Are you your child’s first piano teacher?
The answer is “only if there is no professional who can really handle the job.”
It also wouldn’t hurt if you have the bedside manner of a Harvard doctor, the patience of a saint, and the persuasive comedic and manipulative skills of a professional public relations expert and expert child psychologist.
But if the prospective piano teacher is a bad piano teacher, impatient, dogmatic and addicted to discipline, then your best choice may be yourself or no piano teacher at all.
The wrong piano teacher can do incalculable harm, making the child feel inadequate and planting the seeds of failure on the very first day.
In 9 out of 10 cases, after their first piano lesson my students are still riveted to the piano, happily trying out the songs I give them. I guarantee the opposite is true when a child is offered dull, lifeless music by a disciplinarian.
And as I leave the first day, the child is still there at the piano, plunking away.
Parents say, “You have the patience of a saint,” but that is not true. It’s just that I get so involved in children’s attempts to play the piano that I don’t have time for impatience. Impatience would spoil the mood and not allow us to work as if we were fellow scientists searching for a solution to a problem.
I also seem patient because, through experience, I know what is possible during one single lesson, and have realistic expectations for the child, expectations that allow for sudden success, and just as easily for the tiny step forward that a single piano lesson usually produces.
Traditionally, parents have not taught their children the piano for a simple reason: it is very hard to maintain the distance and discipline that conventional piano methods require. The truth is that conventional methods require intense discipline that parents find hard to administer and maintain, opting for a professional to do it for them.
For example, I didn’t teach my son, now 18, until he was 16, when he finally asked me. He learned the basics, more or less, from a local teacher, and came to me when he realized he could learn something more exciting from me.
There is a distance that is hard for a parent to maintain, but since we are really introducing the child to the piano rather than formally instructing them, it is possible to make the initial lessons a fun exploration that any patient adult can help launch.
You would do well to adopt a very soft, non-accomplishment oriented approach. In fact, if you start playing the piano as well, that will be a big boost for the whole program, as children love to do what Mom and Dad are doing. Exploring the piano together is a very achievable goal when using Piano by Number.
Your goal as your child’s first piano teacher should be the following:
Your primary goal is to make it possible for the child to go to the piano on their own and enjoy playing a few songs by themselves, as if the piano were a toy.
Make it possible for the child to play without discipline, without guilt, and purely for the joy of it. Mistakes are not any more important than mistakes they make with their toys. Say, “Oops,” laugh, and move on.
Instill the idea that the piano is fun, mistakes are inevitable, and that it is one of many fun things to do in the home.
Set up practice schedules.
Make rules based on what you read in books.
Discipline or make your child feel guilty for anything regarding the piano.
There is no time limit to the period in which the child explores the piano on their own before going out and starting formal lessons. Let the child’s interest be your guide. There will be periods of intense interest, followed by apathy, then a return to interest. Listen to the child. If they want more complexity, find a way to give it to them without overloading them.
If the child wants to go further than your expertise can take them, it is time for a regular piano teacher, which must be chosen with extreme care.
The reasons that you may well be your child’s best first piano teacher are these:
A stranger in a strange house, however nice, may not be the right person as a teacher for the very first try.
Kids feel very secure at home.
Starting at home makes the process easy to access, right in the living room.
A positive emotional atmosphere around the piano assures continued involvement.
If you go slowly and gently, making the piano a toy, you have every chance of success in preparing your child for regular piano lessons.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press
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