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3 Universal Life Lessons Learned at the Piano Bench

One practice session reminded me of several universal life lessons.

“What happened? I thought I knew that section?”

This thought crossed my mind while practicing piano one day. All of a sudden certain passages of music from a piece of repertoire I had been learning felt unplayable. My memory failed me and my fingers felt frozen.

I paused, took a deep breath, recalled some life truths, and dove back into the song.

Piano teacher and musician, Catherine Sipher, practicing piano at home

Growth isn’t always linear.

How many times have you heard that phrase? It seems to apply to many areas of life, from our inner personal development to mastering a new skill or even physically training our bodies (all three of which happen to be part of learning to play the piano!)

We are often told by experts to anticipate plateaus or even setbacks in the achievement of our goals. The same is true while learning a specific piece of music.

For me, these kinds of memory lapses and finger foibles indicate to me that my work isn’t done. There is more learning and refining to do.

In this case, I relied too much on my muscle memory and not enough on my intellectual memory of the piece. So, I pulled out my music and began a deeper analysis of the chords, the intervals, and the connection between my two hands. Sometimes, simply saying aloud the names of the notes and chords solves this problem for me.

There is power in naming things for what they are.

I also realized that my fingers were becoming a bit lazy - sometimes leaving out notes, sometimes hiding behind the volume of the other hand, and sometimes rushing too fast to avoid being detected as being played unevenly. Covering my weaknesses with my strengths gave me the false illusion that I had the piece of music under my fingers when I really didn’t.

So, in addition to intellectually sharpening my understanding of the passage, I retrained my fingers to play them with some one-handed slow practice. I fiddled with the rhythms to achieve clean playing and used my favorite “stop practice” technique to refine the passages. By taking an honest look at my weaknesses, I was able to address the issues and improve my playing.

Embracing weaknesses paves the way to growth and transformation.

By the end of the practice session, those few measures were no longer a mystery to me. I knew what they were, how to play them, where my strengths and weaknesses were, and how to maintain that growth.

I made a note to continue to refine those measures, adding them to my list of passages that require constant attention and rehearsal.

When feeling stalled out musically or personally, I’ve learned that the best solution is to bring these issues to the light where they can be seen. Call them for what they are. Acknowledge them without shame. Then, move on.

Remember, setbacks in life are normal and natural. They can be worked through with focused patience and dedication.


Food for Thought:

When did you last feel stalled out in your growth in an area?

Envision what it would feel like to anticipate non-linear growth. Would doing so create more patience, self-compassion, and determination to rise?

Try it out. The next time you feel stuck, remind yourself that this is part of the process, then dig deeper, get curious, and find intuitive, creative solutions that will help you grow and expand.


If learning the piano is on your list (or the list of someone you know), I would be honored to help in the journey.

It is my true honor to bring the joy of music into hearts and homes through personalized remote piano lessons that will help you grow as a musician and expand as a person.

The process is simple:

1. Schedule a call to talk about your goals.

2. Select a lesson time.

3. Take your first lesson!


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