ADD & Learning to Play Piano Again

Music has Always Been Part of My Life

My Mom is a classically trained concert pianist who gave local recitals and has long played for the different churches attended by my parents; my Dad sang in the shower to spare the rest of us.  LOL. There was almost always music playing in our home.  I started piano lessons at age 7, and my sister began shortly after.  Piano lessons continued until 12yo, at which time my parents finally said that I could quit…..on the condition that I chose another instrument.  I changed to clarinet for 6th and 7th grades, then switched to the trumpet.  That continued through high school, including concert, marching, and jazz bands, to the point that I was lead trumpet in all 3 my senior year.  Only made 3rd trumpet in the State Concert Band of Delaware, but I was also lead trumpet for the State Jazz Band that year.  😀  That’s also when I started singing, first in the high school choir, then the UNC Men’s Glee Club, led by Dan Huff, a bit during dental school (with the a cappella men’s group The Extractions LOL), and even a couple years with the Charlotte Symphony Oratorio.  I even took about 6-7 months of voice lessons with the guy who played Rolf in The Sound of Music.  😀

But then, just as with my martial arts training, I took an extended break from all kinds of music performance.  And I’ve missed it!

ADHD & Focused Practice Mix Poorly

It wasn’t until I began learning about ADHD after my diagnosis at age 33 that I understood 2 aspects of my musical experience:

  1. The ease with which I could learn almost any new instrument, even without lessons, and
  2. The difficulty I had with consistent practicing.

One of the interesting aspects of ADHD is the ease with which we usually pick up new skills and concepts.  This isn’t a universal trait, but it is quite common, and it’s one of the reasons people with ADHD are often very good at a wide range of sports, activities, and subjects.  It’s also one of the reasons that they rarely excel in any of them, because after quickly learning an interesting new skill that’s grabbed their attention, they just as quickly get bored and move on, leaving others to continue on and surpass them.  This then often contributes to the frustration and even depression experienced by many undiagnosed ADHD’ers, who know that they can do well, but who don’t understand why they actually don’t.

In music, that’s particularly because of the dedicated and focused practice required to excel, regardless of whether one is a soloist or in a group.  Practicing is virtually always done alone.  You can’t do well in a group if you can’t play or sing well on your own, but for most people with ADHD, practicing the same stuff over and over and over again, all by yourself, is one of the worst kinds of torture.  Medication and understanding of what’s happening certainly help, but it’s still not easy.

I had neither medication nor understanding of why I found it almost impossible to practice consistently.

Starting Piano Lessons at Age 45 with ADD

For as long as I can remember though, I’ve wanted to try piano again.  The fact that I quit stuck in my mind as a kind of failure.  I’d occasionally sit down at Mom’s piano and tap out a few bars of a piece named “Clowns,” which I learned at age 9.  I can still play the first 2 lines or so.  Weird how some things stick, huh?  I wish I could find that piece and relearn it.  Anyway…..Natalie took lessons while we lived in Huntersville with a nice old lady named Miss Dot.  She struggled though, and partly because she wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until college.  Our fault, really.  🙁  Lizzie started lessons with Ms. Sandy Barber in south Charlotte after we moved, and I asked her a couple years ago if she also took adult students, to which she replied, “Most definitely!”

So this year…..I started lessons again!  3 of them so far.  I began doing a series of exercises from a book that Mom gave me called Hanon this summer to prepare, and Ms. Sandy gave me workbooks for adult beginners to review the first 2 weeks.  With all my experience in music, I ripped through the beginner books quickly, although I was reminded of how little music theory I ever learned.  She’s catching me up on that quickly though!

Practicing is Still a Challenge

I had a rather curious insight this afternoon about how ADD affects my practice and learning, which prompted this post.  It came after practicing both the first 2 pieces in the Easy Classics book that Ms. Sandy gave me and the Hanon exercise book.  You can see the pages of each that triggered this idea:

Looking at these pieces of music, most people would naturally think that the second is much harder to learn and practice than the first. Lots more notes crowded together, which makes you think they’re probably played a lot faster, etc, while the first has a lot fewer notes that are more spread out.

For me, though, I’ve found exactly the opposite to be true, and I couldn’t figure it out until today.  Those first, 2 easy-looking pieces of music have been difficult for me!  When starting on exercises 4-6 though, while the new fingerings are quite different, I picked them up quickly.  Then I realized that I wasn’t even looking at the notes; my eyes were just skimming over them as I mentally focused on made my fingers work on the pattern.  That’s when it hit me…….PATTERNS!  ROUTINES!  These are the things that make the lives of people with ADHD so much more manageable, because they can be done almost without thought; without the mental focus and energy required for paying attention to every detail.  But playing music, as opposed to playing exercises, absolutely requires that attention to detail!  Phrasing, intonation, speed, volume, melody and harmony – you have to pay attention to ALL of these at once.

