Blog for Piano Parents (and Students)
Note to Readers: Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. While the entries began in 2014, I reorganized them over the summer of 2016 for a better flow.
Here are the topics in their new order:
1) Introduction: A Little Bit About Me and This Blog
2) Piano Playing: Fun? Education? Work?
3) Three Real-Life Situations and Their Life Applications (or A Tale of Three Families)
4) Choosing a Piano Teacher
5) When is a Good Lesson Time?
6) Practicing: Responsibility, Reminders, Incentives, Praise, Enforcement, Punishment
7) Practicing, Part Two: What’s The Motivation?
8) Practicing, Part Three: Enforcement
9) Discontinuing Lessons: When Is It Okay to Let My Child Quit Piano?
Just keep scrolling to find the topic of interest to you.
1) Introduction: A Little Bit About Me and This Blog (entry posted March 20, 2014)
When people compliment my piano playing, they often ask, ”How long have you been playing?” I usually respond, “Forever.” Indeed, although I did not major in music in college nor initially work as a professional musician, I have been playing piano since I was a very young child. I can think of only two periods when I didn’t play piano on a more or less regular basis, and both occurred when, as a young adult, I either didn’t have a piano available or didn’t have time to practice even when I had a piano. Those were two rather miserable times in my life, and when I finally figured out the second time that lack of piano was contributing to the misery, I resolved not to let that happen again.
Deciding to switch careers to teach piano came a bit later. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself, as I learned to finally get very serious about focused practice; to keep experimenting with different approaches when painful injuries almost forced me to give up on piano; and to realize how truly difficult it is to master the complicated arts of music reading and playing the piano – but to rise to the challenge. All three of those lessons are really about life, not just piano. And, lucky for me, I keep learning those lessons in an enjoyable context: playing the piano.
These are not just lessons I have learned for myself, but lessons I try to teach my students as well. Children often ask for piano lessons because they heard something that inspired them to want to play and they think it will be fun. Or parents want their children to learn piano because they think it will be fun and good for their child. Or part of a well-rounded education. Or because Aunt Maude bequeathed her piano to the family, and someone should play the darned instrument. All of these are valid reasons for beginning lessons. But I find few students and families are truly prepared for what “playing the piano” means, and this ignorance sometimes causes students to want to quit -and parents to let their children quit – when the fun seems to stop and the going gets rough, as it inevitably does.
As a pianist, a parent of a now-adult child who used to take piano lessons, and a piano teacher, I have a “triple loaded” perspective on playing this instrument. So, on this website page, I will blog from time to time about practicing and mastering the piano, which is really part of practicing and mastering life. While this is written mostly for parents of my school-aged students, it is fine for everyone to read. Hopefully you will find a thought here and there to be of interest and help to you.
2) Piano Playing: Fun? Education? Work? (entry posted April 24, 2014)
The brief answer to the caption questions is, “Yes. Piano playing can be easy and fun – at times. It will also be difficult and work — at times. And it is always educational.”
Every time I learn a new piece or have to rethink how to teach a particular musical concept or technique, I am reminded how complex music reading and piano playing are. And while I know some parents start their children in piano lessons thinking that this will be a simple and fun extracurricular activity, they do themselves and their children no favors by not understanding how difficult it can be at times to learn a new language (music) and to execute that language mentally and physically through piano playing.
As with any school subject or sport, there are periods in learning piano when everything seems easy. This is usually when children will say that piano is fun! There are other times when it takes longer to understand and apply new skills. That is often when children will start to complain about piano and try not to practice.
It is not your job as a parent to understand all of the ins and outs of music and piano playing – unless you want to (in which case, let’s set up some lessons for you, too). It is your job as a parent to ensure the following couple of “do’s” and “don’t’s”:
1) DO ensure that your child has a decent instrument on which to practice. A lot of the physical requirements of even basic piano playing simply cannot be achieved on poorly tuned or maintained pianos or on incomplete and cheap electronic keyboards; and more advanced playing becomes impossible on poor quality keyboards. You will hinder your child’s progress by not investing at minimum in a quality electronic or digital keyboard (which, incidentally, are not very expensive). This website has a separate page on what to look for in a decent electronic or digital keyboard. (Click here.)
