Time to take up music again?

I have recently been thinking about getting a new hobby. One option is to reignite my musical chops. I used to play musical instruments. But my history as a musician has been quite volatile.

I played the piano and percussion instruments, and a brief flirtation with the guitar. But I gave them up just before I started university. I lost interest and couldn’t be bothered practicing.

Boredom with the piano

If I had applied myself, I may have been quite good. I always quite enjoyed the piano. I took it up at the age of 7 and was told I was brilliant (although you never quite know whether you can trust that sort of feedback when you’re 7).

I kept it up until I reached grade 6 level at the age of 17. But I failed the grade 6 exam. Playing the piano had become a struggle by that stage, probably because I didn’t practice enough.

Guitar — my relationship with music begins to sour

The guitar was a present for my 10th birthday. When I was 9, I got into indie music in a big way. Instantly I wanted to emulate the bands I was listening to.

My impatience probably got the better of me. The guitar was too big for my 10-year-old hands. I found it painful and difficult to play.

Matters weren’t helped by the fact that I already knew how to play the piano. With my piano knowledge, I thought learning guitar would be easy, but to my horror it was totally different. It’s like when you’re a kid and you first come across a QWERTY keyboard, and you can’t understand why on earth the keys aren’t in alphabetical order.

I can’t remember what happened with the guitar. It’s still around somewhere, probably in my brother’s possession. He did much better with it. The only thing I found interesting about the guitar was when I once experimentally ran the bottom of a staple gun up and down the strings — it made an amazing sound.

In my teenage years I developed a real dislike of the guitar. Yeah, it had outwitted me and I couldn’t handle it. Then people would learn how to play the guitar properly and ruin everything.

Every party I went to as a teenager was destroyed by some dodgy guy who thought it would be the world’s best idea to take his guitar and amp to the party and play it badly. Party over. Conversations finished as everyone gathered to watch the guitarist. I have since decided that the fascination was just because it is so phallic. There is no way people were interested for the sonic qualities. Maybe I’m weird, but I go to parties to socialise, not to listen to bad music.

Percussion destroys everything

I wasn’t great at percussion. I only did bits and pieces at school and I found it a struggle. The only real chance to practice was at lunchtime, when I usually just wanted to eat lunch.

When I signed up to play percussion instruments, at the age of about 14, I was mostly imagining how much great fun it would be to play the drum kit. Soon after that, I became far too self-conscious to make that sort of racket.

You see, if you are a percussionist, every mistake is fatal. If you’re playing a wind or a string instrument in a group, your mistakes just politely fade into everything else. No-one need know that it was you. But if you’re the guy playing the drums or the glockenspiel, it pierces through the whole room — and there is no question who caused it.

I had some success playing the marimba. It is a beautiful-sounding instrument, like a really rich and deep xylophone. I felt comfortable playing it. But it’s not the sort of thing I could buy and have in my flat.

My all-time worst experience in music

Playing percussion at school is the source of one of the all-time worst memories of my life. I had entered the Fife Festival of Music, a kind of music competition, because that’s the sort of thing you do if you’re taking music lessons at school. I was to play timpani. Solo. The problem was that I hadn’t practiced much at all. What little practicing I did was not on the timpani at all, but on some old jotters with my hands.

There I was, on stage at the Adam Smith Theatre, with the spotlight on me — literally. The bright lights made me feel hot and uncomfortable. I had to squint to see anything. The audience (small and sporadic, but there nonetheless) was waiting to hear me on the timpani. But I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

How do you get out of that one? Quit music altogether, evidently.

It was an awful experience. I may as well have been hitting the things at random. This lasted no more than a few minutes, but it was probably a major factor in my decision to quit playing music altogether. I wasn’t feeling any passion. I couldn’t apply myself. So why bother?

Recovering my musical abilities

The thing is, I would love to still be playing the piano. But it’s eight years since I have played it properly. Any time I have tried to return to it since, I have been overwhelmed by the effort required and have quickly given up.

Then there is the fact that, since I moved out of my parents’ house, I have no piano to play. The prospect of transporting it from Kirkcaldy to Dundee, then up to my second floor flat, makes piano practice seem like a piece of cake.

Nevertheless, I recently retrieved all of my old piano books from my parents’ house, in case I ever fancy returning to them in future.

Modern Stylophone

Now the only instrument I own is a Stylophone that cost about 15 quid. It’s quirky, but limited in its capabilities.

I’ve been thinking about buying some new instruments. I’ve tried to buy an Omnichord on eBay, but they are slightly too pricey for my budget. I could maybe buy a good keyboard, but these can also be really expensive. Considering I might not be able to get back into it, I don’t want to spend too much.

Were I to decide to create music, it would probably be electronic music on a computer. The software would be further expense, and a steep learning curve.

Part of me thinks taking up music again would be fun. Part of me thinks it would be expensive, difficult and — most of all — solitary. If part of the point of getting a new hobby is to get out more, why would I choose to spend time indoors playing music to myself?

3 comments

  1. Sounds to me like you need to get into playing social music then! I started getting big into trad music (not tartan shortbread tin stuff) and playing at sessions is a great social thing to do. Agreed, piano is a bit cumbersome to lug to a session, but how about returning to your percussion roots and getting into bhodran and cajon. Percussion is very cool, and there are a few players around you could hook up with. Bhodran is not solely in Irish music, but played all over, and the cajon is making an entry into trad in a big way. Most percussionists play both these days, as they’re easy to carry around – the cajon is sat on, so the drummer even brings his own seat!

    See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hUeAaBBKPw and for a chap at the top of his game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ChbigufBC8 and for the Cajon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpReSnkGrTUn for starters.

    Give me a shout at work if you want any more info!

    G.