Back to piano too

Just a couple of days ago, I started playing flute again, after an absence of decades. To get going again, I’ve been working through I Used to Play Flute picked up from the library (it comes with a nice play-along CD of mp3 tracks). Of course, now that I’m not just an unenthusiastic kid in school, I should also get systematic on technique, as I have tried to be on recorder.

Guess what? Today, I started picking back up on piano as well. I have a digital piano that I bought in 1998 that has not seen much use in the past half decade:

Yamaha digital piano

I’ve mentioned previously playing around with piano. I will try to get real on piano too, now that I’m old enough to figure out how to maximize use of infamous Czerny and Hanon technical exercises. Meanwhile, I picked up from the library a seemingly highly-rated Alfred Basic Adult Piano Course, which also comes with a CD (which, by the way, is absolutely horrid: soulless metronomic synthesized utter crap that doesn’t even belong in a mall).

With these two new musical instruments back in my life, I face a dilemma.

Time constraints

The problem is, I obviously don’t have the time to spend on all of these instruments at once. For example, today I simply skipped my usual recorder practice. I am not happy about breaking my plan (set in February) to practice recorder every day if possible. But that plan was created when I was not touching any other instruments. I suppose I could create a rotating schedule for working on the various instruments I want to get better at, just as when I was in school, I would rotate studying different subjects.


Sometimes I have the fear that doing too many things spreads me thin and I won’t get really good at one particular thing. Other times, I judge that there are opportunities for synergy, where doing multiple things results in doing each one better than I could have done individually. That’s because no activity exists in a vacuum. As Abby put it to me today when I was discussing with her my dilemma, there is “cross-training”, so to speak.

For example, although the particulars of physical technique are different for every instrument, anything that strengthens any of the fingers comes in handy for any instrument. And of course, purely musical matters such as improving phrasing, breath, awareness of harmony can improve from working on any instrument.

In addition, I am not a music professional anyway, so there never has been a goal of getting “as good as possible” on one particular instrument. Assuming some arbitrary scale of desired competence, I’d rather be at 90% on three instruments than 95% on one.

Recorders example

I did find, in the past months, that playing the soprano, tenor, and bass recorders, beyond just the alto, helped me play the alto better. It came as something of a surprise to me, actually. It hadn’t been my intention to “cross-train”. I was originally simply trying to become a more versatile ensemble player.

For example, since the soprano is lighter and smaller, when I am playing it, I can devote more attention to breath and tone control, which is harder on soprano than on alto, and therefore when I return to alto, I have benefited from doing something harder on a different instrument.

Similarly, since the tenor is so big and forces me to stretch my fingers and be very efficient with finger movement, I found that playing the tenor made the alto seem much lighter and smaller to me. Also, it requires more breath, and therefore develops my breathing awareness and lung capacity.

I’m not entirely sure what transfers from playing the bass, since I haven’t played that as much, and it also differs in important ways from the other recorders. It is heavy enough to require a thumb rest and a neck strap; to be frank, I am still not comfortable with the bass. Also, it has keys, and so the finger control required is far less. I suppose the most interesting thing is the breath required, and also a certain kind of control because of the delay in making the bass speak. Articulation has to change considerably in order to enable the bass to not get bogged down.


Too many instruments, too little time, but I am very happy to be getting more and more into playing music. It is so personally fulfilling to me. I do need to be efficient in my goals and practice.

comments powered by Disqus