In Washington State, the beautiful place where I live, the COVID-19 lock down began on March 23, 2020. That’s the date of the original “stay at home” order. Some progress has been made since then, in the pattern of a couple of steps forward when infections and mortality rates decline and a step back when they escalate. Frustrating? Certainly. Also, an ongoing challenge. I persist in inventing small challenges because I can’t control the larger one.
The challenge: Playing the piano every day
The means: Hanon-Schaum Book I
The Hanon is a book of piano exercises. It comes in levels beginner and beyond, and in many styles (I also have one for Boogie-Woogie). The books are laid out in a series of progressively harder exercises, the goal to develop physical technique and finger strength.
Hanon, spelled b-o-r-i-n-g
Hello, Lily. I wondered when you’d weigh in. We officially quit piano lessons when we were fourteen so I understand your attitude completely.
Is it kind of like scales?
Kind of, 9, except in this particular book all the exercises are written in the key of C. No sharps, flats or accidentals. The time signature is 4/4 and each exercise is comprised only of eighth notes and whole notes.
Kind of, but, unlike you, Lily, I’m not embarking on these exercises at the culmination of seven years of piano lessons. My brain and fingers lack their former proficiency. And, as with any new course of exercise, I can definitely feel the impact in my body, especially in the fourth finger of my left hand.
There are twenty-four exercises in the book. The process is to play a new exercise each week, five times a day, forte for dynamic. Forte, the instructions reason, will build more finger strength than pianissimo.
Ignore her. At the beginning of a new week (for this purpose, Thursday) I launch a new exercise, plus I play each of the previous exercises once a day. Yesterday I started No. 5. Each exercise is a little more difficult than the last.
What do I gain from this pursuit? Three things, at least:
- An anchoring activity from day to day
- Something new to look forward to on a weekly basis
- My technique actually is improving
It’s a small investment in daily practice. To quote Martha Graham, “Practice is an invitation to the perfection desired.”
Has perfection RSVP’d yet?
In a limited way, 9. Every so often I get one of the exercises just exactly right.
The pandemic and the restrictions it requires present us with challenge every minute of every day. I have so much to be thankful for, yet the cumulative weight of worldwide reality really gets to me sometimes. The vaccine rollout is picking up steam, but I’m pretty far down the eligibility list. On the positive side, at age 61 it’s amusing to be “too young” and “too healthy” to qualify for something. Autumn, when many credible medical experts project a life that’s kind of back to normal, seems a long way away.
The challenge to keep going, sometimes reduced to something as basic as placing one foot in front of the other. The challenge to hold it together when life’s predictable sad events (back to dealing with the reality of a terminally ill kitty these past couple of days) enters the arena of COVID-amplified grief. The challenge of social isolation.
I could keep going on this list, but instead I’ll keep going on the Hanon. Small though it is, I find reassurance in gaining facility in something. It nurtures my tenacious though sometimes dampened sense that there is a way forward, that it’s possible to improve existence in little ways; vamping in anticipation of better days to come.
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Thank you! I so appreciate your clarity and fortitude. You often seem to voice what I have not yet thought but that I feel bearing down on me. Your Hanon practice books, for instance. I have really slacked off on my blues guitar. Its not for lack of songs or a stack of physical and digital practice material. Its that I just feel dulled and weary from the onslaught. The relentless covid news and five family or friends dead since June. I know the wisdom. In your words and your challenge bowl. Build a structure to carry you onward till you do it yourself. Get up and do something and then something else. Pretend until its real. Ok. Cup of coffee. Couple of slaps on the cheek. Minor pentatonic scale, here I come.
First, sincere condolences for the loss of 5 friends and family, that’s a huge factor in the dullness and weariness you feel, no doubt. So, yes, the practice thing, the small challenges to help us get through this. It almost feels silly, how I look forward to achieving the daily practice (less than 10 minutes/day and this point) and then on Thursday, a whole new exercise to master!! Knowing how to make your own fun is a very handy skill these days. And you are additionally fortunate to have a creative and capable midnight chef in your pod! So pick up that guitar, Tom, and fake it ’til you make it! I’m pretty sure this is a shorter route to recovering joy than simply waiting around for it to come of its own accord.