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on April 28, 2002
I am confused and disappointed by other reviews of this book that claim Noah Adams went about learning the piano all wrong. Readers who were hoping for hints about practice and technique have missed out on a thoroughly good read, all because of their misguided approach to this wonderful story of one man's musical quest. This is not a "how to" book, and nor should it be.
What makes this book such a treasure is the exact same thing as what one reviewer callously calls "banal fluff": talking about his wife, his love for a piece of music that he longs to play but fears he can't, his experiences of meeting and talking with other musicians, his knowledge of pianos and of music in general, and his passion and appreciation for music of many styles. The process of learning a musical instrument is a journey, and Noah tells us of his. From the first chapter, when he talks of the secret desire he has held for years to buy a piano, to the last chord of Schumann's `Träumerei' which he plays as a Christmas present for his wife, this book entranced me with the joys and the struggles of learning to play an instrument. Yes, he may have got there faster if he'd spent more time practicing and less time procrastinating, but chances are the results would have been far less rewarding, and the book would certainly have been far less interesting.
Ultimately, if you genuinely have a passion for music, there is no right or wrong way to go about learning. Noah did it this way, and he got there in the end. Who are we to criticise?
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on May 20, 2001
After reading most of the reviews, it seems that people had different expectations of the book and sometimes read it for the wrong purpose. I don't believe Mr. Adams wrote the book as a guide for people on how to buy a piano and learn to play it. It was more of an account of his love of music, his family, his career, and how he managed to juggle all three at once. I totally agree that if you're looking for a book that will show you how to seriously learn to play the piano, this is not it.
This book is--to me--inspiring and delightful in every way. I didn't run across any boring passages, nor did I ever want to skip any of it. It was beautifully written and I loved every word.
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on May 1, 2007
I think it is misleading that some have written very poor reviews of "Piano Lessons" by Noah Adams. They say the book does not have enough material about how to play the piano, or that he does not have enough patience to learn to play, and the book minimizes how much hard work it takes to play.

But the goal of this book is not to teach one to play piano. It is to trace an adult's foray into piano playing. Mr. Adams chose to begin by using a book rather than hiring a teacher. Though hiring a teacher would be a far better way to begin, by reading his story one can learn a great deal. Because he didn't just hire a teacher, we learn about all his travels through piano educational techniques and materials. We learn of Denise Kahn who teaches adults on the upper west side of Manhattan- this in fact is how I found Denise, through this book- and she is a superb teacher. We read of the Van Der Lindes piano camp for adults. Mistakenly I tried to locate them in NY rather than Vermont, so I was not successful. But I did learn of Bruce Potterton's Summerkeys program in Maine, from Denise, and spent a very valuable week there. The progress one can make in an intensive week in the summer is powerful, and will reinforce your desire to continue studying. Finally, the material with Ned Phoenix makes clear how good used instruments can be, often superior to new ones, even if they need a rebuild. I in fact, bought a used Kranich and Bach for $400. The tone is wonderful and it holds a tuning real well. It is worth around $2,000.

If you want to learn HOW to play piano i.e. technique, buy other books. If you want to read about lots of ways adults can learn piano and supplement their private lessons, and read a book with feeling that will encourage you to practice and truly learn to play well, then I highly recommend Piano Lessons.
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on March 26, 2008
Noah Adams enchanted me with his touching--and at times very amusing--memoir of learning to play a deceptively simple piece of music on the piano.

I read this book years ago, when it was recommended to me by pianist Robin Spielberg. At the time, Piano Lessons struck me as the first prose I had encountered that accurately described the rush of elation musicians experience when successfully conquering the chaos of a difficult phrase. On a second read-through, almost a decade after its publication, Adams' words remain as crisp and as playful as a perfectly played arpeggio. This is a writer who hears what he writes. He has a musician's ear and a writer's sensibility--a rare combination.

In music, as in writing, achieving an air of effortlessness distinguishes a true master. It's not easy to describe joys of music, but Adams pulls it off with a lightness that will inspire the secret musician lurking in the hearts of so many adults.

