Today I was happily teaching a family with three children, and we were having a lot of fun. I made certain the kids learned something valuable, no matter how small, and that they had a smile on their faces every possible minute.
I use a very easygoing approach, as many of you know, and this leads to enthusiasm and involvement, which make learning easier and enjoyable.
As I was leaving, the Mom stopped me and said, “I'm amazed that my kids love piano so much. They fight over who gets to play. "
She then told me a story about an eleven-year-old friend of her daughter, who came over for a playdate the previous weekend and then played the piano for the family.
The Mom was amazed, when, after very good piano playing, the girl remarked, “I hate piano. I really hate it. I want to quit but my Mom won't let me. "
This child had been taking lessons from a well-known local disciplinarian, apparently, since she was five.
I find this so sad, and have met many, many kids whose piano teachers have driven them to feel this way.
It's one of the unspoken secrets of the piano teaching business.
These kids have been taught, like mechanical monkeys, to press the piano keys until a recognizable piece of music, preferably impressive for the teacher's sake, comes out of the piano.
The teacher must be very proud. It took only six years to get the child to play one or two or fifty complicated piano pieces, but what was the price?
The price was her love for the piano, which vanished.
Now, in the place of love for the instrument, there is hatred and resentment for the useless (because now she hates it) and boring work she was forced to undergo, apparently without reward.
It is as if the doctor saved your life, but had to cut off your head.
What's the point in doing something if you end up hating it?
If you think the child received some benefit from this struggle, ask an adult who went through the same type of piano lesson experience.
These adults all say, in unison, “No, I hated it, and I never want to play again, but isn't there some way MY child could be taught without making them hate it?" This is what almost all of them say to me when they hire me to begin lessons with their child.
If you read between the lines in all these “quit piano" stories, a different dynamic emerges: the teacher insisted on the victory of their method at the price of the defeat of the child.
A child who takes piano for six years, and can play well but hates it, is defeated. The teacher isn't defeated, because they have your $10,000.
And these types of teachers are proud of their “accomplishment, " grinding out yet another generation of children who “hated piano lessons when I was a kid, " and don't want to play a note when they are adults.
Isn't there a piano teacher out there clever enough to accomplish both? Where are the teachers who can both properly instruct and inspire a child?
Another truth is that the worst piano teachers achieve these “victories" through years of unending browbeating, guilt and impatience, which the children bear because they are good children, obedient, loyal to their parents, hardworking and diligent.
They beg to quit piano lessons all along, but the parent hears the piano being played, and it sounds like music, so they continue. They listen to the teacher, who wants the client and convinces them to stay. Who does the parent listen to, the professional teacher or the eleven year old?
All the while the child is really being taught to hate the very thing the parent is paying for them to learn!
I think this story and the legion of others like it prove the point I have been trying to make:
The piano teacher's job is to make the child love the piano. If you can't accomplish that, you've robbed the child.
The piano teacher's job is to give the child the tools they need to go further on their own, and the one tool they'll need more than any other is love for the instrument.
Anything that defeats the objective of the child loving the piano is wrong and is to be avoided.
When your child says they want to quit the piano, they mean they hate the teacher and their autocratic, boring lectures. They just don't know how to say it when your authority insists they are wrong and must continue.
If you listen to your children soon enough, and can find one of the enjoyable piano teachers, you may still be able to save your child's love for the instrument.
John Aschenbrenner is a leading children's music educator and book publisher, and the author of numerous fun piano method books in the series PIANO BY NUMBER for kids. You can see the PIANO BY NUMBER series of books at http://www.pianoiseasy.com