6 Lessons Learned From My Year of Piano

My Year of Piano

AR: This article is written by Amanda (who also authored this great guest post). Always in the pursuit of doing BIG things, such as questing to visit all 350+ college basketball arenas, Amanda made 2022 her year to REALLY learn piano. Here are the lessons that followed:

I’m a serial dabbler. Tried and convicted. Words from my grandfather come to mind.

“She’s always got a 5-year plan. It just changes every week.”

It’s a blessing and a curse, having lots of ideas. Like every Marvel superhero teaches us, powers must be channeled properly to reach their full potential.

When I heard Dominick Quartuccio on the ChooseFI podcast toward the end of 2021, the notion of the One Big Move appealed to me. 

I had a few candidates. I badly wanted to work on writing a book, for instance. I’ve loved language-learning all my life; what about brushing up on a couple of those? 

Piano has similarly been a decades-long yearning, one that I finally started in 2020 when my spouse bought me a keyboard and my first pack of lessons. In the year-plus since then, my progress has been halting at best.

Ultimately, I followed Quartuccio’s advice and I searched inside me for what gave me that twinge, that thrill in my chest of simultaneous excitement and fear. 

And it was picturing me, a year down the road, playing a beautiful song in front of a crowd of people. 

And so 2022 became my Year of Piano.

6 Lessons Learned From My Year of Piano

1. Appreciate Failure

Slowly, eeeever so slowly, I’m coming around on failure as essential to growth. Up until recently, my view on failure has been “Yeah, sure, greatest teacher and all that. But not for me. I’m a loser if I fail!”

Piano has put me through mini-fail cycles week in and week out. Playing a new song, I’m slow, plunking laboriously at the keys—and not even the right ones. My second time through, I’m a little better; the third time, even better. It looks like this:

Over months, the repeated fail cycles look like this:

Now I know that when encountering failure outside of piano that one must stumble through the keys in order to eventually make music.

2. Move Toward Joy

In my Year of Piano, I’ve made decisions around two things: joy and discomfort. Both are lodestars in their own ways. 

I could have chosen many other things as my One Big Thing for 2022. Writing a book, learning a language, starting a business. But none of those things ignited the excitement within me that improving at piano did. 

Piano gives me an unburdened joy, a leaping, frolicking sort of happiness that makes me itch to come back for more. That joy is sustainable motivation for a long period of time.

3. Move Toward Discomfort, Too

When my teacher told me in May she was hosting a recital for her students, my reaction was immediate.

Roiling stomach.

Pounding heart.

Immediate excuses: Recitals are for kids! I’m making plenty of progress anyway! I’ll be working that day!

Eventually I admitted to myself the real reason for my aversion. I was scared.

So once I uncovered why I really didn’t want to do the recital, it was obvious… I had to do the recital.

(Epilogue: I did the recital. I was indeed surrounded by 20 children. I made a couple mistakes. And I can’t wait for the next one.)

4. The World Won’t Fall Apart

Doing One Big Thing hasn’t made my writing skills wither, or put language-learning beyond my reach. 

My other interests and goals are still there; they’re just not the focus right now. 

When joy points me toward them, they’ll be ready, and I will be, too.

5. A Year is a Long Time to Stay Focused

It wasn’t exactly a “SMART” goal that I’d drawn up for myself. 

“Get a lot better at piano this year,” I said.

“Maybe I’ll stage a performance at the end of the year for family and friends,” I later said.

“Or play my favorite song at the year-end recital.”

I never really settled on one thing, so the original vague goal of “get a lot better” became the default. That went swimmingly for 6 months. I doubled up on lessons so that I was going twice a week. I practiced religiously. It all ramped up to that big June recital.

And afterwards… My motivation waned. 

I was back to doing lessons once a week, a move that I thought was temporary but remained for the rest of the year. I started a business—a worthy distraction, I believe, but a distraction all the same. And for the past few months as summer has turned to fall and fall into winter, my practice time has decreased dramatically.

In 2023, I’ll either segment my One Big Thing into a 6-month rather than yearlong project, or I’ll specify measured “subgoals” along the way. For example, with my Year of Piano I could have specified certain pieces I wanted to play or skills I wanted to master by designated months. Instead, motivation to adhere to my loosely defined goal decreased sharply after about 6 months.

6. Reduce the Plurality of Wants

I read a formula recently:

Contentment = (what we have) – (what we want)

By making piano my One Big Thing, I’ve unintentionally reduced my endless yearning. 

Okay, so the chart oversimplifies it a bit. But my wants do feel more appropriately regulated, while my appreciation for what I have has increased.

In Conclusion

My Year of Piano taught me that a year of focused effort can yield great results. 

Exercise your failure muscle by finding low-stakes, condensed failure loops. For me, that was playing new pieces every week.

Honor your joy and discomfort as telling markers of an area of life that deserves attention.

But a year is a long time: either create smaller goals along the way or shorten the timeline to achieve a goal. You can always re-dedicate yourself if, after evaluation, the One Big Thing still remains more important than the rest.

Maybe you’re like me, and you wish you could do everything at once. After years of divided attention leading to middling results, I decided to go all-in on One Big Thing, and the benefits of simplification yielded not only greater progress, but also greater happiness. 

It ought to be a little bit scary, giving your time and efforts to one thing of superior importance. But playing a masterpiece starts with the first key.

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    1. Hey Frankie! Amanda here. You know, I sure don’t. I have only videos, which I don’t want to post online. But I’ll tell you that one of my favorite pieces I learned was Polovtsian Dance No. 17 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZX7fBquB-4), and I accompanied a vocalist doing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” at the year-end recital. It was a blast. 🙂 My next song I’d like to master is a beautiful one called Nuvole Bianche (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyY4IZ3JDFE).

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