Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Piano Lesson

On my facebook feed, someone I know posted this weekend about how disagreeable it is to make their kid practice piano.

I know a number of people who insist their kids take up an instrument and keep at it, though the kid doesn't seem to enjoy it at all.

And the parent doesn't enjoy nagging the kid to practice.  But then the parent relates that they were forced to practice as kids, too.

And then you learn that no, the parent never plays now, doesn't practice, nada.

Why are they so invested in their kid's playing if they had lessons and could practice and play if they wanted to?  I mean, I understand that practicing isn't fun, and that it takes a lot of time.  But if the music's important enough to you to spend all that energy nagging your kid, why isn't it important enough to you to play yourself?

At what point do you let the kid decide not to play the piano (or whatever) anymore? 

(I think getting an opportunity to learn an instrument is great, and certainly learning to read music is good in all sorts of ways.  Even better is the subtler learning that focused practice leads to improvement.)

(Disclosure:  My parents took me to community music stuffs from the time I was little, and I wanted to learn an instrument, so I was given lots of opportunity.  But my parents didn't much consider it their job to tell me to practice, nor was I a great practicer, nor a great musician.  But I did enjoy a lot of my experiences in high school band, which made the whole high school horror a bit less horrible.)

Meanwhile, break is over.  Back to classes!  I got a lot of stuff done, though not everything.  I did relax a lot and rode my bike, even (outside!).


  1. Anonymous9:57 PM

    I thought of you when I saw that, b/c I remembered that your dad was a community orchestra member, so clearly he did walk the walk!

    1. Yep. I saw that music was something he enjoyed and did regularly, so I took music as something people did and enjoyed, and not just something kids were forced to do.

  2. Anonymous4:41 AM

    I'm glad i know how to play piano. It's like riding a bike. You don't forget how.

    1. Anonymous6:17 AM

      I should also note that I don't currently own a bike, but I am still glad I learned how to ride one!

      In terms of when I was allowed to quit piano-- in high school. I play well enough that I can sight-read a complicated piece and play it through, although with mistakes and in the wrong tempo. I always envied Hugh Laurie's sight-reading ability as Wooster.

    2. For me, I enjoyed the music as I played it (as a kid), and I certainly loved riding my bike as a kid. Both were things I very much wanted to learn, and I'm happy I had the opportunity. In neither case have I ever had a sense that I needed to be "allowed" to quit. (I don't play music anymore, but it meant a lot to me as a kid, and I think I listen better because of those experiences, and enjoy music, especially "classical" or art music, more than a lot of adults.

    3. Anonymous10:44 AM

      You were a much better kid than I, then. I would have quit bike riding with the second wipe-out if I hadn't been "encouraged" to keep at it. There are many times I would have quit piano, but I'm glad I wasn't allowed to. On the other hand, I wish I'd been allowed to quit ballet earlier. And I was allowed to quit ballet years before I quit piano (because wanting to quit is a continuum, and if I'd wanted to quit piano as much as I wanted to quit ballet, I probably would have been allowed to).

      Currently this is moot because DC1 loves piano, but he also has had times where he doesn't want to play a new piece because it's hard, but after 15 min of practice a day, he's excited at how much easier and how nice it sounds by the next lesson. He's noted this himself on his own. So your parenthetical about learning how practice works is a very important one. (Plus now that we have a shiny new piano, I've even been doing some Hanon exercises along with actual pieces after barely touching a piano since I was a teen. It seems to make my hands feel good after being on the computer keyboard all day.)

    4. Anonymous10:46 AM

      p.s. Here's our deliberately controversial post on the general question:

    5. I think I was taught to pretty much expect to fall and get scraped up, but biking was what bigger kids did, so I really wanted to, and then once I could, biking was freedom to roam.

