When I take time off in December and don’t travel I inevitably find my way back to the piano. I played classical piano very seriously for about 20 years, so it’s part of me and part of who I am, even if I don’t make the time to practice most days.
If I had ever wanted to be a professional pianist, one of the things I would have had to have gotten better at was learning new pieces of music faster. I never was much of a sight reader, and I allowed that summary of one of my weaknesses to define how I learned new music (slowly).
The advantage of returning to something intermittently is seeing it with fresh eyes. This year, sitting down at the piano to learn one of my favorite pieces, Shubert’s Piano Sonata in B-flat, D.960, I realized that while I’m not a great sight-reader, there’s also a next step where I’m falling down for no good reason: I let sections, measures, tricky bits, sit in a limbo of “I don’t quite play this right” for way too long, when a little bit of focused attention upfront would be the difference between taking 20 and 40 hours at the piano to learn a new piece.
So often our new year’s resolutions are about big new things that we are going to start: exercising again, cutting out sugar, sleeping more. And sometimes those can create major shifts in our lives.
But more often than not I find it’s the minor shifts that end up sticking: if I say I want to sleep 7 ½ hours every night and keep it at that, I’ll fail miserably. Life’s too busy, I have too many other obligations, and the binary nature of do/do not (“there is no try”) makes it too easy to write something off quickly as a failure. But if I notice, say, how long it takes me to get from planning to get to sleep to sleeping, and then, by paying attention to that one new bit of information, if I make small tweaks where I can in my nightly routine, this might just be enough to have lasting impact.
When it comes to the shifts I want to make in my life, I haven’t had much luck with big sweeping changes, because the power, logic and momentum of the way I do things today doesn’t give way easily. At the same time, like water to a stone, noticing old behaviors in new ways and then making small shifts has the power to reshape everything.
Happy New Year.