Robin Meloy Goldsby is the author of Piano Girl: A Memoir
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on November 4, 2001
What a wonderful, uplifting, book! Having begun playing the piano again after nearly 40 years away from it, I found myself enjoying Noah Adams descriptions of his joys and frustrations, exhaulting in his successes, and actually learning a few things to boot.
A number of people ranted about the fact that Adams spent 11K on a piano. Having diddled around on a number of pianos before purchasing a used Yamaha upright, I can attest to the fact that there are pianos that can not only make even badly played music sound good but seem to call out to you when you touch them. Adams was in the fortunate position of being able to afford a piano that "spoke" to him, despite his somewhat unorthodox method of learning to play it.
For an entertaining, enjoyable read, I definitely recommend Piano Lessons.
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VINE VOICEon January 22, 2012
Noah Adam's book Piano Lessons: Music, Love & True Adventures is not a book on how to play the piano. It is a book that documents the 51st year in his life as he pursues a goal of learning to play the piano.

This is a book that many of us can relate to. Living a busy life, Noah Adams like most people would like to accomplish something--in his case, learning to play the piano. As the co-host of the National Public Radio (NPR) program, "All Things Considered," he has interviewed many musically inclined people, has done research on music related topics and knows a lot about music.

As a child his parents rented a piano for him and his twin brother's benefit; however, it did not work out and the piano was returned. Over the years, while he did not lose his interest in piano music he never took the time to learn how to play.

At 51 years of age, he spent what I would consider a great deal of money on a piano and did not want it to end up like his wife's (Neenah Ellis) cello, forgotten while hidden away in a closet. On the other hand, he procrastinated like most of us and was hot and cold about making the time to practice. Nevertheless, he tried many strategies over the year in an effort to learn. He bought a computer program, he took a piano instruction vacation and much more. His year end goal was finally narrowed down to learning to play his wife's favorite piano piece well.

In the process, Noah provides a diary like accounting month by month during that entire year and shares his family, work and sense of humor. I found myself laughing at times thinking about all the times I have bought something with grand ideas on accomplishing certain goals and talents, yet settling for much less or nothing at all.

I learned a great deal about the field of music reading Noah Adam's book and had a good time doing it. I do not think I will ever spend the time or money learning how to play the piano, but this book reminded me of my guitar hidden in the closet. I think I will make a visit there and pick at it a while. I may even unfold my treadmill, wipe the dust off, plug it in and walk a couple of miles some time this year.

I read somewhere that Noah has written other books about a particular year in his life that he has pursued something interesting. I can hardly wait to read one of those.

This book will not teach you how to play the piano; however, Noah Adams is an interesting guy who not only knows a lot about music, but also knows about human nature and how to make us smile as we think about our own experiences.

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VINE VOICEon June 21, 2001
This book is about Noah Adams' decision to purchase a Steinway and learn to play. This is not a how-to book, but it will provide inspiration to the adult beginner, and it will give you ideas and insight on certain pieces. After reading this book, I went out & got the sheet music for Robert Schumann's Traumerei, which Adams describes lovingly in the introduction (and refers to later in the text). Adams' writing resonates with a love of music, a love of the piano, and an emotional investment in learning to play. The book contains anecdotes about his adventures at piano camp in Vermont as well as tidbits about classical composers and music. It's an uplifting read for a music lover, particularly one who dabbles in classical numbers (although it might be too light & fluffy for a serious, well-trained & educated musician -- not falling into that category, I'm not sure).
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VINE VOICEon November 27, 2011
As I now roll through the middle years of the half century mark in my life, there are things that I wished I would have done, but never had the time, stamina, discipline or anything else that I could rationalize into an excuse to actually complete them. For me, one of them was playing the piano. I played the tenor saxophone for ten years in my school years, but was always amazed at the sound from a good piano player. I tried once in my mid-thirties, but gave up after a couple of months; but I blamed it on that stupid bass cleft. I never really got over that. A week ago I was attending a library book sale and one of my book sale buddies (owner of an online book store) threw this book at me while we were browsing the tables. He has a tendency to do that when we see each other and every one of his recommendations has hit that proverbial spot for me. This one is was no exception that rule.

