Tickling the ivories

So far as I know, my mom’s piano – my piano, still sits in the garage of the house I grew up in. Something else we didn’t have the heart to throw away after my dad died and we sold the place.

It was a battered old upright even when I first began tinkering at it. The paint was chipped and fading, keys stuck and it was perpetually out of tune, most probably because it sat in the damp basement.

The basement was a good place for a piano student though, as it had a door that kept anyone unstairs from hearing me practice. My brother’s drum set was down there too, but the door did nothing to muffle the sound of his banging. I don’t guess piano practice is painful to listen to, except for the constant repetition, compared with say, the clarinet, which I gave up in favor of the piano. I was pretty bad on the clarinet; good at making those awful squeaky sounds, but not much else.

I took lessons for a number of years; I already knew how to read music fairly well, but then had to learn to read two clefs at once and cooordinate my eyes and hands to play both parts at the same time. It amazes me that anyone ever learns to do it; it’s that hard. I never could seem to practice enough to satisfy my very strict teacher and never did learn to play much beyond a simple version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Serenade. Eventually I stopped going to lessons, probably because of some boy…

My brother Brian seems to have the most musical talent of the bunch of us; if you think of drumming as requiring musical talent, that is. He plays the trumpet like my dad did, and the guitar some and thinks he can sing, too. What always got me though, was the way he could sit down in front of that piano and play songs just by ear. His fingers were in all the wrong places and he mostly jabbed at the keys, but he could play real music as opposed to those silly songs I had to practice or those awful scale exercises meant to improve my technique.

What about you – did your parents send you for instrument lessons? Do you still play? Like me, maybe you wish you’d stuck with it?

I’m still determined to teach myself the tinwhistle. Though it does sort of remind me of the squeakiness of a clarinet. Worse, so far.


19 thoughts on “Tickling the ivories”

  1. I sometimes get nostalgic for my oboe, but I don’t miss all those double-reed hassles. I still have a flute, but almost never play it. I sometimes think of getting it refurbished, but then the thought passes.

    Dan took up guitar a couple years ago after a couple decades’ hiatus and he plays almost every day. I like hearing him practice on the porch or in the living room.

    I think everyone should have a creative outlet of some kind. Music isn’t the most important one for me but I do love knowing that others get so much out of it.

  2. I do wanted to learn playing guitar. But the wish vanished into air as academics too the drivers seat. Thank God now my little sister is learning guitar 🙂

    Nice reminiscent post.

  3. I have the piano that I grew up with, my mother upgraded a few years ago to a grand piano and passed on the old upright to me. I don’t play very often but think that I might start re-claiming the keys. I’ve read that reading music and playing the piano is a good way to keep the mind sharp.

  4. My four brothers and I all had to learn to play an instrument. There was no way out. My parents were (still are) missionary/ministers and we provided the music many times. I played the piano in church from when I was 12 and still do so. Before TV people would recite or play instruments to entertain family and friends and a good education meant you could do music passably. I do prefer to play by ear, am a lazy sight reader and am not particularly talented.

  5. I played the violin–worse by far than drums, if you evaluate having to listen to one practice, especially in the early years!!
    And, though I played all through high school and had private lessons, I never played after graduating.
    And, now, I cringe at the thought of what I might do with it!

    If I had it to do over again, I’d choose one more socially “acceptable”–one others invite you to get out and share–so the skills you acquire aren’t wasted on an instrument that sits in an attic gathering dust.

    Like piano, or guitar, perhaps?

  6. My mother had a “natural ear” for piano. Never having had a single lesson, she could play almost anything. When my father died, she found solace playing old hymns on the piano at 2 o’clock in the morning when she couldn’t sleep.

    I took piano lessons as a child, and learned to play the guitar in college, but a musician I’ll never be. My most creative music is a playlist on my iPod.

  7. I took piano when I was about six for one year, then again for a couple of years starting when I was about eleven. In the years between I picked up lots of bad playing habits that I never quite got over. I was much better at playing the flute, which I still play once in a while. Over the years I have added guitar, mandolin, and banjo, and I don’t play any of them often enough. 🙂

  8. You should start playing again. Oh, and if you didn’t read on my post a while back, I’m still going to make it as a Rockstar. And I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m selling out:)

  9. It was always my dream to play piano. I never learned. three of my four kids played something: drums (heaven help us), clarinet and several other things she just picked up, and the smallest one played cello

  10. I BEGGED my parents to let me play the alto sax. They sighed and opened up the wallet.
    I played from 5th grade until I graduated high school. I picked it up a few times since then, mostly to jam with others, like a studio band, etc.
    It’s sitting near me in the basement here. The girls like to get it out and honk away.
    Even though it’s been awhile, I like to think I could warm it up and play a song or two.
    The piano is a mystery to me. Too many keys.