2) DO ensure that your child practices consistently. Think of your child’s lesson assignment as homework – because that is what it is. The entire assignment needs to be completed – and completed as thoroughly as possible – by the next lesson. Much of the assignment needs to be gone over nearly every day to reinforce concepts, technique, memory, etc.;
3) DO NOT permit your child’s schedule to become so overloaded with so many extracurricular and social activities that you have in effect taken away quality practice time; and
4) DO NOT allow your child to give up when it is taking some time to learn and master a new skill. Usually, the child who perseveres through the “difficult” times will find a sense of accomplishment and will then enter into a period when piano seems fun and easy again.
3) Three Real-Life Situations and Their Life Applications (or A Tale of Three Families): (entry posted May 30, 2014)
The beginning of this now-ending school year included the usual pre-lesson interviews with potential students as well as confirmations about lesson times from students continuing lessons with me. Three families with middle-school aged children stand out: One student wanted to begin piano lessons. Another student had been taking piano lessons from another teacher but wanted to transfer to me. The third student continued lessons with me. Each family was confronted with the busy demands of school, often time-conflicting sports schedules and an interest in music. Each family’s reaction illustrates some life lessons.
To preface, I always meet with potential students and their parents (of school-aged children) before lessons start to determine, among other considerations, if we will work well together. When meeting with middle-school and high school students who tend to have busy schedules, I usually give my perspective on learning piano (easy, hard, educational, a language) and my expectations regarding consistent lesson attendance and practice. Then I ask each family to go home and think about the feasibility of lessons with me.
A couple of months went by before I heard back about the student who wanted to begin piano lessons. The mother then told me that they decided against lessons because their child was involved in too many extracurricular activities as it was, and academics were starting to suffer. There were now family conferences on which activities needed to be cut from the student’s schedule. There’s a life lesson there: Don’t spread yourself so thinly that you don’t accomplish anything.
The second family and I decided lessons with me would work, and the student is making progress and enjoys lessons. But six weeks before the mandatory piano recital, the student decided to sign up for track at school. The track practices and meets conflicted with all of the regularly scheduled piano lessons. The student practiced occasionally and performed at the recital but was not particularly well-prepared. I truly hope the student wasn’t too embarrassed, but there is another life lesson right there: If you don’t give attention where attention is needed when it is needed, don’t expect good results.
The third student so far has been able to handle – and handle well (at least from my perspective) – all of the demands on time, including piano. How? I suspect how other students of mine in similar situations have done so: By learning how to use time efficiently, by staying focused on the task at hand and by not making excuses. As I teacher, I appreciate their dedication and will change their lesson schedule occasionally to accommodate their other interests. In return, these families ensure that piano practice is not neglected for long even when other aspects of life get busy. Piano lessons are rarely missed, and other piano-related obligations are usually met successfully. The life lesson here is: When life gets busy, manage your time and stay focused!
4) Choosing a Piano Teacher (posted September 24, 2015)
Choosing a good piano teacher for your child may seem a bit daunting, especially if you have never had to choose a piano teacher before. Referrals from friends and school music teachers are often a good place to start, as are Internet searches that bring up helpful information about specific teachers.
But what criteria should you use to make a decision? Some considerations for you to ponder when choosing a teacher include:
– Teacher Qualifications;
– The Teaching Studio;
– Teacher Personality and “Fit”;
– Examination and Performance Opportunities; and
The rest of this blog entry explores each of these considerations in more detail.
Teacher Qualifications: When you decide to interview a prospective teacher – and a good teacher will interview your child and you and expect to be interviewed by you before lessons begin – ask about the prospective teacher’s background. What kind of music and music pedagogy (teaching) background does the teacher have? Does the teacher specialize in beginners or more advanced students – or does the teacher have students with a wide range of abilities at any given time? Is the teacher active in professional music teachers associations? Is the teacher a certified music teacher? What else does the teacher do to continually improve as a teacher?
One excellent “unsung” Internet referral site is the “Find a Certified Teacher” list on the website of the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). All music teachers certified through MTNA have demonstrated their professionalism, musical understanding, performance skills and teaching skills. You currently can find a list of certified teachers in your state and area by following this link: http://www.mtnacertification.org/.
Curriculum: Most music that pianists play involves a set of core skills: rhythm, notes, technical proficiency at the keyboard, ergonomics, listening and musical expression. Music history and music theory knowledge and application are helpful, too. Good teachers not only have a sound knowledge and application of these skills but know how to teach them. The teacher should also be able to explain to you why each skill is important.
