I grew up around music. One of my earliest memories is sitting in my parents’ garage - surrounded by all of their closest friends while they played covers of Tom Petty, The Band, Pink Floyd, and whatever else everyone could sing along to. I've always loved how music brings people together.
After watching me dance around my house to Billy Joel one too many times, my parents decided to get me into piano lessons every week. You'd think they'd put me in dance classes but I guess they wanted me to express my creativity through other outlets. (I was a very hyperactive child...) I took lessons over a period of a few months, until I told my parents I wanted to quit. I was homeschooled at the time, and being taught by someone else wasn't my favorite way of learning. I'd still play at home and everywhere that I would see a piano. I'd watch my older sister play beautiful Bach and Beethoven pieces and be completely amazed at how fast her fingers could go from key to key. I wanted to be able to do that one day.
I finally got back into the swing of things in high school, and was able to take up a few music classes. To my benefit, they had built a brand new Keyboard Lab over the summer before my Freshman year. I walked into the Lab full of beautiful and very expensive keyboards with their own iMac stations and was sold. I signed up for Keyboard 1 immediately after. My teacher was a little scatterbrained because she got engaged at the beginning of the school year. She pretty much left us with our keyboard books and sat in her office planning her wedding. It was kind of a bummer. Most of the class would end up either recording silly songs on Garage Band or gallivanting into the chorus room and hanging out...including me. My favorite memory from that class was when my friend Ana, a few of the trouble makers of the class, and myself were rummaging through the Cd's we had in our book bags. Ana pulled out a Moving Units cd and put it in the stereo system. I had never heard anything like it before. It wasn't Rock, it wasn't Hardcore, it was something new...Indie. Clean guitars, old school Punk vocals, and dancy melodies. Hearing that cd, among others in that classroom, greatly influenced me to expand my music taste and further intrigued me to get better at playing music. It's kind of funny how I was still able to learn about music without being taught by my music teacher. I wouldn't feel that way if I didn't get to bond and share my love for music with my classmates.
I took Keyboard 2 my sophomore year. Two new music teachers were brought in. They were dedicated and completely amazing. On my first day in class, we started to learn a short piece out of our books, and about 90% of the class never learned how to properly read music because of our teacher the previous year. I was one of them. My teacher played the piece all the way through for us a couple times, so I picked it up by ear that way. It was the only other logical way I knew how to learn it. I brought my book home, and slowly taught myself how to read each of the notes the best that I could. I put together the piece using both those techniques and played it for my teacher the next day. I remember him immediately thinking I was a master at reading music for learning the song so quickly, and placed me in a group of two other students. We were in the Keyboard 3 group. We would be learning more difficult pieces than the rest of the class. I didn't have the guts to tell him I honestly didn't know how to play as well as them, so I stuck it out. He gave me an Intermediate Piano Book and told me to pick a piece. I picked the one that looked the least confusing. It ended up being one of the harder ones, and I made a fool of myself once I had to play it for my teacher. That's when he knew he had made a mistake. He told me he knew I had potential from what he had seen me learn, but I needed to be taught how to read music. By the end of the year, I was able to play songs as I read the music. But man, did that take some hard work and crazy dedication from my teachers.
After that class, my school didn't have any other Keyboard classes to offer, so I took a combination of Music Theory/AP Music Theory. If there's one thing about music I haven't been able to grasp, it's that. Although, I did enjoy spending one day a week with the AP Music Theory class. We focused on singing. Up until that point, I never sang in front of people. It was one of the hardest things for me. Learning how to do vocal warm ups and singing scales in a group really helped me get over that fear. The AP Music Theory kids were all very encouraging and were also a huge part of getting it through my head that maybe I could actually sing, and maybe get better at it.
That part of the course was awesome, but every other day of the week I would want to punch a wall trying to learn how Music Theory worked. I ended up dropping the class after a couple months of being utterly confused. Maybe one day I'll try it out again, just to have the knowledge of how music works, but for now I'm content with barely knowing anything about Music Theory. I'm cool with just playing keyboard by ear and listening to music without knowing how to properly dissect it.
And that's what I've been doing since. I trust my ears more than anything else when it comes to learning a song. I know how chords work and what they look like, so I mix that with knowing what chords sounds like when I hear them being played. I definitely wouldn't be able to play by ear if I didn't learn what I did in piano lessons and classes that I've taken. And I definitely wouldn't have the love for music that I have now if it wasn't for all of these events that have lead me to this point. I feel fortunate for having all of the people in my life that have gotten me to continue to get better at playing and continue to use my talent in ways that I wouldn't have ever thought I could. - Kelly McGuire