How Piano Lessons Will Make Me A Better Golfer

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Posted by Dexter Francois | Posted in , , , , , , | Posted on Monday, November 29, 2010

I know what you're thinking. "What does playing the piano have to do with golf?" Just hear me out and I will explain. Beside playing sports as a kid I also took piano lessons from age five until I was fifteen. I also learned how to play the drums so music is in my blood. The first thing I usually do when I walk in the house is turn on the music. Something is always playing in the background.

So what does playing piano have to do with golf? Like golf, playing an instrument takes a tremendous amount of practice. In golf, repetition is the mother of all teachers. The same applies when it comes to learning an instrument.

I used to spend countless hours playing the same piece over and over until I knew it frontwards and backwards. Mike Southern has been working with me on swing and I realize that the way he is teaching me about the golf swing is similar to the way my piano teacher taught me to play music.

Good teachers and coaches know that it is easier to learn something in bits and pieces. In a recent post I talked about my stint as a basketball coach. When it was time to learn a new play, we never gave the team the whole play from the start. We broke the play down into sections and repeated it over and over before moving onto the next part of the play. Eventually the pieces would fall into place and the play would be complete. The thing is, by the time we reached this point, the play was second nature. The play was embedded in the player's mind.

My piano teacher used the same method of breaking down a song into segments. In music these segments are called bars. Notice the sheet music below. It's part of the sheet music for The Circus Band.

There are four notes in the first bar(the top line). My teacher would make me play these four notes perfectly three times in row before I could go on to the next three notes in the following bar. I would then have to play those ten notes three times in a row perfectly before I could go on to the next bar of music. Then I would have to play three bars, three times perfectly, and so on and so forth. Very tedious, but a very effective way learning.

Mike helped improve my swing by breaking the golf swing down into pieces(Check out Dexter's Coming Over The Top series). He started with the set up and had me work on that until I was comfortable. Then he taught me drills for the one-piece takeaway up to waist high. He followed that up by teaching me how to get to the top of my backswing. Finally he taught me about the transition and downswing into the finish. Every part of the swing came in segments and because of this I understand the golf swing a lot better.

When it came time to scrimmage during practice today, I applied my piano instructors method of teaching to my practice round. I have six holes to work with at my practice course. I played three holes with my 7-iron and three holes with my pitching wedge.

My goal was to par all six holes before I could leave for the day. The rule was, if I didn't par the hole, I had to play it over. Like playing the notes in the bar perfectly before being able to move on to the next bar, I had to keep playing the hole over and over until I parred it.

Since I never have a clean lie and I can't putt on the greens, I rewarded myself for good shots. If I hit the green in regulation, I gave myself the par, assuming I would two putt anyway. If I missed the green and I got my second shot to within three feet, I gave myself the par. If I didn't get within the three foot radius on the second shot, I could still make par by putting/chipping in my third shot which is tough since the green are in such bad shape.*

It took me five tries before I parred the first hole which measured 165 yards today. Right from the start, I thought this was a bad idea. I thought I was going to be out there forever.

The second hole which measured 135 yards took me three chances. The 95 yard third hole took me two. It was hard to throttle back on my pitching wedge for this hole which is now my 135 yard club.

The fourth hole is the one that I wrote about in my last post as being visually challenging. Surprisingly, it only took two tries to make par. I played it to 155 yards missed the green and chip it to within six inches the second time around. It was like when the announcers say, "...you're just happy to make par and move on to the next hole."

Hole five played 110 yards into the wind. As I was hitting my first shot, someone honked their horn behind me. I nearly lost my club, I was so startled. Total shank. This is why they don't allow cameras and noise makers on the golf course during tournaments. I stuck the tee shot on the next shot and moved on to the last hole.

The last hole measured 145 yards which would have been a perfect 7-iron three months ago, but since working with Mike, my 7 iron now goes between 160-170 yards. I choked down a little on the club and took my normal swing. Stuck it to within four and half feet. Time to go home:-)

After a while I might spice it up a little and make it so that I have to par every hole in a row before I can leave. This could lead to heartbreak, because I could par the first five holes and then bogey the last and have to start all over again. Might have to start early in the morning when I do this. It could end up being an all day affair. But at least I'll be playing golf. I can think of worse ways to spend a day. Have a great round and always hit your target.

*This is footage of my practice course. As you can see, the lie is never great, and you can't putt, but it is a great place to practice for free.


Repetition image found here.
Circus Band sheet music found here.

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Comments (2)

  1. November 30, 2010 at 9:01 AM

    Dare I say that you've learned another key to improving... in anything?

    Yes, I dare. ;-)

    I think I've mentioned it before, but it's worth repeating. The people who study how we learn say that we learn things quicker when we can "attach" them to things we already know. A simple example is that one-piece takeaway drill -- remember how I had you take your setup position, then straighten up before you turned? That's because you make the proper shoulder turn -- the same one you want to make during your takeaway -- everyday, except you're standing straight when you do it.

    By equating the upright shoulder turn you already knew how to make to the golf shoulder turn you were having trouble with, you conquered the problem turn very quickly. Using your music teacher's techniques is another example of the same thing -- you applied a methodology you learned in one discipline to help you master another one.

    Anything you already know -- whether it's a physical move, intellectual concept, or non-physical skill (like teaching techniques) -- can be used to help you learn something that at first seems unrelated. Which means that golf can also help you learn other things -- a useful thing to know if your future wife complains you're playing too much golf! ;-)

  2. November 30, 2010 at 7:11 PM

    I applied this same method when I was working in sales and had to memorize a long sales pitch. I broke it down sentence by sentence until I remembered the whole spiel.

    I recall being really angry with my parents when they forced me to practice, but they always said that one day it would come in handy. I never thought so at the time. I just wanted to play baseball. Who knew after all these years that piano practice would be useful in golf. Thanks Mom and Dad:-D