2 Things I’ve Learnt From Playing the Piano

18 06 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly had an urge to play the piano again. I had decided to stop playing the piano seriously a few years back because the three hours of daily practice bored me, but I now had this desire to touch those keys again and hear the music flow from my fingers…

So I opened up the piano and sat down. I took out some Beethoven that I had played years before – sonata no. 8 – and started cautiously weaving my fingers around the notes. It was a little bumpy to start with, and I knew that my piano playing was a tad rusty, but soon enough, the sonata began to sound good enough to be called ‘music’.

It felt good. There I was at the piano, steadily feeling more and more confident as the notes slid over each other. And as I sat there playing, I thought: what have I learnt from all those years of playing the piano?

1. “You become a champion by fighting one more round.”                                                     As with anything, practice is what nails it 95% of the time. I was playing a Dutch card game with a friend once, and she said to me – “The game’s about luck, but also about how you play your luck”. The concept is similar enough with playing the piano – sure, a little talent helps, but it’s also about how you develop that talent. Playing the piano taught me that if I wanted to do something be better than other people, I had to do more than they did, practice more than they did, and fight one more round.

2. Work smart and work hard.                                                                                             Practicing three hours a day was ‘working hard’, but practicing three hours a day without a method wasn’t ‘working smart’. Playing the piano taught me to practice smart. There’s no point in playing the whole piece countless of times – it would be smooth but mediocre at best. The trick was to spot out parts that I had problems with and work on those in isolation. Then I would repeat that one part five times until I got it perfect each time, before moving on to the next problematic section. Now I use this method in a whole range of other areas: golf, running, studying etc. – and it works great.

Now I’m off to play some piano.


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6 Ways to Make Sure I’m Always Learning

11 06 2011

I love learning. More precisely, I love the feeling of movement that comes with learning. It’s a tantalising sensation of moving forwards, keeping up with the changing world around me. At the same time, though, there’s also a complementary feeling of stillness. It’s a priceless sensation.

To make sure I’m constantly learning, constantly moving in the intellectual sense, I use the following methods:

  • Twitter and RSS feeds: I’m always looking for interesting people with interesting things to say on Twitter. 
  • iPhone Apps: For reading the news, I primarily use the New York Times and BBC World News application. The Economist app is also great because it comes with downloadable audio recordings. ReadItLater and Instapaper are also great for storing articles for offline reading, so that I’m always learning, even while on the go.
  • Podcasts and iTunes U: These are great for those moments when you don’t quite feel like reading, but don’t want to stare blankly into space either. When I’m really on the go, I switch seamlessly between reading (say, while on the train) and listening to my podcasts/lectures when reading isn’t so feasible (like walking to the next train platform).
  • Reading: I try to have a book with me whenever I can and fill all my ‘gap times’ in the day by reading. Scott H Young has a good post here on how to read more books in a year.
  • Writing: I like to keep a small notebook, not for mundane recounts of what I had for breakfast but rather for all my thoughts and reflections. Writing makes me reflect and enjoy the stillness.
  • Not learning: Yep. Sometimes just staring into space, or as I do multiple times a day, going into ‘the zone’ while running/swimming/biking. At these moments my mind will be completely blank and relishing the calmness, getting ready for more learning!

So there you have it – my ways of constantly learning and educating myself.

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Comments are most welcome!