How to return to an instrument after not practicing

arjai101 asks: A year ago, my mom switched careers. In order to do this, she had to pay for classes, attend etc. As a result, I had to stop taking piano lessons. She said I could start again in a few months once everything settled down and I would be out of town most of the summer anyways so I wouldn’t know the difference. But, here we are a year later and I’m still not taking lessons. At first, I practiced a ton. Even though I wasn’t taking lessons at the moment, I still wanted to hit the ground running when I did start again. As school started again and I realized it would be a long time before I’d get lessons. I suddenly just stopped playing. This also has to do with the fact that my mom and I rent two rooms in a friend’s house. The family is ALWAYS home; their kids are homeschooled. At first, I was just busy with school so I couldn’t really practice. In conjunction, I didn’t have a teacher pushing me or expecting anything from me, so I had no need. After a while, it became, I was afraid to practice because the family would hear and I used to be so good and now I sound like trash. Now, I’m afraid to look at, touch, or even hear a piano because it has been so long and I’m so afraid of all the hard work and money spent that went down the drain. It makes me so sad to think about it. It was a part of my life that defined me for so long and… I just don’t know anymore. And the worst part, I played today. And, it was worse than I had ever imagined. Everything is gone. I don’t even know what to do. I’ll probably never have lessons again. My family can’t afford it. (Despite the fact my mom makes more money than she did before this whole thing.) To rub salt in the wound, we still live with that family. Their kids take a million lessons and go to all kinds of ensembles and band this and that. Their parents practically beg them to practice, and they act like spoiled ungrateful brats. Here I am, and it all is just rotting away painfully. My mom is always like, just go play, it’s no big deal. But, it is a big deal. It’s painful to even be around other musicians, period. Just listening to classical music, it’s terrible. I miss music so much. I wish I could have what those kids have. I was just starting to really get somewhere when I had to stop. Everyone else got to keep progressing, and I got to go backward. Funny how nothing ever balances out. I have always had to overcome a very bad hand of cards and pretend like I’m just like everyone else and lie about my life and where I live. So forgive me world, if I choose to whine about this.

Hi Arjai101 –


Okay, so first things first: if there’s anyone anywhere who’s going to be okay with a little whining, it’s a dog! We whine all the time – out of fear, out of pain, out of excitement – so feel free to whine here all you like! In fact, when humans whine, it often makes us jump up into their laps and lick their faces, which it sounds like exactly what you need right now, so I’ll say it even more strongly: YES! WHINE!


Now, onto the piano. First, of course you must know I’m very jealous of you. I can’t play a single note on a piano (my paws are too big). The idea of playing a complex piece with melody, harmony, tone, complex time changes… hey I’ll be thrilled if I can come back in another lifetime and hammer out “Chopsticks!” So when you say you sound terrible, understand that, to me, you’re Lang-Lang, Bill Evans, and Jerry Lee Lewis all rolled into one! (Okay, I’ll admit, I had to get those names from Handsome; I love music but don’t know musicians that well!).


But I do know something about human nature. And I know that most humans judge themselves much more harshly than they do others. So I’m only guessing, but I’m going to suggest that maybe you aren’t nearly as bad on the piano right now as you think – although of course you are out of practice. So you’re not as good as you can be, or as good as you were a year ago. But I’m betting you aren’t horrible for others to hear.


Now you’ve heard stories of great athletes who get injured, right? They break their leg or their arm, or tear a muscle, and are unable to play their sport for a while. And there’s a chance they’ll never be as good as they used to be. But they work like crazy at recovering from their injury, and get back and are phenomenal again. Might they have been even better if they’d never been injured? Sure. But that’s not the way things went, and their goal is to simply be the best they can be. And they achieve it.

And your mother’s financial problems qualified as an injury for you. Your job now is just to do what those athletes did to recover. If you want it enough.


So my question to you, Arjai101, is: How badly do you want to play piano well? Because if the answer is “LOTS!” then you have some work to do:

  • First, find a place you can practice. If it’s too uncomfortable where you live, see if you can find a friend with a piano, or a store that would let you practice there. Some schools have piano practice rooms; maybe they’d let you use one?
  • Practice every day. Get as close to the way you used to be as you can. Do scales, do simple pieces, anything to build your skills back.
  • Find a less-expensive teacher. Maybe there’s a university near you, and a student would love the teaching experience, and will teach you for little or no money. Maybe your former teacher will give you a break on fees. And maybe, since you say your mother’s now doing great financially, she’ll even chip in.
  • And here’s my favorite one – find a way to get money by playing piano! Maybe at a restaurant; maybe with a portable keyboard on a street; I hear some high-end clothing stores like having pianists there. Whatever it is, find a way to get paid for playing. Then you can pay for those lessons, and leave Mom out of it!
  • Okay, that wasn’t my favorite actually. THIS is. Make a recording of a piece you’re really proud of, and SEND IT TO ME! We dogs are so much better at hearing than seeing, and no one from my pack has ever sent me something to hear. I’d LOVE that!


Okay, so that’s what I’d recommend if you’re up to it. And if you’re not, and the truth is you’re ready to give up on piano, that’s okay too. But then you need to give yourself a break, and admit that all those other musicians made different choices than yours. And move on.


And either way, either choice you make, I believe and truly hope your life will get better and easier!


(But I think you know which choice I’m hoping you make!)


All my best,


About the Author

Leave a Reply 0 comments

Leave a Reply: