Taking the Leap to Learn

by Melissa McNeely

As an adult, I decided to learn how to play the piano. When I was a kid, many of my friends learned to play the piano and from my perch as the non-music student youngster, it looked fun, and it looked easy! I remember sitting down and playing ‘Chopsticks’ with friends when our paths took us to a place where there was a piano. I envied my friends who took lessons, but never did take them myself. All four of my now adult kids took piano lessons for a while, but again I never did. In 2020 I heard about Connection Experiment, an company that offered online adult group classes, and I thought, “to get something you never had, you have to do something you never did!’ What’s keeping me from jumping in? I’m worth it! Well, I knew this would be a challenge, but I was on board with the idea of adding challenge and the resulting value to MY OWN life and in the process learn something I’ve always wanted to learn! So, I dove into the deep end of the proverbial pool! Let me tell you that while I am learning so much more than I ever thought I would about the piano and music in general, other aspects of the learnings have already changed my entire perspective on life! Let me list a dozen different ways I’ve added improvement to my life by choosing to learn the piano!

1. For me, a broad world of music has been opened to me. Who knew that there was so much to learn out there about music? I started as a music fan, and great listener to other people perform and produce music for me. I’ll tell you what, there is SO MUCH information out there about composers, what inspired them to write their music, HOW they wrote their music, and the emotions they were trying to share and evoke from the listeners, and on and on and on, that I honestly did not know existed. I can find myself in a rabbit hole of research just trying to learn more about each piece, the history of the piece and what inspired the musician to share. I have barely dipped my toes into the vast pool of music out there that is just waiting to be discovered and for me to learn more. What fun!

2. While learning at my “adult” stage of life is certainly a challenge it is absolutely achievable and actually fun! I’m here to tell you that I consider myself to be a capable and educated adult, with a fairly decent amount of intelligence. Boy, was I interested when the challenges of learning the piano got me to open my mind, get frustrated and tested, and then ultimately move forward with learning to express music! Each tiny victory makes me stand a bit taller and smile a little more with a little more confidence. Yes, it’s a whole different story to learn something like this as an adult, and not nearly as ‘simple’ as my childhood friends made it. As a child, we absorb, as an adult, we are not as, well, absorbent! The journey so far, for me, of starting to attempt to absorb the HOW of playing the piano has become one of my favorite things to be doing. I’ve discovered a fun way to access my own musical abilities, and I’m super jazzed to share about it!

3. Meeting new people across the nation. I’ve met so many interesting people from all across the United States! Personally, meeting new people is something I enjoy doing all the time, and learning about them and their experiences is intriguing and fun for me. Something I always think of when meeting new people is WHAT can I learn from THEM. Each classmate has brought a unique dynamic and valuable perspective to the lessons, and I look forward to knowing more. I had not known what to expect with the group lessons, but my classmates also keep me motivated and working on my goals so I can share input and progress too.

4. Learning to identify myself as a musician.

This is huge. I honestly would probably be the last person to raise my hand if someone addressed a group of people and asked all the musicians to do so. What I’ve learned is that we are all musicians, we just have to put ourselves out there and be brave. While I’m a newbie musician, I can definitely go to my piano and produce music that is an expression of me and my current musical abilities and I am proud of that fact. This is very exciting. The teachers in the course I am taking share the idea that music is used to express things and not impress. Wrapping my head around this concept is really mind and heart opening, and keeps me invested in moving forward on my own musical journey.

5. Hearing positive and encouraging feedback.

I’m probably in the best class ever, but I have a feeling all of the classes taught by Ashlee and Stephanie from Connection Experiment are equally as valuable and informative. These two teachers provide an encouraging, mostly safe, and welcoming environment with an exposure to all aspects of music that I hardly had any grasp was out there waiting to be unearthed. In class we have had the opportunity to share our journey, our achievements and progress with each other. Even our frustrations. Everyone in class is so encouraging and helpful and it’s a comfortable feeling to be with other like minded adults who are starting, like myself, to open their minds to the wonders of music! We all have our own journey as a musician, and we are able to learn from each other. I love being able to enjoy the camaraderie that these lessons provide.

