Like many musicians before me I began my musical journey on the piano. Growing up in rural Aberdeenshire, it was the most popular and widely available instrument; you could find one in every school, village hall and community centre. Like many musicians before me, the piano fell by the wayside when I picked up my second instrument. Eventually, by the time I started my third, the piano had been relegated to the ‘instruments I used to play’ pile. With the wonderful benefit of hindsight, I now realise that I should have kept some proficiency, as it will be difficult to relearn the techniques after such a long time away from the keyboard.
The piano is such a versatile instrument which is why I want to start ‘tinkling the ivories’ again. It can stand on its own in a solo performance or as part of an ensemble. It can also be a learning tool for single line musical instruments, such as the trombone or clarinet, and it can be used as an accompaniment. The latter of these qualities is very valuable when it comes to learning songs for a group, or solo, performance. There is another reason to take up playing again. I actually own an upright piano, and I have been putting off playing for too long. I should just sit down and play it!
While I was gaining teaching and classroom experience in a local primary school, I helped put the Christmas holiday play. That year was called, “Pirates vs Mermaids”. It had well written dialogue and was peppered with fun but challenging songs. The backing track for those came on a C.D. and the music was performed digitally (MIDI format) rather than by musicians. Even though the C.D. is a solid base for the songs, it could be more fun, and provide more learning opportunities, if the music was performed by the children as a band.
From my own experience and what I have observed in schools, singing in front of an audience usually comes with a lot of nerves and anxiety. By introducing the choice of playing an instrument, perhaps percussive like a tambourine and maracas or melodic like a glockenspiel and recorder, music becomes about more than just singing along to a C.D. The piano is important in this scenario because it provides the chord structure underneath the sung or played melody. This is why I am motivating myself to start playing again, so I can provide this assistance.
Playing and exploring music in this way is fun, but access to instruments is dependant on what is available in the school. While many instruments are expensive, such as brass, woodwind and strings, others are relatively cheap to acquire and maintain. The percussion section has both tuned and rhythmic instruments, which are sold in sets by educational resource providers, such as Music Education Supplies and the TTS group. Unfortunately, even though instruments are sold at low prices, some school budgets do not extend far enough to reach this aspect of the arts.
I know starting again will be a difficult process, as learning the piano was not easy for me compared to the other instruments I play, but I do love to learn. The coordination required to use individual fingers, on both hands, in the correct order stimulates the brain in a most wonderful way. I will update this blog with my progress as often as possible or when I reach what I consider to be a milestone (if I manage to make it that far without someone calling the authorities about the horrible noises I am making!).