I call them “fiddlers.”

These are the students who, at any moment of silence or break in the lesson, jump in and start fiddling randomly at the piano. Or even worse, they fiddle while I’m talking. It drives me crazy.

During the school year, when time is at a premium, deadlines are looming, and lessons are stacked one on top of another, I have no patience for fiddling. There are scales to rehearse, key signatures to learn, recital music to polish. There is no space for creative fiddling.

Because at its root, that is what it is. Fiddling isn’t really a strategy to annoy me, although it does. It is really just a creative outlet of energy, sometimes aimless and without purpose, but not always. Not always. And that’s what lately has caused me to rethink this habit.

In my summer semester, almost every student has hour-long lessons. The extra 15 minutes makes all the difference. Suddenly we have space to allow for the additional minutes needed to try out new ideas once, twice, maybe three times. We can move slowly and work more thoroughly, actually fixing problems instead of crossing our fingers and hoping a miracle happens at home. We can take the extra time to learn that new concept (black key minor scales: Woo-hoo!) that might otherwise get shoved aside indefinitely. We can tackle new sorts of assignments, like harmonizing ear tunes or learning extra rote pieces. We even have time for fiddling.

Creative fiddling takes many forms. Sure, many times it is the mindless noodling over my attempts at instruction, but fiddling could also be those interesting tangents that we sometimes allow ourselves to follow. We try out a short passage in various keys. We look up that obscure musical direction. We spend time listening to recordings not just of our assigned repertoire, but also something that might be vaguely related, albeit less urgent. Yesterday, a student and I discovered that the melody of her Clementi sonatina was the basis for the song “Groovy Kind of Love,” first recorded by the Mindbenders in the 1960s and then again (the version I remember) by Phil Collins in 1988. Admittedly, this information did not help her play the piece any better. It was merely fiddling to be sure.

Clearly we all need a permission to fiddle a bit, to meander through our days without always being straitjacketed to the clock.  For me, this means remembering that it’s OK to take an hour off in the middle of the afternoon, even if I have more practicing to do, and lie on the couch under the ceiling fan reading a good book. It means hanging out in cocktail corner in the backyard with friends till late in the night, even if this threatens a good night’s sleep and my concentration the next day. It means saying yes to invitations for al fresco dinners, Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market, or the additional hour of conversation that comes with another cup of coffee, even if there might be more notes to learn, a house to clean, watering to do.

Fiddling. Just today I found myself fighting the urge to snap at a kid who was fiddling underneath my careful instructions. “Hey Miss Amy!” he said when I finished talking. “I was using my musical skills to play ‘Lightly Row’ AND listen to you at the same time.”

He was very proud of this. I was less than impressed (my musical skills?? yeah, sure, whatever), but I let it go. It’s summer, after all.

 

 

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