The Devil is in the Details


The devil is in the details.

Though I don’t know who thought that one up, I’ve got to agree, because if there’s anything I don’t have the patience for, it’s the bloody details. If you ask me, the details will get me every time.

Of course, I’m not talking about the kind of details that make up a dish in a recipe. I can cook just about anything by following the detail of ingredients in a recipe, right down to the dash of cayenne or pinch of salt, and it’ll taste just fine.

What I’m talking about are the details that make the difference between becoming a concert pianist and an adequate one.  Or between becoming a world-class soprano and one whose singing is best confined to the shower.  These details–the discipline and dedication it takes to shine–have always been out of my reach simply because I lack the patience and wherewithal.

To think, I once had dreams of being the very best at these things. But then life got in the way and by life I mean, those pesky little details that created a wall between me and that which I desired. To be great at something you have to put in the time, and putting in the time was something I’ve always been good at avoiding.

Even writing the great American novel seemed daunting to me once I learned that in order to write it, I’d first have to outline the chapters and develop the characters, keeping careful track of their comings and goings so as not to mix them up. Are you kidding me? Too. Much. Trouble!

Frankly, I’d rather leave the details to someone else. Let someone else figure out how to write like J.K. Rowling, sing like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa or tickle the ivories like Leonard Bernstein.

To me, the details can be, ahem, tedious and, would you believe, detrimental to my health? Hmm, I thought not.

Which brings me to my piano lessons.

Not too long ago I decided to sign up for piano lessons, after a lapse of 30 or so years.  My love for the piano was calling me back and so I bought myself the best keyboard I could afford and began taking lessons from a woman who was once my daughter’s piano teacher.  She agreed to teach me, no questions asked.

But here’s what I didn’t count on:  This teacher actually expects me to play the notes correctly. And before you say anything, I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “Monica, that’s crazy talk. Of course your teacher is going to expect you to learn and follow the proper rules of playing piano so that the music sounds exactly as it is supposed to sound and not the way you, Monica Medina, want it to sound.”

In other words, my teacher was not going to allow me to cut corners in my piano education (as my high school piano teacher once had, but that’s a different story).

Since signing up for lessons in November, here’s what I’ve learned from my teacher:

I must use the correct finger position as delineated in my music books. I must remember to play staccato on the right hand and hold the notes on the left hand, if directed to do so.  I must follow the beat of the metronome and not play any faster or slower, simply because I want to, or feel that I know the piece well enough.

And I must repeat a measure over and over until I am absolutely familiar with it and can play it perfectly, before moving on—no matter how frustrated that makes me.  (Trust me. I can get incredibly frustrated.) But here’s the thing:

I really, really, really, REALLY want to get good at this!

Which means I MUST learn all these (annoying) details.  I must work on being patient and not have grandiose dreams of playing magnificently overnight.

I’m determined to master the piano. If that means opening myself to everything my instructor teaches me, then so be it.

There have been moments when I’ve been ready to give up.  At my age, who needs this?  But then I realize, I do. This discipline is good for me.

So I need my teacher to be exactly as she is, letting me know which notes I’m playing wrong and what I can improve on.  After all, she says that one day, with enough practice, I may get to perform in a recital.

And frankly, the idea of it thrills me and terrifies me all at once.


20 thoughts on “The Devil is in the Details

    • Thank you for the vote of encouragement. You know, when I resumed lessons as an adult, I bought myself a very nice keyboard, recommended to me by my piano teacher. But now that I’ve been getting more into it, I wish I had a real piano. Hmm, wonder if I can trade in the keyboard…Hmmm…

  1. I admire adults who learn new things or take up old hobbies, crafts or music. Practice makes things better, nearly perfect. 🙂 I draw, paint and write. I take cell phone pictures for my blog. This was a lovely and inspiring post! Smiles, Robin

    • Thank you, Robin. I love taking pix with my cell phone. Just got the iPhone 7 Plus that has this “portrait” feature which is exceptional. I also like to draw and even color. You should see all the coloring books I’ve accumulated. But right now, the thing is piano and I continue practicing and taking lessons, which I love love love!

  2. Do you know how much I loved this story Monica? I clapped my hands in glee. Well, I believe in the neurons and pathways in one’s brain, so I am re-discovering my piano as well. I think it is utterly fantastic you are persistent in giving yourself the time and space to relearn. Oh I hope you perform. I would love to see.

    My daughter plays now and it brings me so much joy to tell her how I learned. She is impatient with holding her hands the right way, or that dreaded staccato, however when she gets it, her face lights up. I watched piano playing relieve her stress during finals just before Christmas break, it did for me and it still is my go-to.

    Did you say you binge watched ‘The Crown’? oh my… wasn’t it wonderful? I even had my husband watch with me. I love Claire Foy but more so John Lithgow. I think he was brilliant as Winston Churchill. I can’t wait for season 2. I will now watch Queen Victoria on Masterpiece as Sherlock is almost done.