Ask which method book series, if any, the teacher uses for beginning students and why. No one method suits all students, so the prospective teacher should have at least a couple of series used for beginning students. The teacher should also have a good music library to supplement and eventually supersede the basic method books. Some teachers also compose their own music and exercises for student when what the student needs is not available commercially.
Ask what kind of musical styles the teacher incorporates into lessons. Classical music, pop music, musical theater and jazz are all different from each other, and some teachers are more comfortable teaching particular styles than others. Some teachers also have their students learn to compose their own music.
If your child has special needs (e.g. visual problems or learning issues), ask to see the books or music you will be expected to purchase. You will know fairly quickly whether the “look” and approach of the book will work for your child. Speak up if you believe the book or music is inappropriate!
The Teaching Studio: Assuming you will bring your child to lessons instead of having the teacher come to your home to teach, here are some things to look for: A studio that is free from distractions and, if home-based, isolated as much as possible from the rest of the house; quality, tuned and well-maintained pianos and keyboards; various teaching aides readily at hand both online and off the shelf, and some way of listening to recorded versions of the pieces your child will learn (particularly at the intermediate to advanced levels). A common nonmusical issue concerns pets. If animals pose a problem for your child, ask whether the teacher has pets in or near the home-based studio.
Teacher Personality and “Fit”: While it is not always possible to have a teacher whose personality is a perfect match for your child’s, the teacher should clearly have a love of music, a love of teaching and an abiding respect for the students and parents. Ask what the prospective teacher’s expectations are regarding lesson attendance and at-home practicing, especially if you know that your child’s schedule may not always allow for consistent lesson attendance or daily piano practice.
Examination and Performance Opportunities: A good teacher should be willing and capable of preparing your child for music examinations and performance opportunities such as recitals, school contests, music festivals and competitions. But that doesn’t mean the teacher should force those opportunities on your child. Some teachers prefer to work with students who are highly competitive and love to take part in competitions. This is great if your child is highly competitive and can devote a lot of time to piano practice, but not so great if your child is not or cannot.
Price: Have you ever wondered how teachers go about charging their fees or tuition? Overall rates vary in different parts of the country, but good music teachers usually will charge rates commensurate with their experience and abilities. In addition, most private teachers also have to pay all of their business expenses: purchase and maintenance of studio instruments, other equipment and the teaching library, rent (sometimes) – all before paying for non-business expenses such as rent or the mortgage, health insurance, retirement savings and so forth. Piano tuition and fees provide the income that helps cover these expenses. Bottom line: quality lessons probably will not come inexpensively.
Why should you be willing to pay for quality teaching from the very beginning of your child’s lessons? Simply because it is the most efficient use of the money you have set aside for piano lessons. Over the years, I have had many transfer students come to me needing a lot of remedial work in various core skills areas because their first teachers were inexpensive but not good. I don’t mind spending remedial time with transfer students, but I do feel badly for the students who have to undo or relearn and for the parents who realize that what they thought was initially a bargain of a first teacher turned out to be a waste of time and money.
Ultimately, price, location and lesson time will factor into your choice of teacher, but they should not be the sole determining factors. Lessons will be more productive and capable of instilling a life-long interest in learning and playing piano when you choose the best-qualified and most capable teacher for your child.
5) When is a Good Lesson Time? (entry posted January 27, 2016)
There are two ways to approach this question. First, when should my child begin piano lessons? Second, what day of the week and what time should my child’s lesson take place?
The answer to the first question is fairly straightforward: Your child is old enough for piano lessons when he or she demonstrates an interest in music and specifically in the piano or keyboard. Finding a teacher who will take students at a young age can be trickier. I take students as young as four years old if they have strong pre-reading skills (e.g., can readily recognize a few numbers or letters), can sit still and focus on a task for at least five minutes at a time, and are able to follow instructions. Some teachers prefer to wait for students to enter at least first grade in school before beginning piano lessons. On the other end of the age spectrum, a person is never too old to begin lessons.
Regarding the second question, by now you probably have or are developing a good idea when during the day your child functions best at learning and demonstrating new skills. It is easiest on student and teacher when the piano lesson is scheduled during a “good” time.
Think about your child’s schedule when planning music lessons. How many activities are happening that day? Can your child handle back-to-back extracurricular activities or does your child need a lengthy transition time between activities? Or simply no activities that day? Does your child need food before the lesson? A bath or shower? A nap?
