Practice is key

From “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” to Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” some of my fondest childhood memories involve learning to play the piano.

Learning to play the piano is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle: Once learned, it is never forgotten. Though I quit my weekly piano lesson as a teenager, whenever a piano is in the room, I get the urge to sit down and stroke the keys. And even when it’s not Christmastime, I tend to delight whoever is in the room, mainly my family, with one of my all-time favorites, “O’ Holy Night.”

I’ve had other go-to songs through the years, some from movie soundtracks, including “Only Hope” from the beloved chick flick, “A Walk to Remember,” or the “Pink Panther” theme song. There are several other numbers I’ve played, and mastered since I was a kid – some that I don’t remember names of – that I can still play. All I need to do is sit down at a keyboard.

Playing the piano, while it took much practice, came naturally to me. I was about 7 years old when I began taking lessons at Carroll’s Music in Lewiston with longtime private piano instructor Arthur Melendy. The lessons, which lasted a half hour, involved me performing songs for Arthur that I’d spent the weeks prior practicing (though I also learned many new skills during each visit with Arthur.)

During my latter piano-playing years, the lessons took place on mid- to full-size electric piano on an enclosed porch at Arthur’s home in Mechanic Falls. Arthur, who has been teaching piano for 17 years, is now helping other students learn piano, voice, and music theory, at Main Street Music Lessons in Auburn.

I miss those days. After school my friend’s mother would take her and me to our lesson at Arthur’s. Katherine and I would each take turns playing for a half hour. Whenever we hung out, we would show off our piano skills to one another. And sometimes when she played songs I recognized or was also practicing with Arthur, I’d sing along.

It was a grand time.

For me, playing piano was all about having fun – but there were also more serious parts to it. During my time as a pianist, which lasted until I was 12, I learned, among other things, that practice is key if you want to sound decent.

And practice I did – for several hours a week. Since lessons lasted no more than 30 minutes, it was imperative that I paid close attention to what Arthur was teaching me so I could play the songs on my own at home. It was also a goal to improve on my skills before the next lesson.

I not only wanted to ace the song, I also wanted to impress my teacher. I’ve always been a teacher’s pet.

Aside from being a teacher, though, Arthur is a musician. According to his online bio, “Arthur grew up in Rockland, Maine, participating in all sorts of music groups including The Maine Boys Choir and The Maine All State Chorus to name a few. He has experience with theatrical performance. His main instrument is piano, although he has played trumpet, French horn and baritone horn. After college, where he studied Music Theory at the Crane School of Music, he returned to Maine.”

Arthur also plays in The Waiters, a Portland-based wedding band, which can be heard at In addition, he plays wedding ceremonies as a solo pianist.

His online biography states he “has a gentle and easygoing personality that will help any new student feel very comfortable in no time.” I agree.

Although I often felt nervous during a lesson, Arthur – with his kind smile and encouraging words – always had a way of making me feel confident. After all, my mother was paying this man to teach me a lifelong skill.

But when I became a teenager, schoolwork, sports and spending time with friends were my priorities. I lost interest in piano.

And I regret my decision to quit piano to this day. Though I can basically play piano on command, sometimes I wonder what kind of musician I would have become if I stuck with it.

Practicing piano was not always easy, as it required me to read sheet music and play at a certain tempo. Those skills became easier throughout the years, but playing piano involved homework – and lots of it.

Concentration is also a key factor in learning a piano song. Perhaps that’s partly why I gave up on playing at such a young age.

I remember becoming frustrated whenever I’d botch my solo. Arthur would ask, “Did you practice the left hand? What about the tempo?” Sometimes my face would turn beet red, because sometimes the answer was “no.”

Overall, though, I loved playing the piano, and I often thought about how lucky I was to get that experience.

Though it takes a few tries, I love the fact that I can still open a piano book and play whatever song I like. If you and I are ever in the same room and there is a piano, get ready.

I may just sit down and start playing. And you just might enjoy it.

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