Breathing Lessons on the Piano

Breathing Lessons on the Piano September 23, 2013

I have a new/old piano.

Despite the fact that multiple internet sources essentially tell me that someone my age is wasting their time to do this, I’m taking piano lessons for the first time.

It came about like this.

I’ve always wanted to learn the play the piano. I love music. I have what you might call an eclectic collection of music on my iPhone, ranging from classical to country. I just love good music. But one type of music I love especially is piano solos. I have hundreds of them and I play them a lot.

I wanted to take piano lessons so I could make those beautiful sounds. I wanted to be able to hear that music in the way the person who is playing it hears it.

According to a lot of experts, that ain’t gonna happen. Old bags like me are just past that sort of thing.

All I can say, is that I’m so glad I didn’t read those experts before I started taking lessons. It wouldn’t have stopped me, but the weight of their negativity would have been something I had to throw off, wasting my time and energy. As it was, it never occurred to me that there was any reason I couldn’t do this if I wanted.

Despite the fact that I’d wanted to do this for a very long time, the time was never right. We were far too broke when I was raising kids to waste money on me and my interests. Pretty much everything my husband and I wanted got put on hold so that we could provide opportunities for them.

That was a golden investment that I not only don’t regret, but I am soooo glad we made. I look at the beautiful young men I raised, and all I can tell you is that it was the best thing I ever did.

However, that nagging desire to play the piano was still there. Then, last summer, a small group of people from my parish formed an ad hoc weekly Bible study in which we got together and talked about the readings from Sunday mass. Of course, there was a lot of eating and random chatter going on as well.

One of the women mentioned that she had a friend who was trying to give away a piano. I immediately said, “I’ll take it!”

And the rest has been rock and roll.

All I can say to those internet experts who claim that old fogies like me can’t learn new tricks is pfffffttttt. I am having a wonderful time with this piano. My goal, which is simply to make it make beautiful sounds, is, I am convinced, completely within my reach.

I enjoy this so much, that it surprises me. The hardest part for me has been limiting my fingers to playing the little tunes in the lesson book. I keep hearing other melodies in my head that I want to play. My piano instructor, bless him, told me to go ahead and play those other melodies. It takes a bit of plunking around to find them on the keyboard, but when I do, it is so much fun.

So, I guess I’m playing by ear and learning to play by following notes, as well. I often end up taking the little songs the lessons give me and plunk around, expanding them into longer melodies. That is so much fun.

My only complaint so far is that I wish my piano sounded better. It’s not bad. The piano tuner said it was in great shape; “a new old piano” is how he put it. But I want to hear a rounder tone than it makes. I don’t like the sharpness of its sounds. I want it to come back at me more, to have more fullness.

I’m not really sure what I’m talking about here. All I know is that am probably going to waste some money in a year or so and buy a piano that’s way over my abilities just so I can experience the pleasure of having it make those beautiful sounds when I play it.

Will I ever be a concert pianist?

No and no.

First, no because the experts are probably right that I’ve started too late. Second, no because that is not anything I even slightly want. I understand how much work it takes to make a career of anything. I don’t want that for this.

This is breathing. Only it’s music and not air.

As for those discouraging internet experts, they should know better. There’s an old saying that no one is ever too young to die. That is true. But the flip side of it is also true: No one is ever too old to live.

Musical notes

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16 responses to “Breathing Lessons on the Piano”

  1. One more thing: get the best piano you possibly can, a grand. You already want to hear a better sound and that is what it is all about.

    • I’m going to have to learn a lot more before I buy one. I just bumped into the one I have. It’s a Wurlitzer, console, made in 1984, btw. It really makes me want something with more sound, but I am blessed to have gotten it.

      • I see pianos on sometimes. There probably is a group near you. You could get the a newer piano and list the older one.

        I’ve committed to myself that I’ll pick up the violin again and take lessons once my kids are older.

  2. Oh no! I’ve wanted to do that too. I tried on my own a few years ago and found I learned quite a bit more about music by playing. But it was limited and realized I needed a tutor. I would love to follow you in this enterprise but I just don’t have the time. When my son is old enough to start lessons, perhaps i can sign up as well. For now God bless and I hope you do great. 🙂

  3. That is very encouraging. I have a rather sad story to do with music. Long ago, my father sent me to a British “public school” (in fact, a highly private and expensive high school), King’s School Canterbury, where I was able to take music lessons for the first time in my life. Then my family fell apart, the fees could not be paid, I was withdrawn – and for some reason, someone saw fit to make my music lessons (for which I had not asked permission) the issue that supposedly had caused the mess. End of my musical education, but EMPHATICALLY NOT of my love for music – wherever I went, I piled up mountains of records, tapes, CDs, and, lately, computer MP3 archives.

    Now, two of the people I had found out about in music reading at King’s were a composer called Alkan, who really sorts the men from the boys in terms of piano playing, and his leading advocate and performer, a pianist called Ronald Smith. Alkan is a great composer and should be better known, but his writing is so difficult that it is near the edge of what is humanly possible, and only a few pianists in each generation are physically capable of performing his works. As a result he is not as widely known as Liszt or Chopin or Beethoven, whose difficulties are fabulous but within human limits.

    Decades after I had been exiled from King’s and from music, I read Ronald Smith’s obituaries – and found out he had been the head of music at King’s School, Canterbury, in the period I was there. I could never have been that good – my hands are too small – but God, talk about missed opportunities…

    Here is Ronald Smith playing Alkan:

  4. Good for you! I don’t know what “experts” you’ve uncovered, but they are definitely wrong. So too are those that say it will take years to be able to play anything worthwhile or attempt the songs you want to play. I teach many adults who either never took lessons or worse, hated them and quit. Even with children, you should enjoy the process and strive to learn more, not just add another boring chore to your life. Many kids enjoy gymnastics without the pressure to be in the Olympics someday. I also encourage all players to spend time making stuff up or trying to play what you hear. Eventually you’ll have a name for what you are playing, but for now it’s just fun to try to plunk it out. And it’s actually great work, connecting your ear with your fingers. Never a waste of time.

    There is an online forum of supportive people just like you at where players of all levels communicate. I and other teachers participate as well. There’s one called the Adult Beginners Forum with plenty of folks that prove your experts wrong. Glad you are enjoying the process. Keep it up!

  5. I’m delighted you moved forward with piano lessons. My piano has been a source of endless joy my entire life. In fact, in many ways, the piano lessons my folks gave me defined who I became and had a profound affect on my faith life. Most of the music I now play and write is based on my Catholic faith (in spite of my Protestant upbringing!). I call the piano “God’s instrument,” although the Church honors the organ with that distinction, one of the only places where the Church and I part company.

  6. This is inspiring. I have a second-hand flute sitting downstairs, with a lesson book, waiting for me to have time to reteach myself. I played in intermediate school, but in middle school had to choose between art and music. Music lost.

  7. Wow, good for you!! You sound like me, I have always wanted to play the piano, but never had the opportunity to take lessons. I wish I had a bigger house, I would love to get a piano. I play by ear on my sister’s “untuned” piano when I visit and I really love all the piano solo artists. I’m also older, but I think just like you. Hey, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, it seems you’re proving them wrong!! Enjoy your piano, I’m envious!!

  8. This is a good encouragement to everyone who wants to learn piano without the age limit. As long as you are interested to learn piano, no matter what your age or your capacity is, you will really make it. Nowadays, there are many online tutorials and piano lessons that could make your dream come true in playing the piano. Whoever is interested, just visit

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