Since starting drums aged 16, and going to music college, I’ve always wanted to be able to play a melodic instrument on the side, if nothing more than to see the surprise on my band mates faces when a drummer knows what a G7 chord is!. Piano/keyboard has always seemed the obvious choice, but despite the odd ‘dabbling’ for a few weeks at best, I’ve never stuck with it.
This time, I decided, was going to be different. A few months ago I set myself the challenge to learn the keyboard once and for all, putting a number of ‘rules’ in place to make sure I succeeded. Here’s what happened.
N.B. I can’t claim to be a complete beginner, and having the advantage of knowing effective practice techniques, being able to read music and having my Grade 5 theory certainly helped. However I really wasn’t far off.
Throughout this challenge I’ve been working through the book ‘Adult Piano Adventures’ – as recommended by a piano teaching mother of one of my former drum students.
Accountability is your friend
Accountability is one of the single most important factors in creating a new habit. Making other people aware of what you plan to do can really raise the stakes – especially if you feel the pressure of letting someone down.
In my case I made a post on Instagram, setting the challenge of 20-30 minutes daily keyboard practice which would be documented in my stories and highlights. After the first story was posted – I had no choice but to keep going. Whether people were watching these or not I wanted to make sure I made a fresh story every day (or close to).
One very important thing to know when creating any new habit is it’s okay to miss the odd day. If you do – don’t fret. Just pick up where you left off as soon as possible.
Creating the habit
According to one recent study it can take anywhere between 18 days and 8 months to create a new habit. A lot of traditional anecdotal evidence points at between the 30 and 60 day mark – which in my own experience seems about right. The more extreme the habit change, the longer it will normally take.
At the 50 day mark, playing the keyboard daily felt very natural, though I do have to make sure to plan it in to my schedule – even for just 10 minutes on busy days. A very good sign that the new habit is becoming instinctive is that you don’t ‘forget’ to do it – an excuse I think many of us music teachers have heard from younger students!
Above is a compilation of all the Instagram stories I’ve created in my first 50 days of practice. All I can say is – I’m delighted, and really enjoying myself! My skill and understanding of the instrument has increased every single day, and here’s the other great thing about learning a new instrument or skill: during the first few weeks/months, if you’re consistent you’ll feel yourself getting better every single practice session, which again only encourages you to keep going.
An excellent Ted Talks video with Josh Kaufman backs this up, and falls in line with my experience (20 hours = 20-30 minutes daily for 40-50 days).
“You can go from knowing nothing about any skill you can think of…if you put 20 hours of focussed, deliberate practice in to that thing – you will be astounded at how good you are.”
What Happens Next
My uploads were already starting to become less frequent; not because I was practicing less, but because it was taking longer to learn each new piece as they gradually got more difficult. I’ve no doubt that the next few months will be where the real challenge begins, because, quite simply – it’s going to start taking longer to improve, thanks to the learning curve (excuse the rubbish hand drawn graph!).
This is a standard learning curve, and simply shows that the longer you spend on something – the more time you will have to invest to make jumps in your skill, understanding and knowledge of it.
This can also be known as the act of diminishing returns (a term first created within economics.
From playing drums for over 16 years now I’ve seen this in full effect in my own playing; it can now take months to see small improvements. However with effective practice techniques it’s still possible to consistently improve (but that’s for another post).
After this early accelerated skills acquisition is where many people give up, or reach a level where they’re happy enough, but not willing to put in the time and effort to continue improving (most weekend golfers!). The challenge can feel like a real shock to the system, “But it’s been easy so far!?”.
To get through this hump we have to find the right motivation, set the appropriate accountability, seek outside help in the form of teachers and mentors, and in general accepting the fact that it takes time to reach a high level in anything, and enjoy the journey (again – a whole other post is needed for that!).
At this point I’m still very much enjoying the process of learning the keyboard, and my Instagram accountability is keeping me motivated with regular uploads (why not give me a follow?). If and when I feel this start to drop I will look to set a clear future goal, which I’m currently thinking might be achieving a mid-level grade (an assessment system here in the UK), or even a public performance!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and can relate this learning process to something you’ve tried to pick up, and that the information helps you on your own journey. Let me know what you think!