Parents ask, “Why won’t my child practice piano?” The answer is always simple: they don’t like the music they are given to play, or, they have made no emotional connection to the teacher or the piano.
Children do not practice the piano for two reasons: either the music does not interest them, or they are simply too young to understand the concept of a “task.”
If the music they are asked to play does not interest them, it is the teacher’s fault.
If they are too young to understand the concept of a task, you can try gently to make a game out of completing a small bit of work at a time. Always work in small bits, anything larger is too overwhelming for kids.
The primary reason kids won’t practice is the music assigned them is dry, dull “cardboard” music. You know the stuff. Bastien, Alfred or Faber, all the major methods have the same exercise pieces that teach the various permutations of the first five white keys of the piano.
I use these books every day, but never as an assignment, unless we are engaged in a game to read several pages as a contest. For example, I offer a $1 prize to a child after a few months in the following manner: I select about 20 pages in a book like Bastien, and tell the child I’ll pay them $1 if they can sight read through the pages with no major trouble. Children, at least once, are excited by this idea, and go out and applies themselves to the work to earn the dollar.
But I never assign a piece from a music reading book as their “song.” Their song is a piece of music they know from a movie or TV or life that they have heard and want to play. For one child it’s the theme to Goosebumps, to another it’s We Are The Champions and to another it’s Mozart’s 40th Symphony.
You have to take their enthusiasm for a song and use that as fuel. Any song can be used to teach the concepts of note finding and fingering. You may have to rearrange the song for them, simplifying drastically any complications that interfere with their ability to make it through the song easily.
In the beginning I assign a song a week, so they are exposed to many songs they like and try to play all of them. It is a hit-or-miss program, wherein we work a few minutes on each song, trying fingerings, making games out of repeating it, moving on to another favorite when they get bored.
One of my favorite pastimes is developing a sense of fingering choice in the child. It is one thing to slavishly follow the fingerings in the book, which any child can be taught at length. But real pianists are constantly inventing fingerings to fit their hand and situation.
So it is a great pleasure when you see a child start passages in the correct position, or at least one that has some chance of success. My guideline is groups of fingers. I give great praise when they start instinctively use groups of fingers, even if it is the wrong group.
We experiment with different fingerings and they instantly understand how different each one feels. The real result of these games is to make them aware of their fingers in a way they were not before. This does not bore a child; rather, they are fascinated with their fingers. It is a game of keys and fingers, and we play at it furiously.
CONCEPT OF A TASK
The other reason children do not practice is that they are too young or immature to understand the concept of a task.
Rather than keep assigning them tasks that they must complete outside the lesson, I start making up brief tasks that they can always complete and succeed at, showing them that a task is just a short job or game that has a beginning and end, and they know something better at the end. We do this every lesson, in short units, the entire lesson time.
Thus by example you can lay the seeds for learning to practice, but I suggest at first you expect very little and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Don’t expect a child to voluntarily sit by itself and engage in an intelligent discourse with the keyboard, unless you have properly prepared them by exciting their imagination enough.
If they are excited enough by that fingering game in Star Wars, or just Star Wars itself, you have a chance that they will sit down at home and use their mind to explore the music for a moment or two.
All those moments add up, and after a while you have a happy, natural young pianist, who plays for the love of it, not to avoid the anger of the piano teacher.
Isn’t that what you were looking for?
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press
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