ADVICE TO A YOUNG PIANO TEACHER
(The following are questions that young piano teachers have posed and which we try to answer.)
Q: I’ve dropped my demands that they practice 15 minutes, and replaced it with two minutes. They won’t even do that. I get no support from the parents. What do I do?
A: First, don’t involve the parents. Guilt will follow, and after that the kids won’t want to play at all. It’s between you and them for that half hour. Forget the parents.
Only a very gifted or committed child will practice. It is the rest that make up a piano teaching practice, and those you have to deal with. First, lower your expectations. Almost all of these kids are incapable of a musical education in the classic sense. Get used to it. You have to be their conduit to the forgotten world of the piano, now almost completely destroyed by Disney and computers.
Simply to sit for 30 seconds and listen to a competent pianist is a rare experience for the child of today. They cannot sit still, they think it is all about them, as their parents have trained them.
Those that can absorb music at the piano, will. Those that can’t should be offered a chance to be involved with live music in whatever way they can. Piano by Number offers this chance to anyone due to the total transparency of the method.
The demands of parenthood have become such that our children are starving for intelligent adult attention. Have you noticed that almost all the fathers are never there, always working? Have you noticed that the mothers are either working, or are wealthy enough to have housekeepers and nannys?
I know this because, as a traveling piano teacher, I visit their homes every day as soon as school is out until they go to bed at night.
With their minds rotted by TV and computers, bored by unimaginative, sub-quality public rote education, the children of today are very unlikely candidates for the rigors of learning the piano.
And yet these children are our only candidates, our legacies, the ones upon whom the future of the piano depends.
Q: I’ve dropped my rate several times, but they always quit, anyway.
A: Never drop your rate. Whatever it is, it is too low. People who quibble over the rate are the same ones who cancel and won’t pay, who are late, who can’t find their checkbook. Recognize that no matter what you do, the parents are a bigger problem than the kids. Have a constant and ready supply of new clients, and if the parents and/or child get too difficult, say goodbye and drive off happily into the sunset to the next lesson. Life is too short.
Teach in wealthier areas where they won’t argue over the bill. If they do, cut your losses and leave. But beware if they know other clients, because one irate parent can spell trouble with every client who shares you as a teacher. But the chances are that if a parent is a problem to you, they are a problem with everybody.
I teach for pleasure as well as profit, and I won’t let any parent get in the way of the pleasure of guiding an unlikely kid towards playing the piano. But there are limits. Your child has to be a real genius for me to want to teach them if the parents are a problem.
Q: I am disappointed that with my liberalized demands for practice: it now takes weeks for a child to learn 16 bars of a piece. Their friends, taught by disciplinarians using rote practice, play much more complex pieces quicker.
A: Forget your schedule. You’re dealing with kids who won’t practice under any circumstances. So lessons are really practice. Accept it. Nurture it. Devise systems based upon this real truth: they will learn it when they are good and ready. If a parent wants more results with their child, they are a problem and you need to get away. Find parents who are sophisticated enough to know how difficult it is to teach a child the piano when they never practice. Not impossible, but the teacher better be a genius.
The kids who play the more complex pieces are, 99% of the time, refugees who hate the piano and who have been trained to do so by the tyrants who teach them. Forced practice produces hatred of the piano, period. Don’t ask them to practice. You can ask, but don’t ever expect anything unless the child is very talented.
I’ll say it unambiguously: if a child does well at the piano, it has almost nothing to do with the teacher. It is entirely the child’s accomplishment. Talent will out. Kids who play well would do so anyway.
But the kids who hate the piano and play the notes well are to be pitied.
You can hear it in the playing, and see it in their faces: fear. They’re thrown into a competitive game like baseball, and supposed to conquer.
I want to see joy in their faces. I don’t care if they play Scooby Doo with their nose. If they don’t enjoy playing the piano in some way, it is a useless occupation.
Forget piano lessons in the normal sense that we grew up with. You are a paid music counselor, the only human that will ever bother to show them Brahms, Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven Mozart, Bernstein, Jelly Roll Morton and ten thousand other interesting composers.
There’s time enough for them to grow an interest in the piano, seriously, when they are older. For now, just get them to try it and not hate it. That’s your gift to them for the future.
All they will ever get from the world and school is Disney-fied commercialism and rote drudgery, and you have to be the exact opposite.
Even if you have to get them to play Disney to do it!
Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press