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Some of my stories are published in:
A Cup of Comfort Devotional for Mothers and Daughters (Adams Media, 2009)
Chicken Soup: What I Learned from the Dog (2009)
Love is a Flame (Bethany House, 2010)
Extraordinary answers to Prayer (Guideposts, 2010)
Love is a Verb (Bethany House, 2011)
Big Dreams from Small Spaces (Group Publishing, 2012)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

You Can Teach An Old Dog

I started taking piano lessons when I was almost ten years old. I wanted to start much earlier and kept begging my mother to teach me. But my mother - a fine pianist but not a professional piano teacher - thought that kids learn an instrument better when they can begin to comprehend abstract concepts.

I didn't agree then and don't agree now.

Music is like language; it gets soaked up in the brain effortlessly at an early age.
I've read research that infants and toddlers growing up in bi-lingual families easily sort out the two languages, learning to speak each fluently and without any accent.
Music involves lots of muscle memory. If a toddler can learn to coordinate muscles involved in walking, then why can't he or she also coordinate muscles involved in playing an instrument?

Still, I was young enough at nine-plus to quickly pick up piano and within a few years play Debussy, Beethoven, Scarlatti, and Bach, etc. competently.

When I started voice lessons at sixteen, I was grateful that my piano skills enabled me to teach myself the complicated vocal literature without relying on a paid accompanist.
Then it was off to the conservatory, and later, graduate studies at the University of Michigan.
Years later, around forty, I decided to pick up guitar. Most of my friends played guitar in high school and I thought, "how difficult can guitar be?"

There's a comfort and naturalness to something you've done since childhood.
Not so with a skill picked up in adulthood.
Oh, how I wish I'd taken up guitar as a kid. Nothing on that instrument comes easily. Except for the finger-picking; that's similar to piano technique. The left-hand stuff is agony. Some of the chords make my hand feel like it's ripping apart.

However, after more than a decade of disciplined practice, I'm starting to get it. I can play some gorgeous Renaissance and Baroque classical guitar pieces.

Doctors and psychologists say it's important to continue learning new skills into middle age and beyond to exercise the brain and keep it fit.
So, learn a new vocabulary word each day, learn a new card game, take up ballroom dancing, learn a new musical instrument, travel to some exotic place and try to speak the language.

I'll never play like Christopher Parkening (my guitar idol), but I've achieved some competence.

And I'll bet my brain is better for it.

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