Welcome to Life & Style’s Quarantine Diaries! In this series, NBN writers share skills or hobbies they’ve picked up since being stuck in quarantine.

It seems like everyone has taken up some new hobby to fill the long weeks in quarantine: never have I seen so many loaves of bread and watercolor paintings in my Instagram feed. I figured a hobby was probably a better use of time than my Netflix binging, so I decided to hop on board.

Photo by Christine Potermin / North by Northwestern

For 17 years, an antique upright piano has sat in the living room of my family’s house, literally collecting dust. I’ve always wanted to play it, but I never had the time or patience to learn. With nothing better to do, a couple of weeks into quarantine, I pulled out the carved bench and began to poke around a bit. Even I could tell it was out of tune, but I figured it was usable for a beginner like myself.

To be fair, I did have a bit of a head start: During a month-long unit in my seventh grade music class, we poked out simple one-handed tunes on ancient electric keyboards. I was also forced to play the violin for five unfortunate years in elementary and middle school. Armed with a few memories from these experiences, I started my piano adventure able to read music, identify the middle C key and not much else.

Photo by Christine Potermin / North by Northwestern

I briefly considered watching a couple of YouTube tutorials to learn scales, chords and otherwise useful musical things, but I just wanted to play, so I opted to figure it out myself. I scavenged an ancient book of Disney music from my basement, brushed off the cobwebs, and set to work. The songs weren’t difficult, but my fingers just kept tripping over each other. Somehow, my muscle memory still remembered the violin fingerings, which, to say the least, do not translate well to piano keys. But gradually, my erratic plunking became vaguely recognizable melodies.

After a week of practicing for about an hour a day, I graduated myself from the one-handed Disney book and took on simple pop songs using sheet music I downloaded from questionable websites. But throwing a second hand in the mix threw me off. How do people read two separate lines of music, keep time and control 10 fingers all at once?

My piano skills continue to improve. Now, I can semi-successfully play a few songs from memory, including, of course, “Go U Northwestern.” Sadly, Zoom University consumes most of my time, so now I only turn to the piano when I’m sick of staring at my computer science homework, which happens more often than I care to admit. At the risk of offending Bienen students, I’ll venture to say that learning an instrument by playing songs you enjoy hearing is much more enjoyable than pounding out scales. However, if you prefer actually being taught, check out this YouTube channel for some basics, or this one for a walkthrough of various popular songs. Either way, by the time quarantine ends, you could be ready to transfer to Bienen yourself.