“Wee Small Bear” was my first piano piece. According to the song, “Wee small bear, [wore] wee small shoes, slept in his wee small bed. He [wore] a wee small baseball cap upon his wee small head.” I learned a lot from the wee small bear, but, as I continued to take piano lessons and enter competitions through high school, I learned a lot more. After 13 years of playing the piano, music is not only a part of who am, but it has made me into who I am. I have music to thank for developing the following qualities.
Each year, my teacher would give me piano pieces that pushed me just far enough past my level that they seemed impossible. Learning new music requires hours of monotonous repetition and practice that often leads people to write off playing an instrument as boring. However, I've learned that as long as I stay motivated, I can nail any difficult passage. I can ace the most daunting exam. I just have to be self-driven.
If you only put a fraction of effort into learning a piano piece, there is no hiding it when you step onto the stage to perform. It is too late. I've been there. I've blanked out. I have wanted to run off of the stage in shame. When it comes time to perform, all that matters is the work that you put in beforehand. You can luck out and slide by on rare occasions, but true success means hard work in both piano and in life.
Performing on a stage with strangers and experts judging you makes a lot of other things in life less unnerving. Confidence is key (pun totally intended). Intimidating situations can make it feel like everyone wants to watch you fail, but the truth is that there are a lot of people rooting for you.
Playing an instrument teaches you that practice does not always make perfect. Practice makes permanent. It's only when you are completely invested in what you are doing that you can make the best use of your time.
When someone has their favorite piece memorized, they don't say, "I can play it by my hippocampus." They say, "I can play it by heart." We know that there is a difference in playing by rote memorization and by heart. When you play by heart, performing is no longer about the notes and dynamics. It is more about channeling the feeling of the piece and letting the music tell a story. You can learn all of the notes and have all the focus, but your performance will be lackluster without the realization that music is powerful. Music has the ability to reach and inspire others and you can harness its power to do the same.
Mastering difficult music has taught me that I can accomplish practically anything that I set my mind to. Just as I would divide a piece into measures and subsections to learn, accomplishing big goals means setting smaller goals. It has also taught me that sometimes you make mistakes, but that is no reason to stop trying.
Playing the piano will never just be a hobby to me. Learning to play was the first time that I felt a fire to not be just good, but the best. I did not win every competition that I entered, but, as cliché as this may be, the true victory was in the lessons that I learned along the way. Today, I am not majoring in piano and my competitive career has ended, but I continue to take lessons. This gives me a chance to not only grow as a musician and spend time playing the instrument I love, but also to look for new pursuits to strive to be my best in and work toward with a fire in my heart.