When I was 14 I played xylophone in the middle school band. In the summer after 7th grade I visited my grandmother's house and noticed for the first time that her piano keyboard looked like a small xylophone. I had always wanted to learn to play piano, but I never knew that I had a headstart!
On a warm evening, when the adults sat on the porch with their tea and politics, I sat at the keyboard and started to finger out the notes on the book in front of me... which happened to be opened to the 1st movement of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata. In the next 24 hours I had the whole first page down (aside from the run from Ab down to B) and memorized, and I thought piano was easy.
It took me a long time to realize I just couldn't start there. I had the first third of the movement (before the first big repeat) down and memorized when my stepfather played me a recording of Serkin playing it through. I think it took a few more days to dawn on me that I needed to go back a pace. My father gave me a book of Chopin preludes and suggested that I start with #4 and #7. I started with #15 ("raindrop"). Again, I battled through and memorized the whole thing, even playing at a talent show in high school a year later.
It went on from there. I learned the 1st mvt of the Moonlight Sonata, the business section of the 1st mvt of Rach's 2nd, the first 3-4 pages of Chopins Heroic Poloaise (Op 53), the first page or so of his Andante Spianato Polonaise, and... then became interested in girls and considered myself an excellent piano player who just never played.
Now I'm 35. My grandmother passed away last year and her little Kawai upright (made in 1968) sits in my living room after a contentious probate. That's all I wanted from her and it was all I got. I started practicing the night I got it, not believing (still arrogant after so many years) I couldn't just sit down and spew out those pieces I once knew. I looked at the music, could still read the notes, but even when I did remember passages and conjure up the muscle memory to go through them, I realized just what a bad teacher I was to myself. Not a shred of musicality. I'm probably glad I have no recordings of playing "back in the day" because I would cringe.
I was typing. I had terrible technique. I could move my fingers well and quickly as a happy result of genetics and videogames, but never once did anyone tell me that what I was doing was a parlor trick, a simple game of trying to impress people while bragging that I'd never had a lesson.
Take a turn here or there, just a slight adjustment in attitude when I was in my teenage years, and yeah, I might have been great. Now I'm stuck having to unlearn all my bad habits.
All this is to say, that I'm back, and my mind is now open. I'm going through a beginner-to-intermediate book of classics (Purcell, Scarlatti, maybe a bit of Beethoven), trying to learn to play music, not just tap out keys.
I envy my younger self in his excellent memory and ability to focus. He had neither children nor a mortgage, nor a life of responsibility to weigh upon him the 200th time through the same passage. He never needed the 200th time, though you wouldn't want to hear the result.
So, I now consider my repertoire to consist of exactly one piece: Beethoven's Bagatelle, Op. 119 #1, which I still can't get through without mistakes. I'm also enamored with Billy Joel's Fantasies & Delusions, and have spent some time with his Waltz #1. I think it's charming and mostly in the same category as the Bagatelle.
I'm struggling with relaxation, with whether or not to pursue Hanon, and with octave work. My right hand starts to feel pain after doing a lot of chords and I just don't know if it's age, technique, stamina, or a bit of all three. I would like to take lessons, but financially it's not in the cards for at least a little while. My wife enjoys my new hobby because it doesn't cost a thing, and I need to keep it that way for the time being.
I know there's no silver bullet, but is there any advice on how to undo bad habits from self-teaching, while still self-teaching? I'm open to just about anything
If you got this far, thanks!