Noah Adams is a reporter on National Public Radio (NPR) and is the host of "All Things Considered". As a writer, Adams has the perfect rhythm and pace for a light memoir. In this particular book, Adams writes of one year in his life as he battles the ghosts of learning to play the piano. There are plenty of tangentially related stories about other people's inspirational tales in which they have overcome afflictions and life's hard knocks, but the basic premise of this book takes the reader on a journey into Adam's psyche as he uses those same rationalizations that we all have in our pocket when something is just not going the way we want. Fortunately, he also shows some additional fortitude as he circumvents those same failures and proves that you are just never too old to do something that you have been putting off.

It is not necessary to have piano playing as your "wannabe" to enjoy this book as Adams will have you re-thinking anything that you have been putting off. I have decided to take up two things that have been stuck on my "failure" list because of this book: chess and piano playing. Piano Lessons instills that being good at something is not the end result, it is the joy of doing. So if you are online playing chess, you might get to beat me up pretty badly while I sit back and murmur "wow, that was a good move", because everyone beats me. But someday.....

Someone once told me, "You'd better do whatever it is that you want in this life because this is not a practice round". I recommend this book to anyone needing a little push.
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on September 7, 2007
It's been years since I read this book, but I have fond memories of it and dropped in here trying to relocate it again. I have to laugh at those who have given this book such harsh reviews with their literal impressions, and I'm very much in agreement with the others, like Bron Mitchell here, who enjoyed it for the right reasons. This is not necessarily about piano. It is about struggling to fulfill a passion in the face of your limitations. About confronting your fears and inadequacies, in the bravest attempt you can muster, given your amateur talents and spare time.

I don't play piano, but I've been struggling for years to play my swing violin in much the same way Noah Adams approached his music. I thoroughly enjoyed the side trips and distractions and intermittent and yet consistent efforts to pursue the unrelenting dream.

For those who play professionally, and for others who come by music easily with talent to spare, his struggles may seem frustrating and self-indulgent. But I would simply say to them, do they have a powerful dream to develop another talent that they may not be so blessed to possess? For example, have they ever wanted to build a boat and sail it to some far off destination? Or play professional baseball? Or be a comedian onstage? Paint a masterpiece? What would it be like to take on your dream, whatever that may be, regardless of your current profession? If you can't imagine putting yourself out there bravely to take it on, then you won't appreciate the subtle, comic travails of this author. And your own life will be much less interesting for it. Cut the brave souls some slack for they know the enjoyment and challenge of really living and appreciating life.

I wholeheartedly recommend the book to any amateur adventurer out there. It is very similar to another book I thoroughly enjoyed and laughed out loud at called "Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod" by Gary Paulsen.
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on December 8, 2000
This book is amusing and pleasant. It has nice anecdotes, musical information, names are dropped and a good inspirational message about going after a midlife dream. The 2 stars are for that. Have time on a bus, train or plane? Bring this along its not a bad read. But if you already play the piano and are at home you're better off practicing. If you don't play and want to, well what are you waiting for? Get the inpsiration from the music you love and get a good teacher.
As someone else wrote, it's hilarious that Noah would spend $11 grand on a piano and not get a good teacher. I mean with all his connections? If you are thinking of starting, a good teacher is well worth the money, it will get you going faster and you will feel more committed. Spend less on the piano if you have to. A lot of Noah's frustrations in learning could have been made easier with a teacher, but I guess then he wouldn't have written this book. He would have been too busy practicing. But maybe his real midlife dream was this book?
When all is said and done, if someone other than a person with a bit of celebrity status, such as Noah, had written this book who would care? You might get better inspiration by learning about the music you love and following your own path.
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