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Mouse Notes by Lauren

Sometimes we hear parents say that they don’t mind if their child does not progress much in piano. They just want her to be exposed to music and have fun.

Those are worthy goals. Nowadays, with school districts cutting back or watering down music programs and with a large number of children being home schooled, parents see a real need for a good fundamental music education program for their children so they will learn to enjoy music.

When my own children took piano, if pressed, I would have to agree that I wanted my children to be exposed to music and to have fun.

So what is the hidden negative of that train of thought?

 It is pretty obvious to piano teachers. With that attitude, parents often do not find the time in the day for a quality practice session, no matter how short that session may be. Because practice sometimes is not fun, and if getting the child to the piano is not fun, then piano is not fun, so no practice occurs. Then the child goes to the lesson unprepared and the lesson is painful, embarrassing, and definitely not fun.

The child usually starts off loving piano. From the child’s point of view, beginning lessons ARE  fun. The pieces are easy, there are games, fun improvisation activities, composing, incentive programs, and a loving adult, the piano teacher, who devotes an entire 30 to 45 minutes to you and you alone. What else can a child do with such potential rewards?

This lasts about a month and then reality sets in. There are things to remember, pesky things that the teacher keeps asking.

What are whole notes, what is the different in a whole rest and a half rest, how do I remember the names off all those notes, they all look the same to me. Why do I keep playing finger 2 for 4? Why is the thumb a finger? Do other kids learn all these words? Why can’t I? I must be dumb. Why does the teacher keep asking me to count out load while I play? That is so embarrassing. She wants me to play and sing. I CAN’T do that. I would if I could. It’s hard and I can’t do it, yet she keeps making me. I’m frustrated. This is NOT fun. Why did I think piano would be fun. Mom said it would be fun.

The child has a great ability to put piano out of their mind for a week. Then lesson day comes and the child suddenly realizes how uncomfortable she is going to be, sitting there not being able to play anything and making all kinds of terrible mistakes.

“This is worse than I thought”, the child thinks.

Yet, week after week the same uncomfortable thing occurs because the child is not old enough to have the emotional intelligence to plan ahead for the lesson. If the child would spend a short time a day at the piano, he would gradually learn to do all the hard things. But once he gets behind, just like in Math class, every difficult thing is compounded and soon the child can’t do anything. At least in the child’s mind he can’t do anything. And the teacher keeps turning the page and the pieces keep getting harder and harder. Or else, the page never gets turned and the child is on the same piece for 6 weeks.

“I hate this song“, the child thinks.

And Mom is too busy working, car pooling, taking children to activities, doing homework, and all the other things in life, that piano practice does not happen. Besides, who wants their child to sit at the piano and fuss and cry?

Then lesson day occurs and the child gets THE LECTURE from the teacher to practice, and THE LECTURE from Mom in the car. (I’ve given a few car lectures in my day and I’m not proud of that.)

“This is not fun, this is not fun“,  the child keeps thinking.

 “I want to quit.”

 To be continued.

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4 thoughts to “Can a child take piano just for fun…and really learn to read music?

  • Mike Saville

    Carol, I do agree in large part with what you say. I would add that practice can be more fun if methods are used to make it more fun. Simply giving the child a list of pieces and saying ‘go practice’ is not enough and lazy. As teachers we must supply and teach engaging ways to practice.

  • Carol

    Great post! This has got to be one of my biggest frustrations as a teacher. “I just want them to have fun!” the parents say. Somehow, our society has bought into this idea that everything must be fun, and if it’s not always fun, than it’s not worth pursuing. You’re right – there is a negative thought pattern here. Instead of nurturing our children, it’s setting them up for disappointments later. I do not believe that every minute of every lesson can nor should be fun. To expect a student of any discipline (whether it be musical or not) to always have fun while learning is simply not reality. Learning is a combination of fun AND hard work/discipline. The goal is to teach our students to see the bigger picture – sometimes the reward is not immediate, but sometimes they must struggle through a painful practice session (or many) to reap the reward of playing a piece successfully. Now it’s fun! The problem is young children don’t have this foresight – but their parents should! Our lessons must be a balance of fun and discipline to be successful. I love your site by the way! I’ve used so many of your games and ideas with my students – thanks!

  • Gayle Jurcik

    Susan: This is why the games which you have created are so important. In order to play a game, the basics must be learned. Once the basics are learned, practice becomes easier.

    As teachers, we have to create achievable goals tailored to each student. Otherwise student AND teacher become discouraged.

  • Mike Saville

    Exactly. What you say is so true. Where is the fun? Practice could and should be fun. Trouble is it only get’s talked about when it hasn’t been done. If teachers actively discuss practice at every lesson and teach students fun ways to do it. I’m sure many of these issues will go away.

    Thanks for the post – looking forward to the next part!


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