When I was a young girl, I took piano lessons. It was the kind of thing one did. You either took piano or dance. Piano was our family choice. I know my first lessons came when we lived in Idaho the first time, I just am not sure if I was in second or third grade. I remember that we had an upright piano at home that I practiced on and I took lessons in someone’s house that we walked to once a week. I was your average player, not anything exceptional. Then we moved a couple of times and the next time I remember taking lessons was when we lived in Arizona and I was in the fifth grade. I can’t say I remember much about the lessons, except my teacher had a white (I think) baby grand in her living room and it was pretty cool to play. I practiced on the piano in the church next to the parsonage we lived in (my dad was the pastor). We moved a few more times and the next and last time I had lessons was in the seventh grade. We were back in Idaho and found a piano teacher not too far from where we lived. I could ride my bike there (past the apple cider vinegar plant which was pretty pungent on some days) and take lessons. The goal at this point was for me to learn how to play hymns so I could play some at church. I did well with my right hand, but boy that left hand was tricky. My teacher taught me a “temporary” shortcut that would let me play for church sooner. It’s really quite simple. Play the bottom note on the bass clef (that’s the bottom one) with your thumb and put your pinky finger an octave down. Not too much later we moved to Alabama for my father to start a church and I became the piano player. I could only play about ten songs, so we had to choose two or three of those for each service. I played that way (adding some new songs over time) off and on for the next ten years or so. My temporary shortcut became permanent.
Then I moved away, married, and left my piano playing behind. I spent the next 30 years saying I “sort of/used to” play if someone brought it up. My husband’s mother, grandmother, and sister all play (with both hands, the notes written and everything). Our daughter is in college studying music education to become a chorus teacher. Though she is a vocal major (beautiful voice), she is an accomplished pianist.
The other night no one was home and I found myself sitting down at my daughter’s piano. I pulled out a hymnal and plunked out a few of the songs I learned so long ago. No audience, no judgement. It was nice, but it made me think.
The consequence of my temporary shortcut was that my growth in piano stopped. Having reached my short term goal, the long term goal faded away. I quit taking lessons; my ability to read music never progressed, and my left hand never developed. I lost the desire to do more.
We all take various shortcuts in life. Whether it’s playing hymns with an adapted left hand, cutting through a parking lot to avoid the traffic light, studying Spark notes instead of reading the book, using dry shampoo instead of taking a shower, spraying Febreze instead of doing laundry, or sending e-cards instead of Christmas cards in the mail.
Shortcuts aren’t necessarily bad – but be aware that they all have some kind of consequence. Just be sure that your short term gain doesn’t obscure or prevent the achievement of your long term goals.