What learning the piano has taught me about writing

No learning is ever wasted

pianist-1149172_960_720What does learning the piano have to do with writing? I can hear you asking this question as you open this blog post. The answer is a heck of a lot more than you’d think (or I thought until recently). But one thing I have come to realise is that few lessons are only useful in the context in which we first learn them. To put it another way: no learning is ever wasted. So it has proved with my new pastime of learning the piano, which has delighted and frustrated me in equal measure. A few admissions about me and music before we start:

  1. I am tone deaf.
  2. I was worse than hopeless at Music in school.
  3. I had no idea what any of the funny squiggles on a page of music meant until a few weeks ago.
So, I am learning piano from the lowest of bases, which is pretty much the case with me and this new world of self-publishing and indie authorship too. This has meant that learning the piano has furnished me with many lessons that are equally applicable to being an author.

Five writing lessons from learning the piano

1. Some days are just hard, but that’s fine

These cats are probably making a better sound than I do on many days.

Some days practising the piano has felt like wading through incredibly thick treacle while
wearing iron boots. I have had to force myself to stay on the piano stool for my allotted practice time, even though the urge to run screaming from the piano has, at times, been overwhelming. However, the following day, when I have returned to the piano stool, I have found things suddenly click. I have experienced this time and again with writing as well. This has taught me that I need to put the hours in (whether practising piano or writing) regardless of how difficult it feels on that particular day. I will reap the benefit of that input at a later date. I just need to have faith in the process

2. You can only improve by doing

Those of you who have read previous posts of mine will remember that I have had problems in the past with spending too much time researching and not enough time writing. Learning the piano has reminded me of the importance of doing in order to learn and improve. Reading about playing the piano isn’t going to make me Lang Lang (actually nor is practising, come to think of it), but practising might actually give me a chance of becoming half-decent.

3. The ‘slog’ is easier to bear when it’s something creative

This is a very important life lesson for me. I have found it much easier to persevere with the hard work of learning the piano and writing than I did with jobs I have done in the past. The common theme between these two pursuits (and what that previous work was missing) is the creativity involved. This is a sustaining force.

4. A change is as good as a rest

Watching TV is not the only way to relax and refresh the brain (in fact it’s probably a pretty bad way). Doing something else mentally stimulating is a good way to recover from work (whether it be writing or any other job) and can help you to do that work much better. I have found my creative thinking to be far greater and my brain to feel far fresher at the end of a session of piano practice (which always comes toward the end of the day) than with other, more passive means of relaxation.

5. If it’s tough, don’t stop, just take it slower

ice-climbing-1247606_960_720I am working my way through a fantastic book of piano pieces written by Bela Bartok which he composed specifically to teach his son the piano. This means that they are getting progressively more difficult and introducing new ‘concepts’ as they go along. I have found two or three of the pieces particularly challenging and almost overwhelming. Instead of throwing in the towel, though, I have simply slowed down and taken these particularly complicated pieces at a more manageable pace and in smaller chunks. This means I will get to my ‘destination’ more slowly than I intended, but it means I should still get there. There have been times when I have been writing when my narrative has become bogged down and I have found it hard to resolve a particular tension that has come into the story. taking this approach has helped me to work through these sections and come out the other side.

Over to you

I have applied the lessons above to my writing, but, on reviewing them, I can see that they are applicable to most things in life. What useful life lessons have you learnt from unexpected sources? I would love it if you let me know by leaving a comment below. If you’ve enjoyed this post and found it useful, please do share it with your friends through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. (you’ll find shortcut buttons for doing so below).

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8 thoughts on “What learning the piano has taught me about writing

  1. All good lessons well worth learning. I’m sure lots of folks will find this post helpful and inspiring – thanks for sharing your experience.

    In answer to your question, I’d say without hesitation that having a necessary responsibility for other living things (either my children or birds on the Nature Reserve where I do research work, for example) has taught me just how much more energy and resourcefulness I can draw on under obligation – and that such energy and resources are actually always available. They are released or denied entirely in response to my mindset.

    So learning that I have more energy and resources than I thought and then learning to tap those resources even when it is not an obligation – well, that’s been useful.

    1. Thanks for the comment Austin. Absolutely agree with you regarding how much energy one can draw upon when one has to. That’s why I find it really helpful to impose deadlines on myself – that pressure helps me to get on with it.

  2. Really good advice.The point you made about returning to the piano and then finding that something just ‘clicks’,suggests that we should also trust that our subconscious is working on things all of the time and perhaps when we least think it is, so there’s a need for us to trust ourselves as well.Great post.

  3. Thanks Skilbey. It’s amazing what your subconscious is doing without you even realising it. That’s why I’m a big advocate of taking regular breaks from work – it helps you process thoughts better and makes you more effective for the time you are working.

  4. All great points Barford and I love the way you have connected the two. I think, like you, that I have been guilty in the past of being so fixed on a deadline I plough on when the writing is tough but I have learned that time away doing something else is much better to get the creative juices flowing again. I like the sound of learning the piano and I’m sure I would be much more diligent now than I was when I was told I was learning it at 5. It didn’t last long not least because my piano had an infestation of moths and I remember my Dad burning it in the back garden!

  5. I trust your 5-year-old self had no part in the placing of said moths in the piano! I think I wouldn’t have got very far if I’d been ‘told’ I was to learn piano as a child. I’m loving it now as it is something I have whole-heartedly chosen to do. It is a fantastic escape as well.

  6. Good advice. Sewing is my creative outlet: just like writing, I can create something that was in my head. And while I’m designing or letting the machine do all the sewing while I’m merely guiding the fabric, the troubling parts of plot or character seem to resolve itself. The same lessons you learned from the piano, I learned from sewing 🙂

    1. Hi Ronel.

      So glad you enjoyed it. You’re right – any other creative process can really help unblock the writing, which is why I like to take a break with a bit of piano or even rustling up a new recipe!

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