When people think of piano savants, they tend to imagine a six-year-old child practicing his trills and cadences over and over for hours. As the movie “Whiplash” shows, perhaps the only way to become one of the “greats” is through ruthless self-sacrifice and unhealthy repetition. But most of the time, this avenue quickly leads to burnout and disillusionment.
Learning an instrument doesn’t have to be so tedious. For many music lovers, their relationship with their instrument is complicated and there will be times when they don’t interact at all.
Playing an instrument, often a frustrating journey, is well worth the effort. The fundamentals are the hardest part. Once you start feeling semi-competent, your interest in the game grows exponentially. Sure, there are some with natural talent and better congenital advantages, like the “perfect pitch,” but honestly, anyone can become adept at an instrument with enough dedication and practice.
Studies show that the unique brain benefits of playing an instrument are different from any other sport, activity, or type of art. There is nothing more engaging than playing an instrument.
Playing musical instruments works both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, making it an incredibly challenging workout for the brain. For this reason, musicians often have an enlarged corpus callosum – the bridge that connects the two hemispheres.
Moreover, it interfaces with almost all parts of the brain simultaneously, including the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. Due to these amplified communication channels in the brain, musicians also often demonstrate greater efficiency in problem solving.
musical talent generates improved memory, coordination, concentration, creativity, discipline, listening and if playing in a group, a number of social skills as well.
In addition, the body and the brain are physically modified in beneficial ways by the repeated practice of music. To cite just one example, musicians have higher amounts gray matter and neuroplasticity in the brain.
According to TED, “musicians often have higher levels of executive function, a category of interrelated tasks that includes planning, strategizing, and attention to detail and requires simultaneous analysis of cognitive and emotional aspects.” This growth in various cognitive abilities naturally extends to all kinds of everyday tasks outside of musical practice.
And the piano specifically has some unique benefits compared to other instruments, given the ambidexterity required to play. In addition, a certain level of mastery of the piano is generally required for musicians of other instruments to better understand music theory concepts, given the instrument’s impressive range and diversity.
Then there are the skills honed by learning music theory. Music theory is incredibly technical and difficult, yet rewarding, and it’s under-respected as a field of study. You open up a whole new language by being able to interpret sheet music and understand the fundamentals of chords.
Although I have flirted with a number of instruments in the past, my passion has always been the piano. Reading two bars and using both hands may seem daunting, but the surge of energy when you surrender to your incredibly powerful muscle memory is invigorating.
The piano has greatly helped ease my anxiety and manage depressive episodes. There are days when ability and focus are inexplicably better than other days, but I always feel the greatest passion when I need the therapeutic effects of the piano the most.
Technically, I’ve been a pianist for over a decade. But I rarely played regularly. I feel most inspired to play when I find music I’m passionate about, so aspiring pianists should avoid the beaten path of recommended classical music books and tedious exercises and instead pave the way by finding arrangements for the music that you would like to learn and play, at the appropriate skill level.
This does not mean that exercise books like Hanon or Czerny are not useful, quite the contrary. But a musician will only be successful if he finds his own will to improve with skill books like these.
Personally, I separate my repertoire into six categories: classical, holiday, modern (pop), soundtrack, nostalgia (classic rock) and jazz.
Moreover, there are always new developments that make the music less exclusive. In the age of the Internet, creative sheet music arrangements are becoming more accessible and abundant. In addition to public instruments and stores, second-hand or second-hand instruments can be found.
The piano isn’t the most practical or portable, though a decent keyboard with a damper pedal or headphones is still a great setup for an urban apartment.
Beethoven once said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant, but to play dispassionately is unforgivable.” The instruments require patience, but above all, they require an emotional spirit, often cathartic to express. Playing an instrument is awesome, healthy, challenging and fun.
It’s never too little or too late. Turn that knowledge into enthusiasm and go practice a musical instrument today – can I recommend the piano?
Andrew is an LAS senior.