Kids need a bill of rights guaranteeing them an interesting, engaging piano education, rather than dry, boring lectures to which they are often subjected.
This may be of interest only to the piano teacher, but I have the feeling it may be of use to parents who are wondering why their kids are having a bad time with piano lessons.
First of all, if your child does not enjoy piano lessons, something is very wrong. Having taught an almost encyclopedic roster of kids, I can tell you that a creative piano teacher can teach ANY child, if the teacher is prepared to be patient enough.
There may be many reasons why a child is uncomfortable with piano lessons.
The primary reason is usually the teacher. Almost all piano teachers of young children are too strict and not creative enough to interest the child in the piano. It’s as simple as that. There are a lot of bad piano teachers out there, and a lot of impatient kids.
The age of the child may demand a different approach than the teacher is prepared to give, or is capable of giving. The reason for this is that there are a wide variety of personalities in children and gifts in terms of piano, but only one accepted methodology of introducing children to the piano. You’re headed for Carnegie hall, and if you don’t make the grade, you’re a failure: that’s the mindset of the conventional piano teacher. Do you want to expose your child to this competitive teaching racket, or do you wisely simply want them to enjoy music and play it as well as they can?
Each child is an individual and needs to be treated as such. But the piano teaching business has in essence not changed since Carl Czerny in the early 1800’s: you put this finger here, you play it now. For all their colored pages and big notes, modern piano methods are not unlike the early ones. The problems of teaching children the piano have not changed at all since the great J.S. Bach taught his kids in 1700: you have five fingers, so we’ll use them as a group. Easy to say, but not so easy for a 5 or 6 year old to do.
Consider the manner of the piano teacher. Are they patient, warm and humorous? Or are they gruff, demanding and stingy on praise? It’s one thing to be demanding of a child that has shown promise and WANTS to be driven harder. It’s quite another to apply that expectation and standard to a child of lesser but still respectable gifts. The truth is that every child deserves to learn and be taught the piano within their limits, at their pace, and in such a way that increases their self esteem no matter how small their honest efforts might be.
In fact, let us draw up a hypothetical BILL OF RIGHTS for a child’s piano lesson.
1. A child has a right to an interesting, entertaining experience at the piano. A child is not there to meet the piano teacher’s expectation, but rather to fulfill their own talents in the best way they can. It’s the teacher’s job to be creative enough to allow any child to achieve that.
2. A child has the right to play music that interests them. A teacher has to be creative enough to find out how to teach a child the musical principles based on what the child can understand. There are many ways to skin a cat: you can just as easily use music the child knows and enjoys (Star Wars, for example) rather than the dry-as-dust exercise pieces with which even the best piano methods are loaded. They’re not all bad, but kids are turned off by endless repetition of “pretend music.” Let them play what they want. It will make repetition easier and more rewarding. It is the teacher’s job to forge that material into a musical education, and if you’re a halfway decent musician, you’ll be able to do it with style!
3. A child has the right to a bad day. We all do. I’ve seen over-pressured kids just wilt at the thought of even a modest additional amount of work. Let’s face it, piano lessons are an elective. Be creative enough to know how to disguise repetition as a game, and the wisdom to know when to back off and simply play piano games.
4. A child has a right to a lesson that is not entirely concerned with reading music and fingering. Those two areas are all that most teachers do during a lesson. But what about listening, ear training, history, composition, finger games, counting games, and a thousand other playful ruses that can be used to interest a child in the piano? What about playing by ear, playing by chords, improvising, memorizing and a thousand other creative methods that might unlock the child’s enthusiasm? There is not just one right way to teach all children, but there is one right way to teach an individual child. A teacher who uses the same approach for all students is a poor and lazy teacher.
5. A child has a right to a pace of work that does not exhaust them. Many teachers forget how deeply fatiguing reading music is for small children. It requires such abstract thought that most kids can bear it for a few minutes, but get very uncomfortable after that short period. Be creative enough to know when to move to something else, or you risk exhausting the child and their enthusiasm.
Never forget it is their piano lesson, not yours. It’s not a platform to expound your knowledge and authority, and expose their ignorance. It’s your opportunity to interest them in a fun activity that has great intellectual benefits for them.
Copyright 2012 Walden Pond Press
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