by Chris Goslow
There is a completely unjustified stigma that sometimes attaches itself to the idea of being a beginning piano student. Sometimes, people get intimidated by the idea of starting something that they have not developed a high level of skill at. They think it will hurt their sense of pride or make them look bad. Still others simply have a tough time because learning something new can be hard, at least at first. Whatever your views about beginning something, the fact is, at some point we are all beginners. In order to get better at anything, each of us has to go through the sometimes rough beginning stages in order to develop to a more skilled level. This article is intended to help put to rest the myths about being a beginner so that you may march confidently forward as you tackle new musical challenges and grow as a pianist.
The first thing about beginning is that there is nothing wrong with it. Throughout our lives, we experience new beginnings. It really can not be avoided, and there is no reason that it should be. Rather than thinking that there is anything wrong with beginning at the piano, I would suggest that students look forward to the progress they are going to make and realize that the sooner they get to it, the sooner they will improve. If being a beginner or being thought of as such makes you uncomfortable, just realize that by getting started and going through the process, you will gain skill, and before you know it, you will no longer be a beginner.
Believe it or not, there are actually advantages to being a beginner. Beginners often are more open to the process of learning, because they do not have the same pre-conceived notions of what it is supposed to look like. Acquiring what is called “Beginner’s Mind” is very useful for anyone at any stage of learning. This is a mindset in which you allow yourself to be open to what is in front of you, rather than closing off because you think you “know” it all already. This is essential for anyone who hopes to learn anything new. If you have ever tried to teach something to someone who already thinks they know everything, you know how difficult that can be. The same is true for playing piano. At the very least, beginners have the advantage of being more open because they have no choice but to be. This often helps them to learn better and faster, at least initially.
Another advantage for beginners is that beginners usually have not made up their minds about their own limitations. They have not yet suffered major challenges and struggles in the learning process and are therefore often less cynical or resigned. They may have not decided what they “can” and “can’t” do, therefore, they are more open to the possibility of succeeding and of surprising themselves by how much they can learn. Sometimes, experienced people can become jaded by their own perceived failures or lack of past success, which in turn causes them to decide that they can only achieve so much before they hit a wall. This mindset is self-defeating. Too often, it afflicts students with just enough experience to have failed but not enough experience to have triumphed over those failures.
My music career and teaching mentor, Tom Hess, opened my eyes by showing me that behind many people’s fears is the fear of making mistakes. Another word for this is perfectionism. That is, sometimes students are unconsciously afraid that making mistakes will somehow mean that they have failed, or that they cannot succeed. They think they have to be perfect in order to be okay. I know this habit of thinking very well, as it is something I suffered from through all the years of my schooling, during which I thought making anything less than perfect grades was totally unacceptable. Perfectionism often results in lowered initiative to try new things for fear of not being good at them. In me, though it motivated me to take my studies seriously and therefore very often to do well, it also resulted in great stress and eventual burnout, and now makes me quite attuned to the importance of overcoming this crippling mental liability.
You do not need to be afraid of making mistakes. This is how we learn. Try something out, learn from that attempt, then try again. Learn from that attempt. Get feedback on how to improve. Try again. Keep going until you gain skill. The process of learning has been going on since the dawn of humanity. You need not exclude yourself from this process. You can allow yourself to learn the piano, or many things that you know are within the realm of possibility for you to learn if you just let yourself.
No matter how you think about being a beginner, if you are one, know that there really is no way that you can improve unless you start where you are. With a commitment to sticking out the process, you can learn more than you ever imagined. As long as you stick to it, with the right guidance you will surely surprise yourself. There really is nothing to lose, accept perhaps some fears and inhibitions, and everything to gain. The opportunity for musical expression and years of satisfaction is right at your finger tips if you are willing to go through the process and stay the course.
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