When I was taking piano lessons as a child, one of my exercises was playing scales. Of course, C was the easiest to play – all white keys. It got a little more complicated as the scales of F and G were added, one with a flat and the other with a sharp. Then, they got harder and harder as more sharps and flats were added, and constant practice was needed to teach my fingers where they should go.
Among the simple little pieces my piano teacher gave me were hymns. Of course, I began with the ones in the key of C, and mastered them pretty quickly. “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” was one of the easier ones. Another was “Jesus is Tenderly Calling.” I moved on to hymns with one flat or one sharp. Since I learned to read music the traditional way, I read both the treble and bass clef, and didn’t know about chords or chord progressions until years later when I took organ lessons. My brain was forced to look at both clefs and relay the message to each of my hands about which notes to play.
I remember my teacher showing me each new hymn and making me study the music before I ever put my fingers on the keyboard. She would tell me to think in that particular key. For instance, if the hymn was in the key of G, she had me look for all of the F sharps in the song and picture in my mind my fingers going to the black key. I learned to concentrate on the key of the music before I ever attempted to play it. I would then play a few scales in the key of G to warm up.
The difference between flats and sharps never bothered me. I have friends who are amateur or hobby musicians like I am who tell me that they can’t play flats, or they can’t play sharps. They hand pick the hymns as those that fit their particular criteria. Because of the way my piano teacher taught me, I was never daunted by the difference.
I did freak out, however, when the hymn had more than two flats or sharps. But by using the approach I was taught, I was able to play, if not master, most of the hymns I wanted to learn.
Isn’t life a lot like playing in the key of C when things are going smoothly in our lives? We find that we travel effortlessly along the white keys of life. We don’t even have to consider, worry about, or work to avoid the black keys. But as life becomes more complicated, and challenges pop up in our musical score adding sharps and flats along our way, our fingers have to work a little harder and train themselves to maneuver in order to make sweet music. We discover that sometimes we need to stop and study what is going on in our lives, and anticipate the change in the pathway. Through prayer, contemplation, and meditation, we are able to set our hearts and souls for the change in path.
These days, my music page of life has turned from a song in the key of C to one in another key. Things aren’t quite as predictable as they have been for the past couple of years. I am facing new challenges, unknown melodies, and probably some sharps and flats in my life. I need to set my mind to think in a new key, and prepare myself for some time on the black keys.
It may not be easy, but I’m hopeful the result will be some beautiful music.