Not all students and teachers have mutually compatible schedules, but it makes a tremendous difference when your child has energy and can concentrate at the lesson. In an ideal world, you will also be able to schedule the lesson when your child also can concentrate on the new piano assignment either right after the lesson or the day after the lesson. This is when your child has to begin to make sense of the new ideas and materials introduced at the lesson.
Real-Life “Good” Lesson Time Applications
A current student, a high school junior, travels quite a distance for piano lessons. Originally, lessons with me were scheduled on Saturday mornings, since that was the only day and time available for consistent weekly lessons. Occasionally, we would have to reschedule a lesson to Thursday evening.
I noticed this student was much more alert and capable on Thursday evenings than on Saturday mornings. At some point, my student – at my suggestion – changed to regular lessons on Thursday evenings. What a difference the change in day and time has made! This student has made tremendous progress since the Thursday evening lessons began and is so much happier during lessons.
I have noticed this same phenomenon during the summer when school-aged students have the opportunity to change their normal afternoon or evening lesson time to an earlier time. Conversely, I have some students who are “early birds” and do much better with a morning lesson than an afternoon or evening lesson. When the student and I can be flexible about lesson times, I have learned to ask when during the day the student best thinks and concentrates. I suggest alternative times when the original time is not productive for the student.
6) Practicing: Responsibility, Reminders, Incentives, Praise, Enforcement, Punishment
The next few blog entries will delve into the not-always-fun area of piano practice. The entries share my perspectives as a teacher and as a parent. This particular entry concerns who is responsible for making sure that the practicing gets done. (Sorry, parents, but sometimes it is you.) I also share some very general thoughts on reminding – okay, even nagging – . your child to practice.
Part One: Responsibility and Reminders (entry posted September 20, 2014)
Many parents struggle with how to get their children to accept responsibility, whether it is doing chores around the house, getting through all of the assigned homework (instead of just what appeals to the child), music practicing, and so forth. I certainly experienced this struggle from time to time while raising my child. In my years of parenting and teaching, I have come to some conclusions that I hope make sense for you:
You, the Parent, Help Determine Whether Lessons Will be Successful
“My child didn’t practice this week.” That is always a tricky sentence for me to respond to properly and tactfully. Especially when I suspect it isn’t just this week that the child didn’t practice, even though it is the first week the parent has admitted it to me.
When I venture into the dreaded next step of inquiring why the child didn’t practice, I hope the parent doesn’t respond with, “Well, the sun was shining. So Johnny wanted to play outside.” Or “Well, it was raining, and Janey decided to play on her iPad.” Which to me are just code words for, “I really don’t care if the practicing gets done or not.” At that point, there’s not much I can do as a teacher except hope the family decides to discontinue lessons with me before I decide to discontinue lessons with them. I expect my students to practice and, until the child develops the maturity to practice consistently on his or her own, I have to rely on the parent to ensure that the practicing gets done.
On the other hand, I have an enormous amount of sympathy and empathy for parents who truly believe their job is to ultimately help their children become responsible piano practicers (and responsible people generally) but struggle to figure out how to help their children along this path. Here are some of the questions I remember asking myself when I had to remind my child yet again to assume responsibility: Do I have to remind, again? (It seems all I do is nag.) Should I let my child face the consequences of not getting the job done? When can I start trusting my child to take responsibility? Should I keep my mouth shut? Can I please go on vacation now, without my child? Will my child ever grow up?
Parenting is a constant process of assessing and readjusting. Finding the right balance is tricky, and that balance sometimes is fleeting. You have to know yourself and know your child. I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” answer to most parenting issues. But I do have some thoughts regarding the issue of reminding a child to get the job done – in this case, the piano practiced.
Reminders – When Do They Stop?
Parents often wonder whether they will always have to remind their children to practice piano. For parents of young children, the brief response is, “Yes, right now you do have to remind your child to practice. Probably every day.” Most elementary school-aged children still need a lot of direction in their lives. And at home, the parent usually provides that direction and those reminders. There are the exceptions, of course, and how lovely if you have a child that follows through on responsibilities without reminders. It makes your life a lot easier. The rest of us have to soldier on and try to avoid giving up or entering into continuous power struggles.
