I Was One of the Worst Pianists at My School

…and every single week, I dreaded going to my piano lessons.


When I was a young pianist, I was OBSESSED with flashy pieces. My whole piano life revolved around learning the next flashy, “difficult” and super-fast piece. I had visions in my head of practicing Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto with the power and grace of a soaring eagle while every other piano major stood outside the practice room, swooning at my flawless technique and masterful precision.

When I got into the UofA I was ready to play all sorts of amazing pieces. I had just learned the most difficult Chopin ballade, a Liszt etude (flashy galore), and played Grieg’s piano concerto at my final recital at Pima Community College, to which I received a standing ovation!

I was ready for more, Rachmaninov 3 (one of the most, if not most difficult piano concerti in existence), Ondine, Flight of the Bumblebee! let’s do this!

Then I got to my lesson, and my teacher assigned my first pieces…

Bach Prelude and Fugue in C minor: Book One,

…and Rachmaninov Prelude in b minor,


These pathetic wastes of music?! These are for beginners who can’t play fast! These are for other people, not people as good as me! Where are the scales, where are the crazy octave things, where are the MASSIVE RUNNING CHORDS OF BRILLIANCE?!

…I don’t like this.

There were a good amount of pieces that I abandoned in school (those two above being included in that list), my expectations were for the fast, impressive, hard,  and showy pieces. Not true advancement – everything was about showing people “how amazing I was.”

So, for 90% of my college career, I fought for pieces that “I actually like playing,”


I wanted the glory, the recognition, the prestige. I was so disillusioned by people’s praise, that I didn’t see how playing well was what mattered. If I wanted success (and I did) that wouldn’t come through people’s praises. My foundational motivation of piano was built on the sand (as Jesus would say).

So when the rains and floods rose….my house came crashing down on me.

Back to the University:

How I felt for 5.5 out of 6 semesters at the University of Arizona:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Like I missed the mark
  • Inferior
  • Like I should be better
  • Like I wasn’t worth anything
  • Like I was a terrible pianist
  • Like it didn’t matter what I did, that nothing was good enough
  • Like I was being held back
  • Like the pieces I was playing were “beneath” me
  • Like the world was conspiring against me, and I just wanted to run into a corner and hide.
  • At times like a failure


So, after fighting for flashy pieces I finally got one (I only had one flashy piece the whole of my time at the UofA, haha, well played Prof. Gibson).


After going through all this pain, all this torment, all these feelings, and finally getting the “flashy piece” that I so wanted…do you think I suddenly became good?

Do you think everything worked out?

Do you think I left my lesson and came back the next week with the joy of a thousands sunrises beaming through my heart and my piece practiced to perfection?


Of course not. =P

Because, despite my new found flashiness, I was still the insecure, unpracticed, immature pianist who had all those bad habits locked up inside of him, seeking the approval of other people around him more than his pianistic growth.

Even the flashy piece. The piece I so desired, fought for, and strived to get my teacher to let me play, wasn’t good enough. The problem was never with what piece I was playing, the problem was with me.

I’m going to repeat that…..the problem was with me.

The problem was never whether or not I liked the piece, whether or not my teacher praised me, how others saw me (I was one of the worst pianists at my school). All of those things can help, they can motivate and encourage, but in the end, I was the issue.

I had strong limiting beliefs that were preventing me from practicing, working, and becoming the pianist I should become. Every time they were brought out, rather than work through the piece….I just wanted to quit and get one I could hide in.

See, flashy pieces are easy to hide in. I could practice them moderately and then go out and show the world how impressive I was. I could hide all of my insecurities behind a wall of fast moving notes and epic scales. Anyone who wasn’t a trained pianist could hardly tell the difference.

Back in highshcool, I played Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude at a recital. It was a resounding success, people loved it, they cheered, complimented me afterward, roared to the heavens…

…but my teacher was un-impressed. She even came up to me afterward in disbelief at the reaction I got, saying, “That is the most impressive piece of faking I have ever seen.”

…so I get all the benefits of “playing well” (impressing others) without all the hard work associated.

I never wanted to play slow pieces, because slow pieces were for amateurs. With slow pieces; people wouldn’t see the work, and wouldn’t give me praise, if it’s a slow piece, no one is impressed by that….

“You can only play slow…bah! Look what I can do.”

…and at the end of the day, I needed to overcome my pride, my insecurities, and need to show-off, my need for other people’s approval, my need to be the best, my need to learn everything quickly, and just work.

And eventually I did.

It took me five and a half semesters (and subsequent nine years) of my life to learn that lesson.

…but I still fail.

  • When I started my own business after college, I was obsessed with speed. I wanted to see it all happen right now.
    • …so I would be afraid of working, because it not happening would mean I’m a failure.
  • When I moved to Phoenix I was obsessed with moving to Korea immediately!!!!……
    • …so I didn’t connect with anyone, or build a life because everyday I was “leaving in six months”
  • When I was kindling a close, intimate, real relationship I was obsessed with her growing “right now”
    • …so I drove her away.
  • When I first started teaching I was obsessed with my students getting and implementing everything I taught them “this moment!!!!!”
    • …so I made little kids cry.
  • When I re-kindled my relationship with the Lord, I wanted to see all of these “AMAZING HOLY AND AWESOME WORKS” come pouring out from Him.
    • …strangely He didn’t comply =P
    • …and I started to feel distant

And even this past month, I fell back into my spiral of “all business RIGHT NOW!”

…and so I had an incredibly scattered and unproductive month.

But I persevere.

I made it through college, I learned and grew. I am starting my own business, I’ve learned and grown. I’ve had wonderful, fulfilling relationships, become more kind, am a FAR better teacher, and have a CRAZY CLOSE relationship with the Lord I thought I would never have.

I’m still failing, and still messing things up, but God pulls me out, shows me what I need to change, and we move forward.