Piano Recitals Are Poisonous For Children

Frightened girl

Piano recitals are poisonous for most children, which leads me to ask, “Exactly what function do childhood piano recitals perform?”

Piano teachers who use them say that they are “Character builders,” but I beg to differ.

In fact, piano recitals are a big commercial for the piano teacher, and serve no function other than to terrorize the broad majority of piano students.

Yes, there may be one or two kids who enjoy it, and, for them, recitals may be a good idea.

Some kids enjoy gladiatorial combat, but not many.

But what about the poor kid who is throwing up backstage before he fumbles through Fur Elise?

What about your kid, who is to play next, and now has stage fright worse than Abraham Lincoln?

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Piano recitals reduce the piano to a form of gladiatorial contest, and that is no inspiration to anyone except pathologically competitive people. Children are inherently competitive, but not in arenas in which there is almost certain defeat. Any sane child shrinks from a contest in which they will certainly be humiliated.

It’s scary enough for a seven year old to play for their teacher, much less for everyone in the neighborhood and lots of strangers.

Fear does not build character in young pianists; it only convinces them that the piano is not for them. For those children that do like performance, fear may be a factor to be conquered, but to the average kid trying the piano, fear ruins the entire experience of the piano.

Just as there are kids who are very competitive at sports, there are kids who compete at piano. Kids who compete at sports tend to be very good at it, and child pianists are no different.

The point is that the comparison of one child to another does nothing for the child who comes up short in such comparisons. I strive to get each child to play as well as they can themselves, not to some other child’s ideal. Learning the piano is a very, very individual process, and I don’t want a child’s fragile progress to be upset by needless comparisons.

Every child is aware of the idea of “mastery.” As soon as a child is aware enough, all they see is other humans who do most things better than they do. This is partly the nature of childhood, to have so much to master.

But as a child starts to climb a ladder of “mastery,” be it baseball or piano, it is important that their progress be evaluated on a personal level, rather than in the crucible of public exhibition, at least until the child is allowed some time to get used to the learning process.

Rather than pushing a child too soon into competition, they should be given unlimited time to develop their skills on their own, with no judgment, no timetable, and no one’s opinion mattering except an ultimately nurturing and beneficial teacher.

The video below is of a child who WANTED to be in a recital, showed no fear, and enjoyed the whole thing. Such kids are an exception to the rule. Most kids experience fear, but not this boisterous six year old girl! No one pushed her to participate, she chose to do it on her own.

She has been taught entirely with Piano By Number, playing her first talent show, after only a year of lessons! This kid loves the piano, and has been carefully taught to come to the piano to enjoy making music. Notice how proud she is after finishing and hearing the applause. This child has never been forced to practice, and plays because she likes it. She is just starting to read music, but plays with perfect fingering and knows all the basic chords. A very intelligent child playing at her own level and enjoying it all.

The recital that matters the most to a child is when they play for grandma, or dad, or mom, or a friend who thinks what they played is cool. That is what matters to a child, that their skill, however humble, was thought worthy in some way.

Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press

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