No wonder the exercises are coming so much more easily than actual pieces of music!

How do You Practice Music while ADD?

Well, I haven’t figure that out yet, to tell the truth.  I was just so excited to at least understand why some things are coming more easily than others.  And I’m kind of hoping that people reading this will have some suggestions.  😀  If you do and share them, I’ll give them a try and report back here, adding the ones that seem to work for me at least.

As a Writer, I Hate Being ADD

As a writer, I hate being ADD/ADHD.

It’s a rainy Sunday morning in Charlotte, which seems like it would be a perfect time to write (and so I am), correct?  But damn, I have so many ideas and thoughts running through my head on so many topics, the only one I can actually write about at the moment is how I can’t write about any of them!

My Brain Feels Like a Non-Stop Billiard Ball Table

An ADD/ADHD brain is like a table of billiard balls being broken.I’ve talked with a number of other people with ADD/ADHD over the years, and this seems to be a rather common feeling, whether one is taking medication or not, learned coping mechanisms or not, doesn’t seem to matter.  And as a writer, I absolutely HATE times like this: my brain is filled with so many thoughts about which I’d loved to write, but none of them coalesce into anything beyond the starting point.

  • In my dental office blog, I currently have 16 articles in various stages of being drafted, with the oldest having been started in 2013
  • Here in my personal blog, I have 19 articles in various stages of being drafted, with the oldest having also been started in 2013
  • I’ve probably started at least 30-40 additional articles, only to delete completely after months or years, knowing that they’d never get finished and I wasn’t even interested in them any more anyway.
  • I’ve been thinking about Gideon Rosenblatt’s terrific 2 posts (Part 1 and Part 2) on how the quality of engagement on Google+ has been decreasing over the last couple years.
  • I’ve read a few fascinating books in the last 6 months and would love to write about them, but so far I’ve only managed a review of one, and that was on my dental blog: Book Review: “The Death of Expertise” by Prof. Tom Nichols

And hell, I’m struggling to get this article any further, but given my recent track record, if I don’t finish it and click “Publish,” I can be fairly sure it will never get published. After all, the last article I published here was 10 months ago.

Well, screw it – the whole point of this little rant is that I can’t get anything written, so even though this is kind of lame as a rant/venting of frustration, it’s going to stop here and get published as evidence of the whole damn point.  When the hyperfocus hits, I get knock out a bunch of articles within a few weeks.  And then?  Then I can’t write anything for months at a time.  And it’s because of my ADD, and I hate it right now.   😕


ADD/ADHD? You Need Evernote!

EvernoteA quick note on one of my favorite topics: getting organized!  As anyone with ADD/ADHD knows, organizing information is incredibly difficult.  As someone with a wide range of interests in philosophy, martial arts, critical/skeptical thinking, family trips, social media, and everything associated with my profession of dentistry, I spend a lot of time online and find a lot of terrific resources.  Until I learned how to use Evernote effectively, it was almost impossible for me to keep track of it all. Thankfully, several people in the Plus Your Business community on Google+ shared some remarkable tips on how to set up Evernote to best save all that information.  Basically – it’s awesome. 🙂

Why Evernote?

While there are certainly a number of apps and programs available to aid in organizing and saving information, I personally use Evernote for the following reasons:

  1. Works on all platforms (I use Windows at work, Mac at home, and iOS on iPhone and iPad on the go)
  2. For Business & Premium accounts, Notes can be saved offline
  3. The ability to save information from scanners, the Web, photos on mobile devices, voice
  4. Checklists, Reminders
  5. Multiple ways to store and find information: Tags, Notebooks
  6. Ability to Share Notes via Text, Social Media, and email
  7. For Business & Premium accounts, the ability to Chat and keep discussions and notes for reference within Evernote
  8. For Business & Premium accounts, scanned or saved PDFs are made text-searchable

Essentially, I now use Evernote to save anything and everything that I need to keep for current or future reference.

Setting Evernote Up for Easy Reference

There are 2 different ways that people choose as organizational methods: either by Keyword Tags, or by Notebooks.  You’ll actually use both methods within Evernote, regardless of which method you choose, but some people prefer Tags as the primary method, others prefer Notebooks.  My recommendation for ADD/ADHD: use Notebooks as your primary organizational tool, because you can easily end up with a gazillion Tags, half of which (at least) you’ll never remember that you used before, and which you won’t possibly remember when you’re trying to search for them later.

