Tickling the (Plastic) Ivories (or, I Want to Learn How to Play the Piano so I Bought One, Now I Have to Learn)

I talked about not buying a guitar a few days back, and while I still pine for that beautiful Les Paul, I scratched my musical itch by purchasing a digital piano.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano properly. I’ve messed around on keyboards over the years, even recorded some keyboard parts on records, but I was just faking it, transposing notes from guitar chords. I didn’t have any technique or understanding of the keyboard. Maybe that will change now.

When I began looking at digital pianos, I was surprised by what I could get for very little money. The guitar world is kind of the same way these days. 25-30 years ago, a $600 electric guitar was not a good instrument. Now you can get a wide variety of great “players” at that price. So for under $400, I picked up a decent quality keyboard that sounds phenomenal.

Does it sound – or feel – as good as a $2,000 digital piano? Pretty unlikely. But I’ve never believed that a novice should start learning music on the best instruments. Not for monetary reasons, but if you start on a great instrument, where do you go from there once you’ve gained some skill? I remember the day I got my first Les Paul (a brand new wine red 1979 Deluxe) like it was yesterday. It was a glorious day because I’d made my way through several lesser guitars to get there.

But back to the piano, I said it sounds phenomenal, and it does. Early digital technology in the 80s ruined a lot of records because the quality just wasn’t there yet (that and the salad bowls full of cocaine in all the studios didn’t help). Neither the instruments or the digital recordings sounded good. Digital was primitive and harsh. But we’ve tamed it now, and the sounds that come from digital instruments and effect pedals can be amazing.

When I was in a reggae band in the 80s, we bought an Ensoniq Mirage keyboard/sampler for, as I recall, several thousand 1980s dollars. It was one of the first sampling keyboards, and the sound library – as well as any samples you made yourself – were stored on 3.5 floppies. Changing floppy discs during live performances was so convenient! Not.

I have to say that this inexpensive digital piano sounds better than that ridiculously expensive 1980s sampler. And it feels better too, more like an acoustic piano. One thing I was only semi-prepared for: a full-size 88 key keyboard sure takes up a lot of space.

Well, this has gone on a lot longer than I’d anticipated. I’m not even sure what I’m talking about anymore. So we’ll see how the piano learning goes, but I’m excited.

Oh, I remember a point I wanted to make. Why pick up a new instrument at my age?

I’m pretty sure that keeping our minds active is vitally important as we age. They say musicians have the edge over non-musicians when it comes to our aging brains. But I don’t know how challenged I am by the guitar anymore. I mean, I’m no master by any means. I could definitely learn a ton of new techniques and get into some more complicated playing, but in my mind, that fretboard is familiar territory.

Not so the piano. It’s a new world of shapes and notes and chords and physical movements, and I have to believe that’s going make the old cerebral cortex light up like a Christmas tree. So in a way, I see the piano as a tool to keep myself sharp, as well as being a great musical instrument.

day 38


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