For Christmas I bought a Yamaha Clavinova CLP digital piano from Jordan Kitt’s Music in College Park, MD. It is not the sexiest digital piano ever conceived but it has 88 gravity-weighted touch-sensitive keys, an excellent fully sampled grand piano sound and, most importantly, a headphone jack for silent playing. And while it doesn’t hold up to an actual grand, it feels much better than a plastic synthesizer with spring-loaded keys.

Mostly I bought the piano for Katie because I have this idea in my head that Katie’s life will be much richer if she has music hardwired in her brain. But I decided, what the hell, I would learn how to play, too, simply from constant practice and staring at the little numbers on the sheet music for hints where to put my hands.

I can read music (treble and bass clef) fine. I have a head full of music theory. I understand how music is built. I don’t need books and videos full of “this is middle C.” I need to just play — scales, hand strengthening exercises, easy to intermediate pieces. Scale runs up and down the keyboard with my left hand. I bought a book full of technique (keep the thumb in, how to go up and down scales in 3-4-3 formation, wrists up, proper posture, how to stretch with thumb or pinky for the leap) and another book full of “Early Intermediate Songs” (better known as lead and bass part together) and went to town.

The first month was constant pain for my left hand which wasn’t used to my pinky having to move anywhere — it has had no feeling for 15 years due to arthritis. Month #2 wasn’t too much better. But I’ve noticed that the playing has become smoother — muscle memory is starting to kick in. Things are easing up.

I suck horribly. I won’t remove the headphones to force people to listen to me work through Bach’s Minuet in G Minor with pain. But it all does seem to be, at day’s end, about muscle memory and endless practice if one already has a head full of theory. My muscles are starting to remember. That is the baseline: for your hands to figure out consistently where the A key is without having to look or hunt-and-peck, it’s two months of practice, minimum 30 minutes/day.

Meanwhile, Katie is having faster and faster recognition of what notes go with what keys and what fingers to press what keys when it says so she is already making progress. She is starting to figure out that practice == getting better == playing more awesome little songs.

Oh! I can recommend the clavinova for anyone who has limited space and/or resources but still wants a piano that plays like a real one. I am jonsing to plug it into my Macbook through its MIDI interface and see what sort of havoc I can enact. I need cables, though.