Have you ever held a passion in life that you let go for whatever reason?

Perhaps it was drawing, taking photographs, learning how to play an instrument, writing, or crafting furniture.

Regardless of what that actual passion was, you have found yourself in adulthood reflecting as to how life could be different if you continued pursuing it.

I find it strange that as I grow closer to achieving a career pinnacle milestone that I am reflecting more about old passions and interests that I have not pursued. One that has stood out to me continuously is my passion for music, specifically learning how to play the piano and saxophone.

Let’s talk about how I am going to address this in a manner that’s very charactertisc of me.


The Character Story Arc DLC

I was introduced to musical instruments at a very young age (~4-5 years old) and took an immediate liking to the piano. I was captivated by the range of sounds that this instrument possessed. One of my earliest memories was being taught how to play “chopsticks” by my great-grandmother (“Nanna Jess”) on her upright Rönisch piano, which was one of the very last original ones manufactured in Germany during World War 2 (or so I am led to believe). As my great-grandmother aged, she left the piano to my grandmother, who passed it on to my father when she moved into a retirement village, as I was the only one of the grandchildren who had an interest in the thing. This presented an opportunity for me to learn how to play the instrument by myself, as circumstances at the time made getting a private tutor too difficult. Money aside, it didn’t help my parents that I was frequently distracted by “shiny things”, such as my father’s work computer and figuring out how to install Commander Keen on Windows 3.1, the Nintendo 64 and its games (thanks to my parents for getting me this, childhood MADE), and the desire to learn the saxophone after a music outreach program visited my primary school. A couple of years passed and I joined my high-school music classes after the teacher heard me playing the school’s piano one morning. I joined the school contemporary rock and jazz bands and slowly learnt how to play along with others, which culminated in a “battle of the bands” event during grade 10 where I performed on-stage at one of my state’s prestigious theatres. While our school didn’t win, I enjoyed playing on-stage, making friends, and trying to get fancy with piano solos.

Music became a way for me to express myself when words couldn’t do the trick. This was particularly helpful given that I suffered from severe anxiety and depression as a teenager, which I still experience in smaller albeit manageable bouts as an adult. Unfortunately, these conditions were too severe for teenage-me to deal with at the time, so my love for playing a musical instrument died when I dropped out of high-school and tried to figure out how to navigate the scary world of adults, particularly the public sector workforce! I did try to pick up an instrument in my early 20s a couple of times but my heart and mind weren’t really in it.


The Cliché 2020 Plot Twist

I ended up in the hospital emergency room during August this year due to a suspected heart attack and cardiac problems. Thankfully these issues were FULLY cleared and the origin of the health scare was found not to be heart-related in nature. As cliché as it sounds, I did a lot of thinking during my short trip to the hospital and the following one month I took off from work. I realised that the last 5 years of my life had completely blown by me. I had thrown myself into my career so that in the event of an unexpected lay-off, finding work that was not too far removed from my current salary would not be as difficult. Now that I find myself in the incredibly privileged and fortunate position to possess both financial and job security, I find myself looking to pursue hobbies and activities that will fulfil my creative side. Does this mean I will stop studying at university and pursuing technical certifications/projects? Hell no. It just means introducing a bit of “balance” into my life, something which is a very foreign concept to me.

Pictured: Cylon connected to fast charging station


Thinking About the Learning Journey

There are five issues that I have found I face when looking to learn an instrument:

  1. Instruments can be expensive if you are fussy;
  2. Some instruments are large and difficult to fit into small inner-city apartments, such as an upright or grand piano (I haven’t made it that far in life yet);
  3. All instruments have the potential to turn even the most peaceful of neighbours into violent maniacs when played inconsiderately;
  4. Learning an instrument requires discipline and commitment; and
  5. It is difficult to learn an instrument without instruction if you want to get formerly graded by a music board.

Issues #1 & #2: Instruments can be expensive if you are fussy, some are impractically sized

When I look for an instrument I think about how reliable the manufacturer/model is, whether I enjoy playing the instrument and if I have the finances available to purchase it.