One of the nice things about Notebooks, too, is that they can be grouped into Stacks.  But rather than just describe how I do it, let me share with you some screenshots to demonstrate.

Stacks & Notebooks in Evernote

As you can see below, I have created a number of Stacks to cover broad topics, such as All about Blogging, Clinical Dentistry, Family, Photography, Health & Fitness, etc.  And within each of those Stacks there are Notebooks for separate sub-topics, which then include the most appropriate Notes.  The Stacks can be collapsed for easier viewing.


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This is a screenshot from before I started using Stacks, and before I’d started separating things into more Notebook sub-topics, so if you don’t use Stacks, your Notebooks (on a Mac) will look more like this.  In addition, in the Left Sidebar, you have customizable Shortcuts for Notebooks that you use most frequently, as well as recently edited or viewed Notes.  Below that, you’ll see the equivalent of a website’s Menu, by which you can choose to view all your Notes, Tags, Notebooks, by location, etc.

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Here’s a view of many of my Tags.  As you can see, there are a lot, and this isn’t even close to all of them.  Why?  Because whenever I’m saving something, I don’t always remember what Tags I’ve already created, and when I’m in a hurry, I don’t bother to look them up.  So I just throw 3-5 Tags on there and hope that some of them are already in use.

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Given that I already stated that Notebooks are a better primary organization, you might wonder why even bothering with Tags?  Simple – if you have a Notebook with a ton of Notes and you need to quickly identify which one(s) contain certain information, you can Search within the Notebook by Tag to dig deeper and find one or more related notes quickly.  For me, Tags are just another way to quickly find something, but they’re secondary, not primary.

Take Time to Set It Up for Your Needs & It’s Easy

I’ve been using Evernote in this way for the last 6-7 months or so, and without a doubt, it is incredibly easy to use. The only item that I don’t like is that, when saving something from Safari on my iPhone or iPad, there is no way to add Tags.  You can change the target Notebook, but no Tags.  I don’t know why that is the case, and I hope they change it, but there it is.  Otherwise, I love how easy it is to save a Selection, an image, take a photo, create a checklist, share a Note with employees, keep PDFs of research articles, take notes during a Continuing Education seminar, save website URLs, record a voice note if I’m on the road and can’t type….so many different ways to save information to then access from any computer, any operating system, any location.

And for someone with ADD, what’s better than having a single location to find everything you need?  C’mon, amirite?  🙂

Learning to Say NO with ADD

As anyone living with ADD knows, one of the most prominent aspects of it is the propensity to bounce around from one idea to the next to the next to the next; starting 10 projects and being lucky to finish 1-2; planning out 3 start-up businesses but never incorporating even 1; jumping from 1 hobby to another out of boredom, etc.  Before my diagnosis and beginning medication a decade ago, these tendencies were the bane of my existence.  They were the reason that my Charlotte dental practice struggled non-stop for the first 11 years until my wife became actively involved. They were the reason that I’d become quite good at multiple sports but never truly excelled at any of them, despite it being obvious that I could have done so with enough effort.  And in recent years, even with more understanding and experience and medication, they are the reason that our office has plateaued, even if at a level that less than 20% of dentists ever achieve.  Yes, as we ADD’ers know, even when we KNOW that we should focus and stay on track, we still struggle to do so.  Why?  Because we have too many good ideas!

Too Many Ideas, Not Enough Time, Energy, or Money

Learning to Say NO with ADDOne example?  How about this blog?  LOL  This is my 3rd WordPress blog; the first and most important is the website for my dental practice.  The second is, which I started about 4 years ago to avoid having to repeatedly answer the same questions about dental photography techniques on DentalTown.  After all, I’d developed a reputation as a photographer and in using both Photoshop and Lightroom for cataloging, editing, and publishing dental photos, so it seemed easier to build a new website and then refer people there. How many people with full-time jobs are going to say that, right?  “…easier just to build a new website….”  HA!  And along the way, I developed an entire business plan around that site, based on making it an online learning center for which people would pay a monthly subscription fee, there would be live seminars, etc.  But you can probably guess where this is going…….it never happened, of course.  Family, work, martial arts, fun photography, all kinds of stuff got in the way of staying consistent with a blogging schedule, new material, learning to edit video.  It could have worked, of that I am sure.  But not by me.  And so that idea languished, the website’s been neglected, and others have now far surpassed my knowledge and skill in those areas.  The amount of work to even catch up makes it not worth the effort.
And once I was tired of that, because I still like writing about a lot of other stuff, and someone said something that inspired me, I started this blog so I could write about anything I like, whenever I like, no pressure.  Thankfully, I have no plans to ever monetize this – it’s about me, our family, ADD, dentistry, books; essentially, this blog is intended to let me be as ADD as I wish.  But still…..I started a 3rd website just because I could….

