2010 Resolution #3: Learn to Play the Piano/Keyboard

In an effort to talk about the power of goal-setting along with some methods of setting and achieving goals, I’m going to discuss my four resolutions for 2010 this week.

For several years, a keyboard has sat in our basement, gathering dust. I’ve looked at it often and wished I could play it, but the skill has eluded me and I’ve always found other things to do with my time.

One big problem is that I’m deeply embarrassed to practice in front of other people if I’m completely unskilled at something. Quite often, this would be enough to keep me from practicing in the evenings.

No more. In 2010, I’m going to finally learn how to play this instrument I’ve wanted to play for so long. Not only do I want it as an expressive skill, I want to know how to play as a social skill – something I can do at social events to entertain others.

Making the Goal Specific
For starters, I’ve found a local lady who is willing to give me a one hour lesson twice a week for a very reasonable price. I’ve talked over what I want to do with her and she’s quite happy to work with me on it. I’m also securing use of the piano at the church I attend, allowing me to practice to my heart’s content during the day. At home, I’ll practice on the keyboard to supplement this, likely with headphones at first.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that practice is the single most important thing you can do towards getting better, and that deliberate practice is the best form of practice. I’ve decided to commit to an average of one hour of deliberate practice a day on the piano (or keyboard) and an average of half an hour of free play on the piano (or keyboard) per day. My teacher has a ton of deliberate practice exercises for me to work on during that daily hour (I actually think she’s a bit incredulous that I’m actually going to follow through on this, to tell the truth).

My overall goal is to be able to play a handful of songs well by the end of the year. Many of the pieces are pop songs, but some of them are classical. I’ve got the sheet music (or am acquiring it) for each of these pieces and I intend to practice them during my “free play” times.

Breaking It Down Into Microgoals
Each week, I intend to get in seven hours of deliberate practice and four hours of free play on the piano. I’ve actually penciled in some practice blocks during weekdays when others won’t be around and can’t hear me flailing at the keys and sounding atrocious.

Once a week, I intend to do a “mini-concert,” where I give my best attempt at playing through the songs that I’m trying to learn how to play. I actually plan to make video recordings of these so I can see (and hear) how I’m improving. I’m almost willing to put these on YouTube.

Along the way, of course, I’m going to be learning how to read music, so I’ll also attempt playing a new song each day during my “free play” practice.

I fully don’t expect to wake up in a month – or even a year – and be able to play very well. I do expect some improvement from where I’m at now (which is roughly able to play “The First Noel” with one hand). I want to be able to watch a recording of how I was doing a month earlier and think to myself that I’ve improved – at least a little – since then.

Feedback and Adjustment
One of the biggest reasons I decided to hire a local teacher for this is for feedback and adjustment. She can provide pointers, tell me what I’m doing wrong, and suggest the right kind of exercises for me.

As I get better, I intend to play in front of my wife, who is at least moderately adept at multiple instruments, and ask her for feedback, which she will unabashedly give.

If I find that I’m not coming up with enough time to practice, I’ll find a social activity to drop. I already am leaning toward dropping a few activities in my life that eat up more time than I feel they’re worth and this goal is an important one to me.

Tomorrow, I’ll address my fourth and final 2010 goal – one that will push me to be more frugal.