Learning Tips from the Jolly Librarian

I am taking a beginning piano class. Now, as some of you know, many beginning skills courses are actually full of people who are not true beginners. Spanish I has its share of folks who took high school Spanish. The same for French. And in my beginning piano class, there are folks who play other instruments and have taught themselves some piano.

Then there’s me. Now I do own a keyboard that I bought from a starving musician a few years ago. And I have a few teach-yourself books, and I can play “Silent Night” or “Greensleeves” if I’m given enough time. (About thirty minutes at my current rate.) But I have never studied music, know nothing about music theory, and now realize that I’m going to spend quite a bit of time unlearning my own quirky finger positions on the keyboard.

Then today, when my colleague was trying to tell me how to know what key something was written in, I realized I had done all my homework wrong. I went back to my office and stared disconsolately into space for several seconds.

I tell you this, not to make you pity me, but to tell you that I too am a beginning learner. So these study tips are not gathered back from the Stone Age when I was in college but from my very real attempts right now to learn piano.

So here goes:

  • Space out your practice. Do some every day. Don’t try to cram everything into one learning session. So far, I have worked through a lesson a day. Now I could wait until next Sunday night and try to do six lessons at once. But I know that I will not be ready for class that way. And that is true also for history, psychology, or any other class you’re taking.
  • Evaluate yourself. At the end of each practice session, I make notes about what I need to review or learn. For example, the music theory part of the book is totally new for me. So I make a little time to review that more than the other parts.
  • Have the attitude of a learner. There are some other true beginners in the class. And there are some people who are about my age. But I am the oldest true beginner. And I have to admit that it would be easy to get discouraged. After all, who wants to look like an idiot in front of people young enough to be your children? But my goal (and it’s been on my bucket list for years) is to learn the piano, and this is the best way to do it. So I’m going to concentrate on what I’ve learned each week and chart my own progress instead of worrying about how I appear to the others.

Here is the basic truth I try to remember: Learning means making mistakes and practicing (a lot). So let’s make the most of the semester together!

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