As children grow older, the need for daily reminders should decrease. Generally speaking, a child who no longer needs reminders to put on a coat, do all of the assigned homework, brush teeth, do the chores, and so forth is probably also unlikely to need constant reminders to practice. While we all wish middle schoolers are ready for such independence, my experience has been that some are – but some are not. High schoolers are generally capable of this but do not always follow through on that capability.
How to Remind:
Some children do best with a gentle, oral reminder to get the specific task done. (“Time to practice!”) Other children respond well with a quick reminder to check the daily “to do” list or even a weekly “job chart” with a check-off grid that includes practicing, homework, chores and other responsibilities. Some children need to learn the consequences of not following-through after a reminder has been. More on all of this in the next couple of blog entries.
If possible, try to avoid a yelling match on a regular basis: “I told you TEN times to practice today. NOW DO IT!” You are forgiven for losing your temper on occasion, and I certainly understand the temptations of just wanting to give in and allow the practicing to remain undone rather than provoke unpleasantness. But ultimately the goal is to foster a responsible child, not a child who is fearful or who is quitter.
7) Practicing, Part Two: What’s The Motivation? (posted February 27, 2015)
Children, like adults, have motivations for getting certain things done, including practicing the piano. The best and longest-lasting motivation is having a visceral enjoyment of piano. Most of us, if given a choice, would probably choose to spend time doing what we like to do. What a child finds intrinsically rewarding about piano is unique to that child. I have had some students enjoy theory and the applying of theory to help them understand and learn their music. Other children like certain sounds or styles of music and get a kick out of reproducing those sounds and styles on the piano. Some enjoy improvising or composing their own music. Others find playing the piano to be soothing. Some children like to perform or compete. I try to tap into what intrigues a student about music and piano to help further interest and hopefully spark a desire to practice.
Sometimes, though, external motivations are a help in making the intention to practice an actuality or in helping the practicing get done when for whatever reason the child balks at practicing. Some children do best with tangible rewards; others appreciate a small compliment. Know what works for your child and go with that flow when practicing becomes an issue. Here are some examples, and you may think of others:
Personal Interest: Your taking an interest in what your child is learning can help. You don’t have to become overly involved; simply ask your child what they are working on this week. You can request your child to play a piece because you like to hear your child play. “I like that piece. Please play it again!” “The house seems quiet. Can you play some of your pieces?” And listen. This approach would not have worked for me as a child as I was self-conscious about playing piano when I knew others were listening, but I have seen other children literally shine when their parents listen to them practice or sit in on a lesson in a supportive manner.
Time to Show Off: Some children like performing. Ask them to play a piece or two on occasion for family and friends. Ask the teacher to find or suggest other performance opportunities. I have one fourth-grade student in particular who loves to perform, and the informal opportunities (playing for her grandparents or at parties) delight her just as much as more formal opportunities (e.g., playing for her music class at school or at recitals). Some of my other students – even the beginners – like to play for their worship services. Note of caution: Do not spontaneously ask a child who is shy or who has performance anxiety to perform for others. From personal experience, I know demands to perform can make the anxiety worse, even if the performance seems to go well.
Show Me the Money: Tangible rewards make sense for some children. After all, they make sense for all of us who work for a paycheck. How does this work for a child? Maybe you can post a ”job chart” with a check-off grid where your child will get a small reward at the end of a full week’s worth of completing all responsibilities, including practicing. Or maybe just for practicing the entire assignment or reaching practice goals on a consistent basis. Rewards don’t have to be fancy or expensive but should be something special for your child: staying up late, play time on the computer or tablet, a trip to get ice cream, etc. The “job chart/tangible reward” approach was particularly effective when my child was entering adolescence and battling me on every responsibility. I learned to resist nagging and simply referred my child to the job chart. Over time, the tangible rewards became less important a motivating factor, and eventually we were able to dispense with them – and the job chart.
Praise after the fact, but don’t bribe before the fact. People tend to think that only material rewards for a job well done are appreciated. In fact, sincere verbal acknowledgement of a job well done is a powerful reward: “I know we have all had a busy week. I am really proud of you for getting everything done without my having to nag.”
Don’t wait for the final product to offer deserved praise. It takes a long time and a tremendous amount of dedication to master the piano. I find progress to be a much more attainable goal on a regular basis than elusive perfection. Your recognizing your child’s progress can help bolster confidence when your child is going through a period where learning new skills or repertoire is challenging: “I listened to you play your scales today. I know they have been hard to do, but it sounds like they are getting easier.”