    • Yikes, MM. I hadn’t realized that I never responded to you. Too much on my mind. Been spending more time at the piano than in the blogosphere. My competitive nature wants me to get good at the piano. Glad you like this post. I had a piano lesson this week and my teacher tells me she can tell I’ve been practicing. I think that’s good. Anyway, yes, I binged watched The Crown and it was awesome, one of my favorite shows of all time! I also loved Stranger Things when I watched last summer. So what did you think of Victoria? I think it’s good but not as good as the The Crown which had a budget more than double that of Victoria’s. Keep that in mind when you share your thoughts on each. Tah-tah for now!

  3. You Rock, Monica!
    Thank you for sharing your challenges and determination to learn how to do something you love! I am particularly inspired by your musical journey to ‘do the work’ to overcome resistance — since I received a ukulele and harmonica for Christmas…

    • Good luck with ukulele. One thing I had going for me when I started my lessons, was past experience playing piano. Hard to believe, but even after 30 or so years, it has been coming back to me, causing me to say, “Hello, Old Friend!” 🙂

  4. Well, gosh darn it, guess you’ll have to embed them details and stroke those keys with some level of refinement for a recital. Mighty brave of you and all. My mom called herself taking piano lessons. Got to complaining about her back aching from sitting up so, I couldn’t stitch her recital dress with the big red bow in the back on account she wound up quitting. She started guitar lessons about 2 years ago but I ain’t heard tell of no recital or lessons of late. I reckon she just likes buying instruments that have the propensity for collecting dust.

    • Totsy, I’m dreading the moment my teacher says I’m ready to perform in a recital. And yet, I keep practicing in order to play better so maybe I’m pushing myself in the direction of a performance, I don’t know. I can’t think that far ahead. For now, I’ll focus on learning the music. Sigh.

  5. In my thirty-year career as a piano teacher, I’ve often balked at teaching adults for the very reasons you list! Adults can be stubborn and often don’t practice as much as they should because, let’s face it–life gets in the way. Adult brains are also not as spongy as those of children, so concepts that would be easy for a child are often more difficult for the adult student. That being said, I’ve recently taken on two adult students who are absolutely WONDERFUL because they really want to learn! Their excitement makes me excited! I’m so glad you’re doing this, Monica. Just think of all the new neurons and pathways you’re creating in your brain! Just remember, you’ve got to get to 10,000 hours in order to become an expert. That shouldn’t take you too long.

    • I will admit that it’s the neurons and pathways that keep me going. Anything I can do to stave off memory loss, I’m all for. But I do have to say that the moment it clicks, the moment I play a piece well, I get the best feeling ever wash over me. It’s such a thrill!

  6. Monica, your words here resonate with me. Part of me is exactly like you, wanting to take the easy way out, wondering why I feel the need to trouble myself with something as difficult as writing an entire novel. However, and this might be key, I’m *compelled* to do so! Ideas and characters are floating around in my head, and the only way to purge them is to put them down in story form.

    You know, it’s relatively easy to learn something new when we’re kids. Our minds are like sponges, soaking up education; our fingers are more nimble; our teachers are more forgiving of our inattention to details.

    Not so, with adult learners! We’ve lost a lot of time to youth, so we must make it up with dedication. And practice, *good* practice, not that skimming over stuff that served us just fine as kids! I imagine you’ll be glad you re-acquainted yourself with piano one day. After all, music offers a wealth of benefits (!!!

    • Thanks for your support and encouragement. Started reading the article and looks interesting. Can’t wait to sit down and read it all. As I practice piano, I’m actually finding myself improving. You know the film, My Fair Lady? There’s a moment when suddenly she speaks English properly and everyone is clamoring, “I think she’s got it. By George, she’s got it!” Well, as I practice and practice, there are moments when I say that to myself. I think I’ve got it! It’s such a good feeling!

  7. Hi Monica.

    Happy New Year and all that….

    Pleased you’re coming along with the piano lessons, I don’t think I would have the patience these days. One of the things I notice with getting older is that I am happier to take shortcuts to get things done and out of the way.

    Looking in a drawer I see a pile of instruction books for various things I have bought and all are still in their little plastic bags unopened, I don’t have the time for details it seems.

    Keep plugging away at the piano, and put me down for a copy of the first CD of your music that you publish!!!

    • Thank, Robert. Hope you have a Happy New Year, too. I spent the holiday binge watching The Crown on Netflix. It’s about the early years of your current Queen. Fascinating and well done. Have you seen it? I know these kind of shows you don’t like, but I love the historical aspect of it and gaining a better understanding of her relationship with WInston Churchill. As for the piano, I try to practice every day. Well, more like every other day. But I’m committed!

      • No not seen it Monica, but no doubt the wife has.
        Practise every other day is good, it’s like eating chocolate cake every other day, good for the soul!!!
        Winston Churchill was a great man but a few have said he was also a complex man as well.
        I can still remember watching his state funeral on TV was a was a mere lad, I remember it as very movnig.

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