The Road Less Traveled; Problems and Pain

I’ve started rereading The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. This book has been on my mind since I started teaching and have been wrestling with the “problems and pains” of learning how to play the piano.

Everybody wants to play the piano. No one likes to practice. Thus is the problems and pains of learning to play the piano.

Life is series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them? -M. Scott Peck

I’ve probably taught about 25 beginners during the last 9-months in groups and private settings. It has opened my eyes to the complexity of learning to play the piano. First you have to recognize the patterns on the piano. You have to learn to sit just far enough from the piano with your back and shoulders straight. Then you have to raise your arms and fingers and strike the keys just the right way. All the while, you have to listen to what you’re playing. When you think that you’re getting somewhere with it, you’re given a piece of paper with lines and dots and you have to decode the symbols and translate them into the keyboard. And very soon, as if all that isn’t enough, you have to start using your right foot, independent from what your fingers are doing, to use the pedal.

Yes, learning to play the piano poses series of problems. And problems, as Peck says, “evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair.”

But problems: are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure… It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems, just as in school we deliberately set problems for our children to solve. 

I’m not in any way trying to diminish the pleasure of learning to play an instrument or the love of music. It is undoubtedly one of the most exhilarating feelings to be proficient in an instrument and make something beautiful come out of it. However, that pleasure and freedom cannot be accessed without considerable amount of effort–the careful working out of the problems that come–which is also called discipline.