I am fussy when it comes to instruments, especially pianos and keyboards. I am 100% that guy who would complain if a keyboard did not have weighted keys or was too light to play on. For example, when I was performing at a theatre during high school, I was issued a cheap and light keyboard which I accidentally flung off the stage and managed to catch mid-flight. However, as much as I would love to be in the position where I could slap a cool cold $100,000+ in cash at the local grand piano store and have one lifted into my apartment via crane, that’s not entirely practical.

I managed to settle on the Yamaha P515 P-Series keyboard from a local music store after doing some research, asking around, and playing around on a lot of units. The keys feel great, it sounds great, and as expected I can hook it up to a computer if I want to mess around with recording. For the saxophone, I opted for a Yamaha YAS-62 III Alto Saxophone. I consulted with friends who play the saxophone, asked some tutors, and was told that if I were in a position to spend more and if I am serious about pursuing the instrument then this saxophone will likely last me for life.


Issue #3: All instruments can turn the most peaceful neighbours into homicidal maniacs

The great thing about keyboards is that you can plug your headphones into them to limit the noise that they make.

What about saxophones though? They can be loud, noisy, and like any wind instrument, do not sound great when a beginner is wielding one!

I am going to purchase an alto saxophone mute to reduce the noise when playing at home, seek some advice on how to sound-proof areas of the apartment where the walls are thin, practice during reasonable hours, and of course – give my neighbours my contact information so that they can easily get in touch with me if I need to shake up my hours a bit.

If anyone has any further recommendations on what else I could do then please reach out to me!


Issue #4: Learning an instrument requires discipline and commitment

This issue is going to be easy to presently manage but will get difficult once my working circumstances change.

In my new role at work, I have dropped down to a ~10-hour working day which follows a 9/5 roster (9 days on shift, 5 days off shift) and does not require me to work night shifts. This should make it relatively simple, in theory, to spend time practising an instrument and booking tuition lessons. However, this will be challenging when FIFO travel re-commences, as my ability to practice, will be greatly diminished. For now, I am going to let the FIFO aspect of this journey become a “future Luke” problem, however, I may need to get creative with my problem solving here.

There is also the issue of managing my time. I am a fairly busy person who has to manage personal, work, education, and self-interest commitments. Without a proper schedule, structure, and the discipline to stick to a routine, it will be impossible to pursue my musical interests while sustainably managing all other aspects of my life.


Issue #5: It is difficult to learn an instrument without instruction if you want to get formerly graded by a music board.

The Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) is a national body whose purpose is to define the curriculum and examination blueprints for music students. In order to achieve “competency” in an instrument at a particular level, a student must pass a combination of theoretical and practical examinations. This tests the student’s knowledge of both the theory of music and their ability to play an instrument. The exam system consists of eight grades (Grade 1 through Grade 8) and is flexible, so you can choose to sit whichever grade you feel comfortable with. Beyond Grade 8, students can choose to pursue the demanding Certificate of Performanceship or Associate in Music Diploma (AMusA).

I am going to start my journey with the piano at a preliminary level, which is the grade before Grade 1. I have been assessed to be at a skill level around Grade 4 or Grade 5, however, my technique is rather terrible due to the fact that I have self-taught myself a lot of bad habits. My goal for piano is to pass the Grade 8 examination, which will likely take a number of years to achieve. Anything further beyond that is very unlikely unless I opt to take a sabbatical or stop working in my industry. I will be commencing my journey with the alto saxophone at Grade 1, as there is not a preliminary grade for this instrument. I am going to mostly focus on developing technique and having fun with this instrument within a jazz and blues context. What about music theory? I actually quite enjoy composing music and used to like the process of dissecting and analysing pieces, so I do intend to complete the music theory examinations. I am not sure how far I will go, however, anything that can help me with becoming a better composer is welcome.

Books, books, and more books.

So what now?

The next step for me is finalising the selection of a piano and saxophone teacher. This may take a little while to complete as it’s important to me that the teacher understands my needs and can teach in a style that works for me. I have already been practising the keyboard (I’m learning “Light of the Seven” by Ramin Djawadi from the Game of Thrones soundtrack [link]) and am in the process of familiarising myself with the saxophone. After this, it’s just all a matter of setting aside the time to practice and having fun with my instruments.

I look forward to writing more about this musical adventure to keep myself accountable and to share the progress of my journey.