Theory really does make a better musician!

Background: I have my Royal Conservatory of Music Grade 8 piano. I passed it (by the skin of my teeth) when I was in Grade 11. Or was it Grade 12? Anyway. Years ago.

Saying that makes me feel old.

Since I played and passed the exam, I’ve hardly touched the piano. Sure, I’ve gone through stages of playing semi-regularly, but I haven’t been home long enough to actually improve. Weekends. Reading weeks. Christmas break. My repertoire was small and not expanding.

But I missed it. A lot. I’m a musician. I’m the one who’s singing at the top of her lungs in church, who tries to sing harmony even though she’s shy about sticking out and messing up, swaying back and forth so she can’t share the hymn book with anyone unless they hold it. I might hum while walking around campus, might whistle on my way home from Christian hymnody class. I can’t resist playing a scale when I see a piano with the lid up and the pump organ at M’s house fascinates me.

So, last year, I started looking at digital pianos, something that could fit in my car, but was reasonably good quality. When I decided I wasn’t willing to spend $2200 on it, but wasn’t going to be really happy with anything else, I gave up.

And then, I overheard a co-worker talking about selling his digital piano. I jumped on it. Bought it sight unseen. And had some mild buyer’s remorse from it. It’s 75 unweighted keys with only three dynamic ranges: p, mf, f.

It was pretty mild buyer’s remorse though. It was incredibly cheap. And you know what? It might be a piece of crap, but I don’t think I’ve played piano so much since the last week before my Grade 8 exam. My repertoire has actually grown and I can tell that I’m a better pianist.

I don’t think the latter is from having a cheap, crappy piano that I play worship music and hymns on all the time though. On a bit of a whim, I decided to take a theory course this term. It’s hard. At least, some of it is hard. I haven’t had to figure out what interval I’m hearing in years. I had forgotten the meanings of augmented and diminished chords. I’ve never known what counterpoint is. And singing with solfege syllables while conducting?

But, surprisingly, I’m doing well! Ok, maybe not on the dictation part, but the rest balances it out quite nicely. Even better, I’m noticing it in my playing. Suddenly, learning new songs (though the ones I pick are not difficult…) is coming easily to me. Chords are falling under my fingers and I’m noticing cadences and phrases more readily than I used to.

I wish I had known how theory can actually affect your playing when I was busy almost failing my piano exams.

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