I discourage bribing children to complete their responsibilities: “If you practice, then you can have an ice cream cone.” The child can always decide that practicing isn’t worth the ice cream cone, leaving that responsibility unfulfilled and the parent in the unpleasant position of having to up the ante. Is that really what you want to teach your child?
8) Practicing, Part Three: Enforcement (posted April 30, 2015)
Enforcement: Ultimately, practicing should become just a routine part of the child’s schedule, with consequences for the child who chooses not to practice. Regardless of the age and relative maturity of the child, the parent must let the child know what is expected – and ENFORCE that expectation. You probably won’t let your child fail math through intentional or unintentional neglect. Don’t let your child get away with not practicing piano on a regular basis and expect progress.
I believe in logical consequences in dealing with a child who willfully ignores any responsibility. Usually, it is a matter of establishing and enforcing priorities. “You didn’t practice (do your homework, walk the dog, etc.). So, no, you can’t play Xbox right now. Practice (homework, dog walking) comes first. Xbox comes second.”
It helps to tap into your child’s sense of priorities, not just yours. A colleague of mine relates this story about a student who found a visceral enjoyment in playing the piano but balked at the discipline imposed by piano lessons and practicing. The parents agreed to let the student quit lessons with this caveat: ”You don’t have to take lessons or practice the assignment. But you can’t touch the piano, either. Not even for fun. Not until lessons and practicing resume.” After a couple of months of not being able to raise the fallboard, that student decided that taking lessons and practicing were better than not piano playing at all. I have known parents who made their children pay for piano lessons for which the children were unprepared due to lack of practice despite having time to practice.
Be clear and consistent about your expectations without yelling or being drawn too often into an argument, bargaining session, or power struggle. Yes, expect your child to test you and your resolve. Ensure that your child has time to practice. Revisit motivating ideas as appropriate. Share your concerns tactfully at the lesson (please don’t embarrass your child) or in private with the teacher. And remember, you are the parent.
9) Discontinuing Lessons: When Is It Okay to Let My Child Quit Piano? (entry posted May 31, 2016)
About seven months ago, I received the following email from a very concerned parent (I have changed the names.):
“Looking for some advice or suggestions regarding maintaining Terry’s interest in the piano. Terry informed us today that Terry is no longer interested in piano which came out of nowhere. Not sure if Terry has thought it through or if Terry will have a change of mind tomorrow. Any suggestions you have are welcome.
It is the rare piano student who does not balk at lessons at some point, and the rare parent who knows exactly what to say or do when the child announces that he or she wants to quit piano.
Here are my observations regarding this issue:
On the cosmic level, there are usually few dire consequences in letting your child quit piano. The sky doesn’t fall down, and the world doesn’t come to an end. Life usually goes on even if piano lessons don’t.
The personal consequences of letting your child stop piano lessons can be a different matter. Most of my adult students who return to lessons after stopping piano lessons as children blame their parents for letting them quit piano. While my adult “returnees” realize that their own behaviors may have had something to do with the cessation of childhood piano lessons, the keen sense of disappointment and failure these adult students express makes me reluctant to suggest allowing your child to discontinue piano lessons without careful consideration.
Do you, the parent, view piano lessons as part of your child’s education or as optional extracurricular activity to try? You, the parent, have a lot of say in whether your child continues with piano. If you view piano lessons as a non-negotiable part of education, then explain it as such to your child. You will not let your child quit a subject in school just because it is challenging or not always fun and you will not let your child quit piano. Then, we (the teacher, your child and you) just deal with the normal ups and downs of lessons and practicing. If, however, you view piano lessons as an optional enrichment activity, then perhaps another activity makes more sense for your child to learn the life skills and lessons you hope the activity will impart.
Revisit the Matter Later. Perhaps you view taking lessons as non-negotiable now but are willing to revisit the matter when your child is more mature. In that case, specify the time to revisit the question of whether lessons should continue. This approach hopefully will allow your child to better concentrate on piano lessons now and have the maturity later to understand what it means to continue or discontinue lessons. Some parents choose the end of elementary or middle school as a time to revisit continuing lessons. Others look for a certain level of proficiency or demonstrated maturity. For example, I allowed my now-adult child to discontinue piano lessons when she demonstrated she could practice her other solo instrument consistently and independently. It took a number of years, and my child looked at me in disbelief the day I said she could discontinue piano lessons.
