More than a year ago, I decided to teach myself piano. I bought a keyboard and some books. I am a former violinist and singer, so I can read music. I know theory. I have excellent relative pitch. My natural sense of rhythm isn’t the strongest, but I have developed it to a decent degree through considerable effort.

How hard could this be?

It was. Hard.

Making a disciplined study plan and sticking to it was hard. The uncertainty was harder. Was I really developing the right technique or was I reinforcing bad habits? Should I try something different? Am I trying too many different things instead of really following through one plan? This kind of doubt is a motivation killer. It makes you question whether the whole endeavor is worth the time investment.

Pretty soon, time began to seem more and more scarce.

The fact is, I had time. I was still on my sabbatical. And I found time to do lots of other things. I spent a lot of it writing. I took some really fabulous and enlightening trips. I enjoyed the outdoors. Hung out with my (now ex) boyfriend. Took a lot of pictures (I was REALLY snap happy during that whole year — I have two thousand pictures just of Manhattan below 59th Street! I spent a bunch of time talking to writers and political junkies. I volunteered at a kindergarten for homeless kids. I spent a few hours a day job searching. But somehow I couldn’t find 20 minutes a day for a few etudes. Then, eventually I stopped thinking about it. I went back to work, the keyboard remained covered in the living room.

All that changed about three weeks ago. I found myself a teacher, Junko. Now, I can’t wait to wake up and start my daily practice. During my evening commute, I’m thinking whether I can get in a few chord progressions before I workout, or do laundry, or pay the bills, or whatever I have planned for that evening. At night when I’m writing, every time I take a water break (and pass the keyboard on my way to the kitchen), I am tempted to do a few finger warm ups. Maybe just one scale in the key of C, both hands. Maybe opposing directions starting at middle C. . . I wonder if I’m ready to do a minor key? I better not. . . Junko said not to over do it. . . .

Funny thing is, Junko keeps telling me she’s impressed with my initiative and “self-starter” quality. She kind of has a point. She’s a really good teacher, but she’s right about self-motivation being a factor in my progress. It’s been through the roof lately.

Was all of that just inside of me all along, latent, like gun powder? Maybe, but something kept it from igniting. A key ingredient was missing: Feedback. From someone who knows.

I know we all do some of our best work in solitude. But to get to that point we have to first develop the right skills. For that, nothing works as well as a good old fashioned sounding board. Junko is an excellent sounding board, which is a fantastic attribute in a teacher, even when the “sound” is just a metaphor for whatever it is you are trying to accomplish.