Soft piano vs. hard piano is a debate that has only emerged in the last 25 years.
The reason the debate arose is the utter failure of conventional piano methods.
I’ll tell you exactly what critics of “soft piano” methods say:
“Piano cannot be made easy.”
“Easy piano methods instill bad habits.”
“Only the conventional manner is acceptable. Anything less is cheating the child.”
“’Soft piano’ is diluting music education.”
Let’s take those four statements and examine them. I’ll try to be fair, but I’m obviously biased.
PIANO CANNOT BE MADE EASY
Essentially they are right: you can’t make the Rachmaninoff Concerto #2 easier. Yes, there are obvious standards, and the piano curriculum, at all levels other than the very beginning, is quite codified and clearly laid out in ascending levels of difficulty.
But it is the beginning of children’s piano lessons that concerns us. Unless you can get the child to continue with lessons, starting with their very beginning, it matters not what method you use: a bored child is a bored child.
You can call it music education but if the child is turned off, your efforts as a piano teacher are over.
Thus, we are not talking about making piano easy forever, but only at the most crucial point, the beginning.
And here, the beginning, the dogmatists are insistent: you learn to read music first, and nothing else matters, period. Anything else is heresy, and thus “soft piano.”
The answer to these fools is “Piano MUST be made easy in the beginning, by any means, or you will not have a student to teach.” The dogmatists don’t really care if your child learns, in their own peculiar, slow way.
The dogmatists will be quick to brand your child a failure when they fail at the method, and find another parent who believes, “The old method is the only way.” Their concern is income from lessons with the least trouble to themselves, not your child’s unique experience of the piano.
Your child’s experience of their method is utterly irrelevant to the dogmatists.
SOFT PIANO METHODS INSTILL BAD HABITS
There’s no doubt that learning the piano is learning to have a series of habits. Correct hand position, good fingering instincts and muscular dexterity are all prime traits of a professional pianist, along with a thousand others. Without them, you really cannot scale the Everests of the piano literature.
But the kids aren’t “mountain climbers” yet, and are not even really “hikers” of the piano.
They are crawling into an intellectual and physical world unlike any other experience they will ever have, and you as their teacher would do well to make their first experiences very enjoyable if you wish continued, enthusiastic attendance, which is a minimum requirement for really learning the piano.
Rather than treat the children like sober cadets committed to the cause, why not treat kids like voters, who must be wooed and reasoned with?
Such indulgence pays off later, a thousand-fold.
Never forget that the worst habit you can have at the piano is not wanting to sit at the piano and play.
Yet that habit, not wanting to play, is the prime skill most piano teachers unconsciously instill FIRST, and then expect rapt obedience. They “accomplish” this feat with an unsympathetic attitude and lots of rote repetition.
The reverse is true: you’ll need repeated, happy attendance at the piano to instill good habits of ANY kind.
SOFT PIANO CHEATS THE CHILD
How wrong. “Hard” piano courses are doomed statistically to failure even by admitted industry standards: nine out of ten kids fail using conventional piano methods alone, and these methods are usually restricted to reading music. I refer to Faber, Bastien, Alfred and all the other ancient methods that are derived from Czerny. The truth about these books is that kids hate everything except the pictures, and I have spent thousands of hours with kids and these books. They are a useful side dish, but never the main course.
So if you don’t tailor the piano curriculum the child, you will cheat them of their individual “piano experience.” They will hate it and quit, thereby effectively ending your child’s first and perhaps only attempt at the piano. They may try later in life, but they will remember their childhood experience as unpleasant and, well, “hard.”
Anything that does not convince the child to explore the piano as a fun activity is a bad thing, and cheats the child of possible continued interest in the instrument. These are children, after all. Use common sense, horse sense, child sense.
Remember the “Horse Whisperer.” He puts the rope around then horse’s neck, and then lays it on the ground. He doesn’t yank on the rope. He lets the horse decide when it is comfortable to be led around by the rope. Eventually, the horse cooperates fully.
SOFT PIANO DILUTES MUSIC EDUCATION
I assert that I am doing the opposite.
I am forwarding music education, specifically piano, in that I am attracting and keeping far more children as students, and turning them into avid players at whatever skill level they are comfortable with. Conventional piano lessons keep one out of ten kids. That is nine who are lost forever to the piano experience. And you wonder why piano stores all over the USA are closing. It’s the teachers fault, not the students.
“Hard piano,” conventional lessons, delete children from the pool of possible players by making them fail in such numbers. Music education is thus diluted by an unneccesaily high failure rate. Eventually, using hard piano, you will have no students to teach: they will all be on their iphones. It has been happening for 30 years.
I regard institutional standards and the book methods (Faber, Bastien,Alfred) that support them as irrelevant in the teaching of the piano to young children; all that matters is the child’s experience of piano lessons.
Piano by Number does the same, on a larger scale. Any device that allows people to become avidly interested in the piano is to the good.
Think of the cultural circle: you have more piano players who buy instruments, who attend concerts, who buy CDs, who employ musicians, in an endless cultural loop that is fueled at the beginning by children, the future of music and the piano.
The more children you interest in music, the more robust your musical culture.
Right now, there is no American musical culture for children other than the wasteland of Disney.
If you want the piano to disappear from children’s experience then, by all means, make it as difficult as possible.
Copyright 2015 Walden Pond Press
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