What To Expect from Piano


Many parents have a rude awakening some time after beginning conventional piano lessons. It seems that all of a sudden, the child is no longer interested in the piano.

A child unhappy with piano lessons is a sign that something has gone seriously awry. My own experience is that a clever, experienced teacher can find a way to interest any child if they are patient enough.

That’s the truth. There is no magic formula. It’s just good old patience, common sense and child psychology.

Let’s take a look at the usual reasons a child becomes disenchanted with piano lessons.

I find that conventional piano teachers are, on the whole, too strict. To most children nowadays, the piano is an elective after school activity.

Repetition seems fun at first, but grows stale quickly to most kids if not refreshed by the teacher. Both teachers and children tend to be impatient, the teachers for achievement, and the children for free play and a respite from study.

Strangely enough, most conventional kids piano teachers adopt a one-size-fits-all attitude, never really attempting to examine what gentle touch might unlock the child’s musical imagination.

These teachers teach their method, and you either succeed or quit, regardless of who or what age you are. They move aside for no one, moving from one page to the next, teaching more or less how they were taught as children, because they know of no other way.

The general idea of this branch of academe is that all pianists, even four year old would-be hobbyists, are taught as if they were headed for Carnegie Hall.

They are taught the same exercises and teaching pieces, without general reference to the real world of music the child is experiencing on the radio, computer and television.

It’s agreed that you want a musical education for your child, or you wouldn’t be reading this, but what do you really want for your child?

Do you want to expose them to the competitive nature of the piano teaching business, with its conflicting methods and recitals and measurements, or do you want your child to grow up appreciating music and playing it happily as best they can?

Although it’s clear that each child is a completely individual being, the “legitimate” piano teaching business has changed little since the early 1800s and the days of Beethoven’s prize student, Carl Czerny.

Czerny set a standard that is valid in many ways, certainly for some children, but perhaps not for all. Certainly it is relevant for concert pianists.

What the conventional methods do not consider is what the ultimate interest of the child in the piano will be. In other words, only a fool would ask the avearge child to become a professional musician.

A wise man would allow this child to understand music in their own way. Everyone is not Einstein at the piano. They may good be at something else, but conventional piano teachers expect too much achievement and do too little to get it.

And the problems of learning the piano are the same, regardless of the method and the point in history. A human hand has five fingers and we’re going to use them like a basketball team, as an integrated group. An easy concept for an adult to grasp, but how about five year olds?

In view of the difficulties involved in physically pressing the correct piano keys, might it not be appropriate to consider the manner of the teacher in this equation?

It may be acceptable for a piano teacher to drive a proven talent harder than the other children, but does this approach work with kids who have an interest in the piano but perhaps more modest talents? Don’t these kids deserve a shot at learning the piano, even though they are the slowest hikers in the pack?

Common sense tells you to tailor your presentation to this young, general audience, and this audience wants fun and cannot stand repetition until they have a taste of why repetition is necessary.

You have to allow them what I call a honeymoon period, in which the piano is in essence brought to them rather than making them struggle up a mountain for no apparent reward.

The reward must always be present, even if it is only the teacher’s warm, appreciative manner. In the beginning of piano studies, praise and warmth are worth more than any method, and will get you farther.

With this in mind, there are several things that a parent or teacher needs to remember before embarking on teaching a child the piano.

Here is what a child can reasonably expect from a clever, creative and intelligent piano teacher:

First, children are entitled to a piano lesson that is an engaging and enlightening experience. A piano lesson is not a boxing match for the child to win or lose, according to the teacher’s view.

It should be a forum for the child to be allowed to hone whatever humble talents they may have. And the piano teacher’s assigment is to be patient and clever enough to nurture that individual child’s talents on that day, at that hour.

Second, children respond much better if the music they play if familiar to them. Use whatever songs they naturally hear around them, from church to television to computer to school.

Find the tunes they know and use them to teach. This requires much more effort on the teacher’s part, when they may, somewhat lazily, want to go from page to page in a text, which is easier for the teacher.

Use familiar tunes to increase the bond with the instrument. Use the “pretend music” book exercises (such as the Bastien series) ONLY when teaching the later stages of how to read music.

A child knows psychologically when the music has been written for some purpose other than musical enjoyment. Be clever enough to distinguish between real music, which inspires, and teaching pieces, which have a necessary but secondary place. Mix their usage or risk burn-out.

Third, not every lesson will be their best. We all have off days. Use a giant human thermometer to take their emotional temperature and act accordingly on that day alone.

Because they do not do well today does not define who they are at the piano. I’m not saying to let them do anything they want. I’m telling that you can try to herd cats or you can develop a more understanding relationship with your cat, as it were.

Children are hard to predict and harder to force to learn anything. Play piano games or music history games as a first resort, not a last resort. Use any device but make the mood fun, light and informative.

As soon as the lesson becomes a critical arena fraught with negativity and guilt, the child will start to subconsciously hate the piano for causing them pain, such as a teacher’s disapproval.

Fourth, no child wants a lesson that is completely consumed with reading sheet music and complex technical tasks, such as fingering and exercise pieces.

You have to teach these things eventually, but have the good sense to look in the child’s eye, and when enough is enough, pull back and play a game.

In fact, during some intense sight reading game, I always quietly whisper, “And then we’re gonna play a fun game when you’re done!” so they know the reward is coming. There are lots of ways to stimulate musical interest including playing by ear and improvising.

Lastly, children have a natural learning speed limit. Obey that limit or you will run over their enthusiasm, flattening it. Just because some other student learned that piece in two minutes is no reason that another child should be expected to do the same.

Gauge their endurance like a runner. When they sweat and are out of breath, take a break. Reading music exhausts children very quickly, five minutes being the limit for most kids.

You actually want to stop just before they reach their limit, and sweep them on to something else much more fun, and THEN come back to that same difficult music reading spot and try again.

Refresh and exhaust, refresh and exhaust.

Remember every second of the lesson belongs to the child. It’s not your opportunity to expound and prove your method and theories. It’s about them, not you.

A piano lesson is a child’s chance to start speaking the language of music.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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