A few weeks ago I blogged about strategies to generate ideas (Where Do You Get Your Ideas?). One of the things I suggested was to keep learning new things, thus keeping the brain active and creating new synapsis.
Something new that I’m learning to do is play the piano, after a hiatus since childhood (almost 50 years!). I’m not sure where the urge came from, but I listen to a lot of classical music, piano in particular, and began to wish I could also play those lovely pieces. So about a year and a half ago, I purchased a piano and began taking lessons.
I feel that lessons are important. First of all, playing piano is complex and challenging, and having a teacher and set lesson plans means that I progress in a logical way. I don’t miss any valuable techniques in my path to learning and I keep challenging myself systematically. There is also the sense of accountability. When you’re paying for lessons, you want to make sure you’ve practiced and have something to show the teacher each week! Although truth be told, I’ve fallen so in love with learning to play that I don’t have to force myself to practice.
The first few months went very quickly as I fast-tracked through a lot of the material I’d learned as a kid. Amazing how it comes back! Now a year and a half later I’m just embarking on the Royal Conservatory Grade 6 level, which is pretty much halfway to my goal of Grade 10 level, the highest level before further study for teacher’s certification or performance. At Grade 10, I believe I’ll be capable of playing most of those ferociously difficult Chopin pieces I love so much.
So, what has learning to play piano taught me, other than to move my fingers fast?
1. Playing piano is meditative.
I get involved in the practice session and lose track of time. Hey, this sounds very close to what happens when I’m in the zone in my art studio! I love that sense of complete absorption. It’s become another way to express my creativity.
2. There’s a sense of accomplishment.
Every few weeks, I master a couple of pieces to the point where I can move on to new work. The challenge of learning something new is very satisfying, as is the sense of accomplishment at having mastered the piece. Apparently, this feel-good boost is the dopamine your brain generates—drug high without the drugs!
3. Learning new music keeps the brain active.
Studies show that music, language and math are all processed in the same area of the brain. Learning any of these things creates new connections. I would add that artmaking has a place there, too. Feed one, feed them all. You can’t wear out the brain. The more it gets, the more it wants!
4. Music theory.
Along with keyboard practice, I’m working on written music theory—now that’s brain exercise!
Every once in awhile I memorize (or try to memorize) a piece. Again, great brain exercise!
Focussing on piano practice gives me a break from constantly thinking about my art. My subconscious has breathing space to work at generating ideas or solutions in my art, which leads me to the next point…
7. The influence of music on my art.
Something interesting has happened. I believe that my piano-playing has directly influenced my art-making. I’m currently working on a new series of abstracts (to be posted at the beginning of the new year). I didn’t set out with forethought to create this series. A few months ago, I one day simply started working and a style emerged that I found completely engaging and enjoyable to do. After I’d finished two or three pieces, my husband commented that he really liked them and that they reminded him of music! Huh? Yes, actually, they do look rather musical, flowing and lyrical. Thus, my new Lyrical Language series was born. I’ll blog in future in more detail about these pieces.
So those are some of the benefits that I see from learning something new. What new things are you learning to do?