May 29, 2012

5 Ways My Writing Has Benefited From My Piano Lesson Experiences - Ruth L. Snyder

As a child, I dreamed of taking piano lessons for several years. However, I didn't have access to either a piano or a teacher. When I was nine, my three siblings and I traveled five hundred miles away from our missionary parents to attend school in Zimbabwe. I can still hear the cadence of wheels clacking across train tracks as we sped further and further from our home in Botswana. Although it was incredibly difficult for me to be so far away from my parents, one of the benefits was the opportunity to take piano lessons. Because I was a bit older and  was motivated to practice diligently, my piano playing progressed fairly quickly. A year later when my family returned to Canada I was placed in grade 2 piano. Since then I have experienced many more lessons, practice sessions, recitals, and exams. Today I enjoy sharing my knowledge and abilities with piano students of my own.

As I think about writing, there are several benefits I gained from those many years of piano lessons:

1. Focus.
It takes focus to learn how to read music, to listen so that you bring out a melody while also playing harmonies expressively, to create tones that are beautiful. Writing also takes a lot of focus. This is especially true when you have young children. Having the ability to focus makes it possible for me to write at different times of the day, in many environments, and to be more productive in my writing.

2. Discipline.
We all have a multitude of activities competing for our attention. The discipline of daily piano practice taught me how to stick with something, no matter what the distractions were. I learned that discipline paid dividends - the ability to play new pieces, make progress, and achieve an objective. Writing also requires discipline. If I only wrote when I felt inspired or motivated, I wouldn't get much writing done. Although I certainly enjoy the days when the words pour out onto the page, the discipline of writing regularly makes it possible to set goals and achieve them. (If you struggle in this area, sign up as a contributor to this blog!)

3. Effective Practice.
I often warn my students, "Be careful how you practice, because practice makes permanent." Sight reading is one thing, but learning and polishing a piece of music is entirely different. It is tempting to start at the beginning of a piece and play it all the way through, ignoring the mistakes. A skilled pianist tackles the difficult sections of music, is diligent to use consistent fingering, and always works at making her next performance better than the last. Writing a first draft could be compared to sight reading. The main idea of a piece comes across. However, to create something of worth and beauty, further refinement is needed. Effectively practicing piano has prepared me for the rigors of editing. Skillfully using language makes it possible to make writing come alive.

4. Appreciating Variety.
My training under the Royal Conservatory of Music exposed me to a vast array of musical eras and composers. Although I enjoyed some more than others, I came to understand the skill and beauty of a wide variety of music. These lessons have helped me to be less judgmental and more appreciative. In my writing, I have also benefited from exposure to a variety of writing and writers. Although I am more skilled in using some styles, making myself aware of a wider variety serves to improve the palette of tools I have available to express ideas to readers. I am also able to appreciate styles of writing which vary widely from mine.

5. Performance.
I do not consider myself a performer. In fact, musical performances often reduce me to a bundle of nerves. Learning music for my own enjoyment is fine. However, I have come to realize that God has gifted me so that I can encourage and inspire others. One idea that has helped me immensely in performance situations is to focus entirely on the music so that I am not as conscious of others who are listening. When I focus on the enjoyment of playing the piano and making the music come alive, nerves tend to take a back seat. Writing for my own enjoyment is fine. However, I have to be willing to be vulnerable to share my writing with others. No one enjoys receiving rejection letters. Most writers I know get discouraged from time to time. However, if we focus on producing the very best writing we possibly can, eventually we will discover the audience God has appointed for us.

Have you found parallels between other skills and writing? I look forward to hearing about them.

Ruth L. Snyder

Check out Ruth's blogs: (Education information) (Ruth's writing and family life) and (Information for caregivers of children ages 0-5)

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  1. Hi Ruth, I didn't realize you were a pianist/piano teacher. Me too! I always told my students to work on the difficult sections first rather than playing the song over and over. Sounds like we came from the same era. And you're right - it's so similar to writing.

    Still teaching?

    Pam M.

  2. Hi Pam,
    Yes, I'm still teaching, but only a few students. This coming school year I'm going to try teaching my youngest daughter :)


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