Music and Art · New Hobbies

Teaching Yourself To Play An Instrument (Or How I Permanently Scarred My Cat)

I decided to start playing my flute today. I’ve been promising myself I’d start playing again for over 2 years now and I finally did it! (Mostly so I would have something to write about so I guess this blog really is doing it’s job.) I was a little worried that writing about a beginner relearning to play the world’s shrillest instrument wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting post, but (oh man!) I was so wrong. Below is the chronology of all the times in my life I have ever tried to play the flute. (Not the only instrument that didn’t pan out for me, but certainly the most consistent musical failure in my life.)

Attempt #1: 4th Grade Band

In 4th grade, we were allowed to choose an instrument and participate in after-school band if we wanted. This was a chance for us to see how we liked it before getting to middle school where we would have regular lessons and be required to audition and all that jazz. (This pun was so not intended, but I’m leaving it because it makes me laugh.) Anyone who wanted to be in 4th grade band could join – no tryout required.

I chose the flute. Lessons were in a group setting once a week and taught by local high school students. Long story short, I never even learned to make sound come out of the instrument. Somehow, no one ever noticed and I actually stayed in band for an entire year without ever actually “playing” the instrument. During rehearsals/concerts, I would just mash the keys in random patterns and pretend to know what I was doing. To this day, my grandmother loves to bring this up every time I see her because apparently reminding me of my most embarrassing childhood moments is extremely entertaining. (It’s not like my own brain doesn’t do this to me enough already.)

So shiny!
Attempt #2: Post-College Crisis

The 2nd time I picked up the flute was the winter after I graduated college. I was living in a house all by myself in a college town. It was winter and most of my friends had moved away, so boredom was a staple in my life. By this time, I had my grandmother’s flute and piccolo in my possession and since instruments are meant to be played, I decided I was going to do something about it. I found a teacher and visited her once a week for 30 minutes. I even convinced myself to practice daily(ish) – something I was never able to do as a kid.

The effect of this was immediate. I picked up the instrument relatively quickly and learned more about reading music/music theory in those 4 months that I did in all previous 22 years. (Singers don’t really have to read music. We just have to act dramatic and hire a very forgiving pianist.) Unfortunately, I started graduate school later that spring which took up most of my evenings and then accepted a job that required quite a bit of travel so the flute sort of fell off the map.

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Thank goodness picture books are a thing.
Attempt #3: The First Practice

So now that you’ve read the prelude, here’s How To Learn A New Instrument All By Yourself:

  1. Find your flute 101 books. Realize one of them was lent to you by your teacher during attempt #2 and you were supposed to return it 5 years ago. Feel bad.
  2. Set up your music stand. Realize this was also lent to you, this time by a friend’s mom, and you should’ve returned it 5 years ago as well. Feel even more bad.
  3. Open every closet door in the house until you finally have to ask Adam where the flute is. He locates it in one of the first places you looked.
  4. Open the cases to both the flute and piccolo. Spend 10 minutes taking pictures of them in the sunlight because they’re very pretty and shiny.
  5. Assemble the flute. Spend 5 minutes trying to make some sort of sound come out of it.
  6. Read the first few pages of music book #1 and study the illustrations. Realize this was definitely intended for children and it should not be taking you this long to figure out what you’re supposed to do.
  7. Play the first few bars. Get lightheaded and sit down for a bit.
  8. Set a timer to force yourself to practice for 30 minutes. Spend most of that time taking photos of the cats’ reactions to your playing.

    This was the universal reaction in the house when I started playing today.
Freaking Out Your Cat

So I didn’t own cats the last time I played the flute. But my grandmother always had 2 cats in her house and she played flute for 70+ years so I didn’t really think it would be an issue. Either my cats are completely deranged (what cat isn’t) or my playing is actually that horrendous (the most likely answer).

  • Selina paced around the living room the entire time and made pitiful meows/whining noises as though she was being tortured. The look on her face was pure terror. (Side note: She does this when we unload the silverware from the dishwasher. So now you know that my playing sounds like a bunch of forks being dropped in a kitchen drawer.)
  • Pirate tried to hump everything.
  • Adam (not a cat but still lives with me) started playing his guitar downstairs. I presume to drown out the sound.

I think we’re off to a great start!

(Below is a video of Selina during my practice. I apologize in advance that you have to listen to my awful playing.)

 

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3 thoughts on “Teaching Yourself To Play An Instrument (Or How I Permanently Scarred My Cat)

  1. Great to read that you’re playing flute again! I also chose it in 5th grade band, and remember being dizzy and out of breath the whole time (and having to clean it with that huge pipe-cleaner thing). The cats look like they’e enjoying the concert! Happy fluting!

    Liked by 1 person

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