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Thursday, 22 July 2010


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My father taught piano, first as a professional when he lived in Italy, then as a favor for neighborhood kids when he moved to the US. He taught all three of us kids. My sister is quite good, my brother was too lazy to learn, and I tried with all my might but just couldn't handle it.

There are two things that stop me.

1. I can't sight read, and I'm amazed that others can. I need to practice the first bar, then the first 2 bars, then the first 3 bars, and so on until I've mastered it all. I imagine the dyslexic are amazed that others can "sight-read" words on a page. So I guess I am musically dyslexic.

2. I can't "hear" music in my head just by looking at the score, the way my father did. He could look at a piece of music he had never heard, and he'd say "Look how beautiful this sounds." Sounds? It's nothing but dots and lines.

The odd thing is, I truly love music. Just can't play it. But don't go by me. Take lessons. You'll have fun.

I was sent to piano lessons as a boy. They didn't take. In my primary school band, I proved so effective on the little-yellow-stick-with-a-bell-on-each-end that I was promoted to the triangle. I learnt to pick out a few tunes on a guitar in student days and retired triumphant. But I can listen to a whole symphony and pick out the one bum note. I can sing a popular song where, my wife assures me, my control of pitch is so pathetic that she doesn't even try to identify the melody, but can always identify the song because my control of rhythm is tremendous. It's all a bit of a muddle, isn't it?

One Drone Club's member, in some Wodehouse's novel, says: To play the piano consists on doing one different thing with each hand. That cannot be that difficult. I do it every time I eat.

I play several instruments, with varying competence, and remember very well how frustrating it was to get over just the hump you are talking about. But I wanted very badly to learn, so I just kept at it, very slowly at first, for hours on end, until my hands began to "catch on". At first it is all an effort of the "intellect", but after a while your body gets it, and takes over, at which point thought becomes far too slow and clumsy, and just gets in the way.

I realize there are those who simply cannot be taught to play any instrument at all, but I believe such people are quite rare. I think for most of us it really just takes determination, and lots of patient practice. If you want it badly enough, David, I imagine you can do it.

Good morning, Gentlemen, and thank you for your interesting comments.

Dom, I, too, am irritated by my ignorance of 'written' music and I am with you entirely when you write of an inability to 'hear' what scribbles on a page actually sound like. I still remember vividly listening, many, many years ago to Desert Island Discs in which various celebs are asked to choose 8 discs to take with them to the island, and on this occasion the guest was a conductor and he was asked whether he wanted discs or would prefer scores! 'Dimbo' that I am, that had never ocurred to me before. Also, I don't know how a singer can look at a notation on a sheet of music, take a breath and just sing that note. I mean, where's the link between eye, brain and then sound?

'DM', I am sure that you have been a great loss to the world of music, perhaps you could take up the vuvuzela! I, too, try the occasional popular song, it drives the 'Memsahib' from the room in an instant!

Ortega, I was mulling over Wodehouse's example of eating but I don't think it works because whilst the knife is cutting, the fork is stationary, and vice verse.

Malcolm, I just feel even more stupid than usual for failing, after 71 years, to know that bi-handedness has to be learned. I had always assumed that everyone could do it, albeit, clumsily and the skill of the musician was in doing it superbly. Anyway, my admiration for all instrumentalists is now boundless.

David, why not play with your wife? I mean, you play the right hand notes on the pianno, she the left. Then neither of you need master two-handed playing.

By the way, Gentlemen, I just mentioned this little discussion of ours to the 'Memsahib' and without hesitation she shot back that in her experience I had considerable difficulty doing one thing at a time!

Or take up the trombone - one hand just holds it while the other pumps away. When I was young I had ambitions on "Ory's Creole Trombone", but never pursued 'em.

I don't even wish to imagine the rows that sharing a piano would cause! As for the trombone, that raises yet another musical mystery for me - how do they know how far down, or up, to push the slide 'thingie' to achieve a particular note?

Oh dear, I do wish I had paid more attention in music lessons at school.

Then try the valve trombone, though I'm afraid it's not the ideal instrument for Mr Ory's tune.

Doubt I have the puff these days, 'DM'!

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