Life Lessons from Learning the Piano


It started with a meet-and-greet.

My mom brought me to a group keyboard class for kids. I was 5 years old at the time, and was really there to hang out with one of my other friends, Phil, who had just started playing the keyboard. All of the other Asian kids looked like they were kind of into it, so I poked the keys to fit in with everyone else. My mother was thrilled.

“Ni xihuan ma?” she asked after class. Read – “Did you like it?”

Xihuan,” I replied. AKA – “I liked it.”

But, how many five-year olds really know what they like? At the time I figured it would be a great excuse for Phil and I to hang out.

And so it began.

The start of it was like a short-lived honeymoon. I learned how to identify and read the treble clef notes quickly, which was fun to me because it was like learning a new language. Putting it into practice was a different story. For the first few weeks, it was fun challenge. I would  play the air-piano at home by the steps in the living room, reading the notes while holding my hands up in the air like I was touching a keyboard.

When my parents realized that piano could be a long-term hobby (read – extra-curricular activity for college admissions), they brought home our first piano – an upright Yamaha. It was getting serious.

The arrival of the piano marked the end of the honeymoon era. Next came a long period of struggle (read – blood, sweat and tears) that lasted for years. I didn’t mind playing the piano so much, I just hated the additional written assignments that came with practicing piano. The “homework assignments” revolved around music theory and led to annual exams for the next 11 years. What was supposed to be “fun” for five-year old Belyn was now a lot of “work.”

As I merged into adolescence, I began to complain and fight with my parents over piano lessons. I wanted to quit so badly and find other hobbies that I actually enjoyed. My parents wouldn’t have it for many reasons. One, I had already come so far and it would be a shame to stop. Two, I would regret it later in life. And three, they didn’t want me to develop a habit of quitting when things got tough.

While their reasons were valid, my anger and impatience seemed much more real to me. I was around 12 at this time, and was getting into sports. While I wasn’t the best at basketball and volleyball, I dedicated more time and effort on the courts. After each practice, I spent whatever was left of me on the keys. Exhaustion gradually elevated like a crescendo until everything finally clicked.

I was sitting at the piano one evening and began sight-reading a composition (Reason from Autumn in my Heart) I had printed from a third-party/shady website. It was a song I had wanted to learn for fun, but never really had the time. I stared at the sheets of paper in front of me and unexpectedly, the melody poured out of me. I wore the biggest smile because the years of music theory, practice and sight reading were all coming together and it was the most amazing joy I’d ever felt. When I finished, I played the song over and over again until I memorized it, then printed more compositions to play and memorize. It was a new kind of experience that gave me the confidence explore a little more. Soon after, I began taking the initiative to select the songs I wanted to perform at recitals and yes, even the annual exam. By my senior year in high school, I was putting together my own compositions. I had uncovered a new way to appreciate and love the piano, but not without struggle.

The effort I put into all of this rewarded and fulfilled me more than I could ever imagine. And from it, I gained a handful of life lessons that can be applied to my relationships, career and other hobbies.

  1. It gets tough, like brutally tough, before it gets better.
  2. Anything is enjoyable when it’s easy, but if you call it quits when it gets hard, you won’t enjoy the longterm successes and benefits of it.
  3. Mom/Dad/Guardians are right like 85% of the time. The other 15% is due to generational differences, slight personality distinctions and modern technological and societal advancements.
  4. It’s always worth it for music.

The last lesson has slowly grown on me and has been a huge component in my 20s, which is why I’m taking my life experiences and dedicating a portion of my time to this site – a space to continue my growth and commitment to music.