was cry the night before my lessons. I can play just a little bit and I think had I had the right teacher, things would have been different. I used to go to the convent for my lessons and it was a big beautiful place, but once we got into the rooms with the pianos it was like we crossed into one of the levels of hell and peace and patience went out the door. I still would love to play, but think I am a bit old to remember what I just learned!! Hubby plays the bass, guitar and banjo, my youngest is a beautiful violinist and my oldest, well, she is very pretty…. 😉

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    • After I had the sweet neighbor-lady teach, I took lessons for a while from the nuns. I had the same experience. Stressful.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. That was wise advice. People used to also say, everyone is good at something, find out what it is, nurture that, and be happy you have it.
    That uke is really something. I had a really ugly/cheap brown one, but it was cool. Ukes need to be played in a group of silly people – much easier to learn in person than by book or on-line. Find some silly people and try again. Be sure to take some laughter with you – Ukes need lots of laughter to add to the music attempts.

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    • That’s really good advice. Wine would help too!

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  17. Dana

    I can totally relate to loving guitar, but having tiny fingers! When I tried to learn chords, my wrists hurt, excruciatingly, because I was straining so much to reach the strings!

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    • The uke is much smaller, but I still can’t get my fingers to get to the right place at the right time.

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  18. Oh, I sympathise. Living with a husband who likes to do everything to perfection is frustrating. Like you I can do lots of things but only a couple really well.

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    • Trying to do everything to perfection usually means very little gets done.

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  19. Ray G

    May I comment that you seem to have touched a “nerve” here? Another entry which has garnered a wide swath and variety of comments! Good work, as a writer, if not yet as a uke player.

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    • Not yet a uke player. Probably not ever a uke player.

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  20. Your mother was absolutely right, what wonderful and thoughtful advice. I love music! I love that others play it well, sing it well, write it well. I love that I can listen to it. Thank you for this one.

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    • Isn’t it great that we can listen to great music – so easily, so accessible?

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  21. Reminds me of all those swimming lessons mom paid for…and I can barely swim! I can’t sing – I can but not within ear shot of anyone else – and have never played a musical instrument but have it in my head that someday I’ll learn to play the sax. I so appreciate a beautiful voice and musicians, I know how much work goes into practicing. Thanks for passing along your mom’s good advice. 🙂

    Like

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