Jeff Vrabel: Time for piano torture, er, I mean lessons

Jeff Vrabel

So we're subjecting the second-grader to piano lessons. We're doing this because we began piano lessons in the second grade ourselves, and we were not especially talented at piano lessons, so we are subjecting the new generation to them because we figure … it will eventually water down the reasons he comes to resent us as a teenager? (We're also hanging on to the hope that there are some recessive piano genes in there that are just sitting out a generation, and we are also hoping other recessive genes include Basketball, Cooking, Knowing How To Talk To Girls In College and Figuring Out What A 401(k) is.)

I took piano lessons for about seven years, every week, at colleges, in people's houses, in elementary schools. I was not what you might consider a gifted musician, and by "gifted" I mean "someone who practiced," but I do recall, at one point being able to play part of the melody from Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There For You" and thinking I was pretty much the baddest thing ever. (I forgot it in 1990.) Come to think of it I can't recall why I quit, other than I kind of got tired of lying to my friends about where I was going every Monday after school ("Um, yeah, I've got karate," was my usual go-to, which was a pretty decent story until it became apparent that I had almost no balance skills and was pretty easily beaten up). 

But if you think about it, seven years of anything is a pretty long time to have done something that you no longer have any talent at whatsoever; it's not like I was a dedicated prodigy or anything, but one would think that at least some shadow, some lingering instinct in there that would manifest itself in the form of one lousy piece or movement or scrap of "Linus and Lucy" or something. I mean for God's sake I could sit down in front of a Nintendo right now and walk straight through all of “Super Mario Bros. 3” using nothing but sense memory and probably two or three liters of Mountain Dew, and it would be awesome, and you would be impressed, unless you were one of the parents who paid for my college, then you would shake your head in abject disappointment. But for real, the human brain can be hardwired to remember 1993-era video games, but it can't fake one lousy Billy Joel tune?

Looking back it could have been really fun, being able to play "Moonlight Sonata" on lonely evenings, break out with some bench-shattering Little Richard stuff during lively parties, or at the very least be able to pull off a decent approximation of the end of "November Rain." But do you know what seven years, probable thousands of lesson-dollars and a lifetime of having to lie to people about where we were going every Monday after school got us? One Irish jig. One lousy, 16-bar Irish jig that, several years ago, we forgot the bass-clef part of, which is OK, because it is not like we can play separate things with two hands anymore anyway, due to age and, probably, the fact that we are not Irish. And I mean, it's a pretty good Irish jig or whatever, but still, you would think that for seven years of work we could at least knock out a reasonable "Linus and Lucy" or something. 

Anyway, truth be told, the boy is responding pretty well to lessons, especially considering that piano, by its stationary nature, requires its player to remain in a seated position for at the very least five or 10 seconds. The boy does not remain seated. There has been talk at school of removing his chair, or replacing it with a large bouncy ball, or, in some instances, affixing his butt to a chair with a not-inconsequential amount of duct tape. So the piano thing is kind of a big deal, in that it proves to us that he can remain stationary if interested in the task at hand. Like his dad was, with the “Super Mario Bros. 3.” 

Jeff Vrabel liked World 5 the best. He can be reached at and followed at