  11. I wanted to play sax, but the ‘rents bought me a used clarinet instead (much cheaper) which I played for 7 years. Then, the band teacher needed a tenor saxaphonist for marching band, so I used the school’s instrument. When concert season rolled back around, I picked up the oboe, which I enjoyed. The sax was great, except for carrying around that huge case.

    After high school, I didn’t play any more. I still think about playing another woodwind from time to time, maybe flute, but haven’t gotten around to it.


  12. I’m ashamed of myself. I grew up in a very musical home because of my Dad – The player of the guitar, harmonica, piano, organ, and any musical instrument he held in his hands. Ashamed, because I never learned music enough to play an instrument.

    He played by ear like your brother Brian. And sang along.

    His piano is resting behind me right now, in need of tuning and cleaning after being moved four times since 1964 across several states. Once in a while, I tickle and dust the ivories on that old Spinnet and remember when he entertained us so well.

  13. Big Sis played the piano. Dad’s words … “Why does that girl have to pound on that thing so???”

    I took up drums .. in school as an instrument. Had these dreams of a nice set up in the house to out do SIs Sue. Also because in drums all the notes are on just one line!!!

    What you got was this little block of wood with a rubber pad on it, propped up on one end to simulate tha angle of a snare drum .. it did not make enough noise to wake a cat! BAh ….

    Bunny Lady plays the piano … sort of re taking it up after several years off. It is so pleasant to hear her play such a variety of tunes.

  14. Bunnygirl: There’s a guy down the street who plays tinwhistle – sometimes I can hear the sounds drifting up towards my house – I love that! Nice that you can hear your Dan practice like that.

    I guess playing must be relaxing for some people; too bad I never got to that point myself with any instrument.

    Sekhar: Maybe your little sis can teach you some!

    Beth: Yeah… I can see how it keeps a person sharp.

    Jayne: Guitar? Hmmm.

    Ruth: Wow – I think you were lucky to have been ‘expected’ to learn.

    My aunt was the church pianist forever and I used to love to visit her and watch her play with such ease.

    Nina: Yeah… I guess that can be tough to listen to, but so beautiful once mastered.

    What about the fiddle? That’s almost more acceptable. Would that be easy to crossover to?


    NCMountainWoman: Yeah… sounds familiar. I guess there’s something to be said for the process of learning to play, even if one never gets very good.

    The story of your mom is sweet and speaks to the power of music and its creative and expressive outlet for so many of us.

    Deb: Hey! I was hoping you’d pop in about your mandolin and flute-playing. I have this perfect image of you playing a banjo to a Minnesota sunset now.


    Cedrorum: Ahh… the elusive rockstar dream! My brother has that too… he’s 46 and still playing in a band in someone’s garage.

    Bobbie: See now, if you were my mom and I knew of your dream to play piano, I’d have the prefect gift idea for you. Why not take a lesson or two someday just for fun?

    John: You play tin whistle? Cool. And you sing? Hmmm.

    Susan: How did I forget you played the sax? I always wished I’d learned that instead of the nerdy clarinet.


    I love the orderliness of all those keys on the piano, the way it makes perfect sense.

    KatDoc: I’m impressed… clarinet, sax, oboe. (I’m not sure I even know what an oboe looks like exactly!)

    I used to try to play my friend’s flute, but could never manage to get a sound out of one – I think that’s why I like the tinwhistle so – there’s no need to twist your breath across the opening just so to get a sound…


    Mary: Awww… thanks for sharing that about your dad. Music is just in some people’s bones, I think. Lucky for them and us, I guess.

    Rabbit’s Guy: Lol about your sis!

    My brother, the drummer, had this beautiful white set with the fancy gold cymbals. I feel a little guilty for not appreciating the talent (torture) of drumming, but he loves it anyway.

  15. Laura–you flushed all these music players out! I too had piano lessons. My curse was that I could HEAR the music so easily that I never learned to sight read well enough. We have a piano now, and occasionally I play it. I find hymns the easiest to play. I can do a bit of Beethover’s Fur Elise, too.
    I just heard Oliver Sacks talking today about his new book on Musicphilia–about people who experience some neurologic accident that alters their perception of music. Fascinating stuff.

  16. I took piano lessons for years but never learned to play much by ear. I can sight read, but I always gotta have those notes in front of me. (Same with knitting–I always have to follow a pattern)

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