Sometimes, a child simply does not like piano or music. It happens. As much as you, the parent, want your child to learn piano for your personal reasons, not all children find much about it to enjoy or to hold their interest. Here’s an analogy: I remember my parents signing me up for softball one summer when I was in elementary school. I don’t like softball and didn’t ask or want to participate, but somehow my parents thought this was something I should do. I made no effort to improve my skills or help the team, and the only enjoyment I found was in watching the bees buzz about the clover in right field. In my own passive aggressive way, I made it known that I detested that activity. My parents, fortunately, got the message and never signed me up for summer softball again. If your child truly dislikes piano, let it go.
Other times, the child may like music but find piano too challenging. It can be difficult for some children to read multiple notes and rhythms in two clefs at the same time. It can difficult for both hands and ten fingers and two feet to learn to work both dependently and independently at the piano. Finding the appropriate piano teacher for those challenges often makes the difference in keeping a child in piano lessons successfully and not.
Please don’t confuse lack of practice with an innate difficulty to progress on piano. Lack of practice will cause difficulty in making any progress regardless of your child’s ability or interest. Also, there will be times when it is harder for students to learn certain skills than others. Perseverance usually works. Busy students need to be creative about finding adequate practice time.
Sometimes, children say they want to quit piano when something else is the issue: Here are common “something elses”: dealing with too many other activities that compete for time and attention; not being given a say in what they want to learn on piano; wanting to assert control for its own sake (the cause of many a power struggle), or another issue unrelated to piano. If your child and you can figure out what the underlying problem truly is and address it, your child and you may decide that piano lessons are okay, after all.
Whatever the reasons for considering whether to discontinue piano lessons, please share your observations and concerns with your child’s piano teacher sooner rather than later. The teacher may offer some insights or try other ways of teaching that may resolve or at least help with the issues and keep piano playing a viable option. The sooner the issues are discussed, the better the prospects for a happier outcome. If, despite the best efforts of student, teacher and parent to make piano playing a successful endeavor, piano continues to be incredibly frustrating and progress nonexistent, it may be time to discontinue piano lessons.
My Reply to the Concerned Parent:
All of these thoughts helped me shape my reply to the parent who emailed me about his child’s wanting to quit piano. I also took into consideration my knowledge and experience with this student, a pre-teen who has taken lessons with me for over three years. Until that that morning, the student seemed to enjoy playing piano and taking lessons. The student has made steady progress, too. At the time the parent emailed me, all of my school-aged students had just finished a challenging practice project/fundraiser for a local animal shelter, and this student was very proud to have met the challenge.
My reply, which I emailed back to the parent:
“This is pretty normal. Most children at various times think they want to quit piano permanently when they really don’t want to. Often they hear a friend say something similar and want to jump on that bandwagon. Sometimes piano is not particularly easy at the moment (a temporary state, but children don’t have the perspective or maturity to realize that piano is easy at times and harder at times and when they work through the harder stuff, piano becomes easy again). Sometimes, there is entirely another issue on their mind that they can’t voice, so piano becomes the substitute target. Sometimes children just are seeking more independence as a person and want to test the waters, so to speak.
“Also, Terry has worked extremely hard this past month for the piano practice project, which has ended. Terry will get a nice gift today which I hope makes Terry feel better, and we will just focus this month on holiday pieces, duets, composing or other stuff Terry usually likes to do. (Nice and nonstressful, and no minimum practice times at home.) I also do not expect Terry to practice over the holiday break.
“Terry has a lot of ability on piano and shouldn’t quit. As parents, your spouse and you are perfectly within your rights to say “No, you can’t quit. So let’s work with Ms. Susan to try to make it a better experience for you.” (I wouldn’t be where I am today as a musician and as a responsible, persevering person generally if my parents had let me quit every time I said I wanted to quit something I was good at – including music – when I was growing up. I also had to go through this with my daughter when she was growing up. As I said, this is pretty normal.)
“Thanks for the heads up. I will talk with Terry at today’s lesson to try to determine what, if anything, is going on musically or otherwise.
“Let’s stay in contact on this.
I emailed my reply because this is how this parent and I best keep in touch. I commend the parent for immediately sharing the concern, and I believe the early intervention has kept this child successfully in lessons since then.
WOULD YOU LIKE MORE INFORMATION? CONTACT ME:
Contact Information: Susan Lipnick, NCTM
Telephone: 815-776-0223 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org