Tuesday August 17th 2010, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Life

The baby hat (I love saying “for my grandson.” I’m going to be saying that so many times!) is something my hands can only do a few rows of at a time on those tiny needles.

But it was so hard to put down when I had to!

And so a stalled-out shawl project on 5 mms is off and running again, something far easier to do as my hands finish recovering from hauling luggage across airports and an arthritis flare. An hour Sunday, an hour and a half yesterday, two and a half today: making progress. You practice. You build the hand strength back up again.

And it got me thinking on an old thought.  Of how, all those years I studied piano under Louise Kupelian (I remember how much she used to love a good bilingual French/English pun), I was learning how to translate symbols on a page into movements of my fingers–and how, having learned that first visual-to-motor language, how much easier it made it to learn to knit complicated things, reading the knitting-language symbols across the row while my hands played in time.  And then eventually to compose my own.

When my visual memory was damaged by my lupus, charts were gone (I’ve long since made my peace with that) but those written-outs, closer to piano notations, they stayed.

About five more hours of work and I’ll be done with the knitting that the bear scowled at.

My folks had no idea how much more than piano they were giving me lessons for as they sent me off to Somerset.

(And this is so much not what I expected to blog about when I sat down to write.  I wonder… And I wish my old teacher and her family all the best, wherever life has taken them by now.)


Added Wednesday morning in response to Don’s comment: muscle memory is when I can sit down with a music book open at some piece I had not thought of in 30 years, start playing it by sightreading and then within a measure or two, my fingers are off and playing the thing exactly so, book free (as long as I don’t think about it too hard: the moment I start paying attention to what they’re doing, I need those written notes!)

This goes deeper–this goes to learning new stuff entirely in a new language for having learned the first foreign language well. Mrs. Kupelian used to say that if she never taught us anything else, she wanted us to learn to sightread.  This, now this, now this, read read read.  I left at high school graduation with a very large pile of books of different composers. (And the only thing the movers lost when we left New Hampshire in ’87… It pains me still.)

I remember reading a study once about stroke patients that said that those who learned a musical instrument in childhood recovered mobility far better than those who didn’t–and the more that instrument made you use the two hands and ten fingers independently of each other, the better. (The piano wins! Oh, sorry, Jim, no–the organ does!)

16 Comments so far
Leave a comment

It’s amazing how much we learn when we don’t know we are learning it! Oh, and if you want some cute patterns for little boys, that don’t require tiny yarn/needles, check out Tot Topper Kate at! She has some amazing stuff!

Comment by Pam 08.18.10 @ 6:37 am

Very proper title for this post, if I may say so…

And so true too! I played the flute for a few years and I eventually realized how the movement of the eyes is similar to the one I use in my line of work (revision).

I do feel blessed to have such skills and to have the opportunities to expand them.

Comment by Suzanne in Montreal 08.18.10 @ 6:55 am

THIS is but one example of why public schools cannot cut arts and music to make the budget balance…

Comment by Channon 08.18.10 @ 7:07 am

I totally agree with Channon. It is happening here in Canada too. I got my start on the violin in school, private lessons on the piano. That kind of learning is absolutely invaluable for a LOT more than music.
My first piano teacher, who was such a sweet man, had a Player piano in his house and after every lesson he would let me “play” an old tune. He had dozens of reels to choose from. Wonderful memories.

Comment by Julie 08.18.10 @ 8:52 am

I think it’s called ‘muscle memory’. I used to be a good touch typist – 65-70 words a minute. After I lost the use of my left hand, Amalie and I discovered programs to convert the computer keyboard for one-handed typing. I’m too lazy to touch type, but I’m pretty quick and accurate.

Comment by Don Meyer 08.18.10 @ 9:00 am

I love how sometimes your heart has a different message from you mind. This was a lovely post and I’m so glad you can still knit beautiful things. g

Comment by gMarie 08.18.10 @ 9:51 am

Re your addition: You are absolutely right about NOT thinking too much. I often catch myself doing something wrong, and I have to think, ‘don’t think about it!’

Comment by Don Meyer 08.18.10 @ 11:00 am

I was at a chamber music workshop once, and one of the violinists said to me “I could never play the piano; both hands at once and following two staves . . . !” And I said, “oh, it’s not so hard, my primary is actually the pipe organ.”

Should have seen her eyes bug!

Comment by Lanafactrix 08.18.10 @ 11:55 am

Just curious – I’m wondering if the Jim you refer to in your post is the same Jim who was my professor for music courses I took in college? (he is an amazing organist!!)

Comment by Kelli 08.18.10 @ 12:32 pm

Exception to the rule: me. Tone deaf. Practicing all week long WRONG and not knowing it until the teacher told me. Still not enjoying hearing the piano being played.

Comment by Sherry in Idaho 08.18.10 @ 2:14 pm

Yes, I can read and knit simultaneously, as long as I don’t think about the knitting!

Comment by twinsetellen 08.18.10 @ 6:31 pm

And playing from music is quite different than playing by ear…eyes to fingers is a different channel than ears to fingers!

I really need to play the piano more often. I’ve never quite got the hang of having the two hands doing different things at the same time. I need more practice…

Comment by RobinH 08.19.10 @ 10:44 am

My neice learning surgery said she could transfer the music-fingering expertise to the surgery expertise – I won’t be giving it a try myself, I’ll leave that to her. “Nothing you ever learn is wasted”

Comment by StellaMM 08.19.10 @ 1:00 pm

muscle memory is also why I can still touch type at about 70 wpm — and my daughter can play her trumpet after not touching it for months on end — and why we all remember how to ride a bicycle!!

Comment by Bev 08.19.10 @ 2:28 pm

Wow, I really learned a lot from this post. I never thought about all of my piano learning years as learning another language and then transfering it to my fingers. And then it helping me in my knitting. I’m very new at charts, still struggling and not completely sure I like them, but thinking of it in terms of playing piano is a really interesting thought. I’m amazed at this.

Comment by Mary 08.20.10 @ 1:01 pm

Thinking too much…yeah, guilty! My drum teacher is always telling me I’m thinking too much, and I should just do it. Also, recently, he told me I will play better if I am not so nervous. The key? Practice. Just do it. Let the muscles remember, and don’t think too much. 🙂

Comment by Paula 09.04.10 @ 4:23 pm

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>