Piano? Yes. Today I share some thing that has in a weird way helped me write better. Playing the piano. 🙂
For those who aren’t aware, I did take keyboard since I was in third grade. Then switched to violin during college and gave it up after two years of dreadful progress. Carpal tunnel was quite a pain (pun intended.)
After I graduated, went back to keyboard and even took the Trinity College of London Music Exams for Keyboard. Yep! Back in New York, surrounded by artists in trendy Park Slope I met the absolutely amazing jazz multi-instrumentalist Brittany Anjou and she gave me lessons on her piano. A real piano.
I started learning classical piano. I loved every moment of it. Not only because I had an absolutely wonderful teacher, but also because it helped me write. How you ask?
Practice In Short Bursts
Brittany encouraged me to practice daily for five or ten minutes. That would be better than 60 minutes of continuous practice. This was the same for writing. I realized writing in short bursts also helped me, instead of spending three hours trying to find the words, I would just chalk fixed time periods during the day to write scenes.
Perfect A Single Bar
There are four bars in a single line of music. And Brittany suggested, perfecting the bar and playing it fluidly before moving on to the next. The slower the better. So I would start very slow at maybe 10 beats per minute. =D I kid you not. Matching hands is hard for me since my left hand is pretty weak, so I would spend time working on each bar. In 4 weeks I had just learned two lines of my sheet done. But it also taught me to write slower. Write a scene without so many obvious mistakes, which is usually my NanoWrimo Style. Instead of banging out words, I slowed down my writing, making sure I had the right spelling, the punctuation and thinking before I put the words down. This was a more conscious writing procedure. The result was a cleaner manuscript, that wouldn’t need a heavy pass for correcting grammar and spelling. In fact, I’m pretty sure my next pass for development edits will not be fraught with issues of bad grammar and punctuation. I’ve eliminated that step with this form of slower writing.
Follow the Sheet
The sheet music is the template and you pretty much learn the sheet. Once you have it down pat, you can play around with the notes and improvise. Brittany says there are no rules. You just make your own. This made me create a template or an outline. I’m not a fan of outlining. But I’ve come to understand with an outline, I didn’t waste time thinking of what to write. Once I had the outline, I could change the direction or pace of the story, but without the outline, I was using up my writing time to plot.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You get better as you keep practicing. It’s what makes you more fluid. For classical piano, it’s all practice, especially for me since I’m not a natural though I do suspect they keyboard is my instrument. The same went for writing. The more I write the better I get. Last week I had a short story accepted by a small publisher and I was sent the edits. I couldn’t believe I was the one who wrote the piece. It was full of prose and wit, something not typical of my style. Practice. Keep practicing.
It’s proven that sleep aides music memory. And so I’d always practice before sleeping and on waking up. Magically the notes which were a problem the night before seemed to come to my fingers easily in the morning, reinforced during sleep. And so I started writing before sleeping till I felt I hit a roadblock. When I woke in the morning, I somehow found a way to write fresh, finding a solution or a literary technique that aided the story.
I love playing the keyboard. I think finding the right teacher makes the world of a difference. I’ve had some wonderful teachers in my life. But learning classical piano with Brittany helped me learn in a new way and appreciate the rules or lack of them. And I have only respect for this amazing jazz pianist. If you want her to give you lessons you can always discuss your learning goals with her here and she’d be able to help you achieve them. I know it helped me achieve my goal of learning classic piano, Johann Pachelbel.
Have you played an instrument? How has it helped you?