6. Learning new tools to help my journey as a musician.

This is an enormous topic to be honest. I’m learning so many techniques to help me learn to play the piano and train my ‘older’ fingers to express my music. For instance, breaking down music into much, much smaller pieces, and being happy with the forward movement and progress I make each day. Learning in this manner has been a big part of my making progress as a musician. This may seem so simple but trust me, the translation from my brain to my fingers to play the correct notes is tricky, but it’s working. Music is an entire language that has so many aspects to it, but the tools provided by the teachers in the classes I’ve been taking are helping me make progress every day on my journey. Admittedly, the progress is sometimes very small, I most certainly celebrate every single win.

7. How to handle stage fright when performing in front of others.

Did you know that you CAN perform in front of an audience? Wrap your head around that for a second! In these classes we are taught how to prepare for a performance and how to get through the performance with our own nerves in the way. These tools to address stage fright are applicable for every situation I encounter where my nerves try to get the best of me. I have performed or ‘expressed’ my music in front of my friends that ask to hear me play in my home. Honestly, everyone I’ve shared my new musical skills with, is so proud of me and impressed with my progress. I love being able to show the progress I’ve made now in class. And in class I look forward to the progress the others in the group have made as well and look forward to celebrating their wins too.

8. Appreciation for others' music! I mentioned before that I have always been a music fan.

I have gone to so many concerts of all genres where I have passively sat in the audience and merely enjoyed all of the talent that was expressed for my benefit. Enjoying others' music has been a big part of my life. Now that I’m learning to grow my own inner musician, I have a new attitude and appreciation for music itself! After starting the process of exposing music on a level where I am putting myself in the seat of the musician, and am starting to wrap my head around the time and energy spent to produce and express this music for me as the passive fan. I am certainly in awe! I continually become more and more impressed with EVERYONE'S musical talent. Certainly when I hear a professional musician perform, I know there was a great amount of time and effort spent in order for them to express their music for passive fans like me and this new perspective has honestly entirely changed my view of music itself and put my being a ‘fan of music’ on an entirely new level! Overall, I already have a better appreciation for music.

9. Learning to be humble and okay with knowing I am starting at the beginning of my musical journey. Did I say I was in the best class ever? I mean it! I quickly learned about humility when I started my musical journey. Do you know someone who can just sit down and play the piano beautifully? I’m forever impressed and in awe with their abilities and skills. I used to think I knew what ‘impressed’ with others’ talents meant! Now when I hear other’s progress, and they listen to mine, the word ‘impressed’ does not seem to fit. In class, it is invaluable to hear everyone’s questions, struggles, and achievements, because I understand the process so much better. And I’m learning from everyone!

10. Every achievement is worth a celebration.

Yes, every win is an enormous one and it gets me totally jazzed! I’m currently working on a piece that if I can just get my fingers to move from one measure to the next in a fluid movement, completing just two measures, I’m ready to have a party! My excitement for piano only grows with every win I make. The excitement is contagious and motivating and I get excited to sit down and do it again.

11. Learning to be very honest and patient.

In life, I consider myself to be a patient person, but learning the piano has taught me an entire new level of patience. Patience with myself mostly. Patience to let myself learn slowly and be very okay with this. Patience and to be more understanding with myself, and proud of myself too! Honesty with myself about the vast amount of information out there that I have just barely discovered. How valuable for me in my life to be growing and moving forward with a new goal for my own personal improvement. How priceless this journey has been for me, discovering my own inner musician.

12. Taking charge of my life and start ‘doing’ instead of ‘wishing’.

Action is a hard thing to take sometimes. I’m so glad I chose to jump in with both feet and begin to learn to play the piano. I know I have musical ability inside of me, and I’ll never regret the discovery and process of exposing myself in this manner. Being brave enough to choose this journey is something I will forever be proud of doing. Remember, to get something you never had, you have to do something you never did. You are worth it too! What’s stopping you?

- M

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