Painful Lessons in Saying Yes….Then No

2014 was a perfect example of what happens when you don’t say no.  Naturally, this can happen to anyone, not just people with ADD.  We happen to be people to whom it happens faster and more easily.  We get sucked in before we even realize what’s happening, because it’s something new and interesting.  Rather than re-writing the whole story, however, you can read these 3 posts for the story, and if you’re really interested, you can even check out some of the posts on to see how far it went:
  1. Ever Feel a Little Overwhelmed? Yeah, Me Too
  2. The Law of Unintended Consequences
  3. Know When to Fold ‘Em

Saying No and Really Meaning It

With all that in mind, a big part of my goals for this “learning to thrive with ADD” self-improvement project is to learn to say NO a lot more, and to stick to it, and most importantly, to feel good about it.
I don’t know about others with ADD and a lot of unfinished ideas, but I’d bet that a lot of them have similar experiences, along with this gnawing feeling in your gut that you let yourself (or maybe others) down by not carrying your idea through to fulfillment.  Know what I mean?  It’s like, even if you recognize and know that idea isn’t going anywhere, you still feel bad about it.  You wish you could find a way to make it happen because you know in your heart that it’s a good idea, and maybe one day …
This is one of the reasons I’m looking for an ADD coach/mentor, too.  Someone who understands how my brain works, who can help me focus on those things that I know are TRULY important: my wife and daughters, dogs, work, and own happiness doing things that I can realistically do.  Not only do I want to say YES to those important things, but I want to know how to let go of the other stuff completely and fully.  And just as importantly, to catch and stop me before something else new and interesting comes along that distracts me once again.
Have you found ways to say no to all the cool ideas that bounce around your head?  If so, please share them in the comments!  And don’t forget, “Sharing is Caring,” so if this struck a chord with you in any way, or if you know someone else struggling with similar issues, please share the article. Thank you for reading!

WHY Learn to Thrive with ADD

So in my post the other day, Learning to THRIVE with ADD, I talked about some of the first steps that I am taking in my journey to minimize the weaknesses that ADD causes, while maximizing the benefits.  But tonight I suddenly was thinking that I don’t have a truly powerful WHY I want to do this.  What’s the motivation?  What’s to get out of it in the end if I do all these things?  Sure – accomplishing the goals that my wife and I have set would be good reasons, but honestly, we’ll achieve them regardless; they’ll just take longer to reach.  So that’s not it.  Successfully learning long-term self-discipline and accountability are worthy goals, but not very exciting, are they?  Not the kind of reason that can make you get up in the morning and exercise, or stick with a schedule with you’re just not feeling like it.

And Then It Hit Me

I wish I could take credit for coming up with it myself, but I have to thank a fellow Plus Your Business Level 3 teammate and dental colleague over on Google+, Jorg-Peter Rabanus.  Back when we were starting Level 3 in the fall of 2014, during a G+ Hangout on Air to kick off our little team’s project, he said that he had one primary reason for taking part.  His words came back to me tonight, and it all fell together.

WHY Do I Want to Finally Learn to THRIVE

The More Successful We’ve Become, the Crazier Busy It’s Gotten

Over the last 6 years, as my wife and I have taken our practice from falling apart to amazingly busy, we’ve both had to learn to do a lot of new stuff: marketing, social media, blogging, new clinical skills, and a lot more.  And of course, doing that while we’re still being a husband/wife (not just business partners), raising our 2 daughters and taking care of 2 dogs, dealing with some minor health issues (high cholesterol for both of us), etc.  And it often feels like our lives are a bit out of control.  And with being out-of-control, we don’t get as much “down” time, we don’t spend as much quality time as we could together, we get more irritable sometimes……all those things that come with being so busy and having so many things to do.

So yeah: I’ve found my WHY, and it’s both amazingly simple and very meaningful.  I want my life back from work, so that we can live.  Yes, we want to accomplish certain goals that will be wonderful – but unless I can learn to get my life back under control, reaching those goals won’t feel good for long.

IMG_2996And on top of that, today a new book from Amazon arrived that I’m REALLY looking forward to reading: Delivered from Distraction.  Looks pretty good!