      I think music lessons are different, somehow, because so many of the parents who seem to insist on, say, piano lessons are people who don't play the piano, don't go to piano concerts (or any classical sorts of music concerts) for fun, and just generally seem to think it's "good" for the kid even if they don't find it "good" for themselves.

    6. Anonymous3:45 PM

      There's research that early music lessons in piano or violin is good for brain development. Personally I think being proficient is part of being a well-rounded person. Being able to read music is an important skill.

      I'm glad I was forced both on the piano and on the bicycle. Like first gen american said in her comments on our post, some kids like being able to do stuff but they hate being bad at stuff, so they need to be forced through the initial hard part. Some of us have to have experiences at conquering difficult stuff before we realize the importance of doing it on our own. You are not your friends or their kids. You sound like you've always had a growth mind-set and never had to learn to have one. Many kids are not like that.

      It isn't different from bike riding-- I don't even own a bike now, but I'm glad I know how. I hadn't played a piano for years until just this month but I'm still glad I know how.

      Also I hate classical music concerts. Boresville. I hate watching softball, but I don't mind playing it. Watching and doing are very different things.

      I am enjoying listening to my son practicing right now.

    7. Absolutely, N&M, I'm not a parent at all. I just wonder things aloud on the blog (but I didn't say anything to the parents on the effbee thing, because I think parenting is really hard, and I don't think commenting on their effbee thread would be helpful at all.)

  3. It's been an interesting road for us as parents; both boys have taken music lessons at different points so far and they both enjoyed the lessons. When one or the other wanted to quit (for varying reasons) we've allowed it without any drama in the hope that at some point in the future they might rediscover their love of it and try it again, or take up another instrument, or something. We both actively still play ourselves, to the point where the kids have grown up getting dragged to many music gigs and the whole performing and music making scene is just something our family does regularly, so it's really kind of old hat to them. Our hope there is that since they've grown up with it being so familiar it will fall into place as just something that one does as a matter of course. Time will tell; they both love music but they want it to be THEIR music, not ours.

  4. Beckett, that seems very sane to me. You folks love music and it's a part of your life. That seems sane and healthy.

  5. My mom went to conservatory as a piano/organ student, and played at various churches for decades. She taught piano when I was very small, and I learned to read music very young (as I did with regular reading -- I don't remember not knowing either kind of reading). I thought a piano came standard with every house. I was allowed to quit the viola after one year (fourth grade) but wanted to play a smaller instrument, so took up the flute, took private lessons through high school. My sister tried several instruments but really took to the piano. No one "made" either of us play, and the lessons were never forced-- playing the flute was part of me, just something I did. It was unusual in my neighborhood to take music lessons, and looking back, the other two kids from my high school who I knew took lessons also weren't compelled to (possibly one was, but I doubt it) I do think there's a lot to be gotten from playing music/lessons, but I think both the child and the parent should see it as more than just something that's "good for you."

  6. I used to say that I would make both of my kids play an instrument for at least two years, long enough to learn to read music at a basic level and gain some sense of musicality. My daughter has been playing ukelele for a year. She was also taking piano lessons for about six months, but her teaching moved to Norway, and we don't have a new one for her yet. I plan to get her through at least another year or two of piano, and I hope her ukelele playing might also lead to guitar (which I can play at a rudimentary level, but which I haven't played as much since having kids).

    But my son doesn't want to study an instrument, and I haven't had the heart to "make" him do it yet. He's almost 11, and he would be very sad and upset if I told him he had to start doing piano. For him, I think I might abandon my two-year rule and, instead, just mess around with the instruments at home (recorder, keyboard, guitar) so that music (and musical notation) are not totally foreign to him.

    As a kid, I played violin for five years and piano for one year. This background was enough that when, at 30, I wanted to play cello, I could start. It was also enough to allow me to pick up guitar at 30 (which I played a lot for the few years after I took it up). That's the main thing I want for my kids: I want them to have some appreciation and understanding of music, enough that they can enjoy it and, if they are so inclined, play later in life.