IF A CHILD SUCCEEDS AT PIANO, IT’S BECAUSE OF THE PARENTS
Parents have varied reactions to their child’s progress at the piano, or lack thereof.
Some parents are very accomplishment oriented, and insist on lengthy practice with a disciplinarian teacher in charge.
Other parents, perhaps more assured in their choice of teacher, just let the teacher choose the course. It is always in your child’s interest to let the piano teacher follow their chosen method. It does only harm to second-guess the professional you’ve selected.
You should, however, be aware of what is going on, if only to evaluate for yourself how your child is doing.
But there are qualities in a child that even a parent is loathe to acknowledge. No parent wants to admit that their child is manipulative, but that is often the case.
To illustrate the effect parents, even unseen, have on a child’s piano lessons, let’s follow a student that I have had for several years.
Let’s call him Morris, although that is not his name.
Morris is a very eccentric child. He is 9 and very literate. I’m fairly certain he is hyperactive, but I don’t know if he’s medicated. I think not. But he is a genius furniture chewer.
He is also a master negotiator, so you don’t want to be sucked into a semantic black hole with this child. He is polite, articulate, and will talk you under the table.
At first he was very interested in piano and learned to read music quickly. He preferred numbers, but could read any simple piano music I popped up on the music stand. Using numbers, we explored more composers than any other child, for every lesson would include his request to learn a piece by a different composer. He was voracious in his listening to classical music. He’s the only kid who has ever requested Wagner, and he’s Jewish, fully aware of the distaste Jews have for Wagner. Still, he wanted Wagner, so we played Meistersinger in the key of C.
But then came a time when he just didn’t want to learn any more pieces. I asked why.
Morris said, “Piano is too hard, sometimes.”
I laughed, because he was better than most when he wanted to try.
But I listened and lightened up, resulting in him returning to the piano quite soon. This I accomplished by returning to the constant musical gamesmanship that had first sparked his interest. He was now interested in small problems of music theory, rather than playing those piano pieces he was not quite ready to maneuver physically.
But now I had a new problem. How do I renew his interest playing specific pieces? He wouldn’t refine anything, yet he knew the basic tune to everything.
Finally we started doing poems to the pieces he already knew, so that he played and I recited crazy poems rhythmically to the music. He made up the poems, mostly, but he would play a piece endlessly if I made up enough verses. It got him to repeat and practice. We developed elaborate scenarios to the Moonlight Sonata and Bach's Prelude in C, which involved chasing clowns and bizarre world events, subjects clearly rolling around in his 9 year-old head. You can file this chapter under my familiar battle cry, DISGUISING REPETITION IN CHILDREN'S PIANO LESSONS!
His Mom would look in on our weird recitations, but wisely perceived that, despite the apparent wackiness, her son was playing good music almost perfectly, with, I might add, a smile on his face.
Mom knew all too well how difficult it could be to reach her genius son. She dealt with him every day.
Then I realized what had bored him, and made him want to stop playing specific pieces..
It was too easy! He craved complexity, as any excellent chess player (like him) would.
Yet, his child brain and fingers could not yet handle the complexity of music that interested him. He might like the Hammerklavier Sonata by Beethoven, but he can’t play it in a way he finds satisfying.
So I suddenly took a simple teaching piece we play, and said, “Morris, reverse the hands. Play the right part with the left and the left with the right hand.”
He gleamed with interest and played it perfectly, with the fingering perfectly reversed!
All of a sudden he was interested in the piano again.
I quickly had him read basic music, but with the hands reversed. He loved the impossible game of it, and paid absolute attention.
Since then, I play very complex chord games with him. He’s now studying ninth and eleventh chords. Otherwise, he’d be jumping on the sofa and getting Mom mad.
The point of this story is this. Morris would never had made the second breakthrough that led to his current, blazing interest in the piano, had his Mom not been patient and watched him utterly fail and then master almost all the basic piano courses.
It was his Mom’s faith and patience that gave Morris his shot at loving the piano. Many parents would have balked and quit when he lost interest the first time.
If you trust the teacher, wait it out. Not every kid learns via the conventional path. As long as the child does not cry "I hate it," continue if you trust the teacher.
Your goal should be a child whose interest in the piano is enthusiastic, not a robot who plays books 1-5 grudgingly.
A clever piano teacher can do both, maintain enthusiasm and hurdle the standard obstacles.
By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved
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