What Does ‘Learning the Piano’ Mean?

This is what the vague objective of ‘learning the piano’ means to me.

First of all, what it’s not: the ten-a-penny morons on the piano at the train station, dribbling out an Einaudi piece they learnt on YouTube, have not learned the piano. I started to learn I Giorni once, for a friend, but it was so incredibly boring that I was struck by physiological symptoms. My vision went grey, my fingers went limp, and I have long suspected that a bit of my soul leaked out, a stowaway riding a sigh that was all too close to a death rattle.

Learning the piano is a labour of love, an unrequited love where the piano spends most of its time hoping you have a fatal aneurysm and that the last miserable tones you ever ask of it are the ones you play as your forehead crashes down on-and-around Middle C. If there was a beginner’s piano with AI and internet connectivity, it would send for Dignitas. Or something more cunning, like hacking the oven controls to gas you as you sleep.

But with dedication, perseverance, and a good teacher, the occasional morsel of competence appears and the piano sings in appreciation. A well-executed trill, cracking a bit of polyrhythm — bar 25 of Chopin’s Waltz in A minor, Op. 34 No. 2 is my favourite so far (link below, it’s about 34 seconds in) — or balancing a huge chord in Debussy so it doesn’t sound like someone dropped a boneless ham on the keys. Earn enough of these morsels, slap them on top of the bread and butter of scales and arpeggios, and you have an open sandwich of infinite possibilities. Earn enough and you have learned to play the piano.