With my Mum hat on, I went to a talk about piano learning and practice last Sunday; the first thing the teacher asked us was, "Why did you sign your child up for piano lessons?" There was an awkward shuffle whilst parents in the room gathered their thoughts about a question that they had possibly not ever considered, even if their child was years into their piano-learning journey. Eventually there were some mentions of music being a joy and a gift that they wanted to give their child. Some may have also been thinking about the known benefits of learning an instrument with regards to improving academic achievement.
What was I thinking? Many things actually: I am a music teacher so it was a given!; I believe in the power and beauty of music to enrich lives; I believe in the power of music to teach discipline, perseverance, determination and self-motivation; I believe all human beings are meant to have music in their lives and to be able to create it ourselves (as well as listen to it) is surely good for our souls; but most of all I was thinking about emotional wellbeing, and the importance of having a passion that can help you to maintain a healthy emotional wellbeing. Music enabled me to keep my head in my teenage years (whilst many around me lost theirs!), and I turned to it on a daily basis: it enabled me to remain calm, adjusted, happy and focused. Now we are more concerned than ever about our children's emotional well-being as we endeavour to keep them away from screens, the internet, the news and the general pressure pot of today's society.
Do you know what I wasn't thinking? I didn't start my daughter on piano lessons so that she could become a professional musician. I wasn't thinking that because that is not why I started piano lessons with her. Yes I have carved out a career in music myself, and she may well do too one day, but that was not my aim in starting lessons.
So next I got to thinking about a common topic of conversation that I have with parents all the time. That they had piano lessons when they were younger and hated them. They loved the piano, but they hated their lessons/their teacher/practicing/grade exams etc. All the things that we believe have to happen in order to learn the piano - this intensive one-to-one learning environment, the pressure of practicing things like scales and pieces that you have little interest in hearing let alone playing, the grade exams - they are very traditional, and what we as parents sometimes seek, as that was the norm for us, so that must just be how piano is taught and learnt. Well just as schools no longer have a dower-faced teacher standing at the front of the class with a blackboard and chalk, piano lessons can now be far more child-centred, focused on the love of the piano and music, learning through creativity and expressiveness, if you find the right teacher/set-up.
It was such an interesting talk and one that encouraged us all to remember, when we are nagging our children about practicing, getting frustrated when they are not playing how or what they are meant to be playing, or generally projecting our own negative relationship with often failed piano learning onto our children; we are doing this because we want them to experience joy, love and beauty. Not so that they can be the next Lang-Lang or achieve a Grade 8 Distinction as soon as possible! As a music teacher, I just love to see all the sparkly eyes looking up at me when they hear live music, whether it be piano or singing (or occasionally I will take in my flute!). You can see through their eyes how good music is for their souls.
I think this lesson applies to many other areas of their lives as well (my son plays a lot of tennis - do we take him to his lessons in the hope that he will be the next Andy Murray? No, we take him because we are helping and supporting him to nurture his passion) and the best thing we can do for our children is to remember that the most valuable lesson we can teach them is to take joy and be proud of what they are achieving, to love their progress (no matter what the speed of it) and to be motivated to self-improve - and no amount of our nagging or perhaps unrealistic expectations are going to help them to learn these lessons.
If you are interested in finding out more about our piano lessons, where children learn in a social, inspiring and motivating environment, book a three-week trial through the booking page. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you love what we do but we don't do it near enough to you!