Pace and Children’s Piano Lessons


You can get children to go quickly through the rudiments of the piano if you enforce the Nine Rules of Conventional Piano Lessons:

  • The child cannot act like a child.
  • The child cannot talk.
  • The child cannot laugh.
  • The child must submit to an atmosphere of absolute attention and obedience.
  • The child is subject to guilt if they do not follow the practice plan assigned to them.
  • The pace of the lesson is set by the teacher. If the child falls behind, guilt is the result.
  • The child learns everything by rote. Repetition alone, time after time, is responsible for any progress the child may make.
  • No allowance may be made for the child’s ignorance of the concept of “deferred gratification.” In other words, the child must perform an endless, joyless series of tasks and exercises that will someday, perhaps a decade away, allow them to play in a manner that pleases the teacher.
  • No allowance can be made for the level of interest of each individual child.

In these teacher’s minds, you’re headed for Carnegie Hall or the highway. There is no middle ground in the way these teachers treat each child.

Every child gets “the method.”

The problem is that a child taught using these common ideas would quit long before even the fastest teacher can present the requisite concepts and get the child to master them.

Perhaps in the world of Dickens, there are such super-diligent children. I know of many piano teachers who boast of high percentages of proficient seven and ten year old piano students, and I’ve heard them play the standard competitive recital pieces to death, without joy.

Every once in a long while, one child stands out and plays with passion.

Let me tell you a “law” of the piano lesson business that has never changed: a child who plays well would have done so regardless of the method or teacher. Talent will out.

Taking credit for a good piano student is like taking credit for the beauty of a tree. It’s beautiful without you. All you can do is water it and prevent its destruction.

Of the many exceptional child pianists, there are those that are happy with their piano lesson experience and those that are not. For every proficient child that really enjoys their gift, there are ten who hate the piano and are resentful for all the hours they were forced to practice. That is a fact.

So the benchmark is a proficient child pianist THAT IS HAPPY WITH PLAYING, not just a proficient child pianist forced to perform without awareness like a trained monkey. Because so many of these proficient children hate the piano, that proficiency is no mark of any distinction in the real world of the piano.

You have to play AND love it.

There’s even a petition a child started on the web, called “Children’s Petition Against Forced Piano Lessons.” I kid you not. You’ll notice my name near the top of the list.

But the wonderful, proficient kids are not our concern today.

What about the 99% of kids that are not proficient, and have problems with piano just like a kid having a problem with math at school?

Since gifted kids practically teach themselves the piano, and we want to provide a piano education for as many children as possible, it follows that we need to nurture the “slowest hikers” most of all.

These are the typical kids, fidgety, impatient, mischievous, the unlikeliest candidates of all. Almost all dulled by television and video games, you will have to work and be patient to awaken their musical abilities.

How do we nurture them?

First of all, you had better throw out the unconscious timetable of events typical of a piano teacher. Such schedules dictate that, for example, a certain hand position must be achieved before much else is started, or the child must first read music perfectly, or that fingering must be enforced from minute one.

Next, you have to use a giant human thermometer and see what the child wants. Are they taking lessons because they are interested themselves? Or have Mom and Dad decreed that piano lessons should start?

You need to approach lesson pacing in terms of what is visibly comfortable to the child. You may want to teach them fingering in one day, and think they are capable of it.

But you would do better to see what they can comfortably digest in one sitting, and hammer that home, creatively repeating the skill until they demonstrate boredom with the concept.

Only then will that skill be available for later use, or be able to be used in combination with another skill.

A child’s confidence is the most positive thing you can promote at the piano. Your efforts will make them feel either good or bad about you and the piano.

Have the wisdom to know when enough is enough, and the cleverness and bravado to present that same idea four minutes later in entirely new clothes.

The secret of the piano lies partly in repetition.

The piano teacher who can creatively disguise repetition will develop the most confident students.

Children need repetition to be confident enough to play, but the repetition must not dull their will to play and lessen their ability to enjoy their own skills.

As soon as possible, have the child learn and memorize any simple piece. It has to be something which delights them and which everyone knows. Jingle Bells, Spider Man, something recognizable.

Star Wars comes to mind, at least for boys. I call a piece like this the CALLING CARD, the piece that a child plays when someone says, “Oh, hey, don’t you play piano?”

The calling card allows the child to demonstrate to the world that they can play a song. It will make the child proud, and sow the seeds for further happy effort.

Any child, using patience and disguised repetition, can learn a piece to show the world.

Most teachers are satisfied with exercise pieces that teach the correct beginning skills.

But the most important skill to learn first at the piano is to WANT to play the piano.

If you don’t learn that first, you’re lost.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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