piano lessons

ETA: Boy, have I enjoyed reading the comments on this post, especially Animal's description of his first piano lesson! I'm not really so opposed to getting Daniel a ukelele before he's ready to be serious about playing it. But the principal of just going out and buying a toy or thing to play with as soon as a kid asks just goes against my better judgement. We have a piano, a fine little upright, and we have several percussion instruments (rhythm sticks, shakers, a little drum), and we have my grown-up sized guitar, so just for playing around and experimenting, Daniel's got a lot to work with. His birthday's in a few weeks, so if I'm still hearing that he wants a little guitar (in other words, if this isn't just a quickly passing phase) I'll certainly consider it. As for the Suzuki suggestions...well, I've got my own pedagogical concerns about that method of learning, which I'm not going to go into here. I will simply say that I'm glad of people who have success with Suzuki, and I'm not dissing on it all together. But it's not for me.

I have been teaching piano lessons since I was a sophomore in college, when I took my first semester of Piano Pedagogy. That was over a decade ago; in fact, when I was recently in Kansas to perform a 4-hand recital with my college professor there, one of the piano students I worked with was my very first piano student, all grown up! She was five when I started her as a beginner, and now she's a freshman in college. How time flies.

When I moved to Madison in 2000, it was for graduate school. At that time, I was very serious about pedagogy and I spent two years getting Masters of Music in Piano Performance and Pedagogy (kind of a mouthful). After I finished that first degree, I decided that Collaborative Piano was more my speed, so I switched specialties, but I've always had piano students, sometimes as many as a dozen, sometimes just a few. Now I have three, and they've been my students for a long time, since before Daniel was born.

There are definitely some things I could do better as a teacher. I could be more organized. I could definitely be more strict about practice regimens, though my students are in middle and high school, so I'm competing with soccer and tennis and baseball and swimming and homework. And Glee (don't ask). I'd like to be more motivating. I could be more methodical about technique. For all my shortcomings, though, I have pretty good instincts and I always insist on musicality.

One of those instincts says that it is NOT a good idea for children to take music lessons of any kind with their parents. Today, I kind of broke that rule and bought a couple of piano books for Daniel. You see, lately, he's been asking about playing guitar. I have a guitar, though I don't really know how to play it (yet - I will learn someday) and he likes to get it out and "play" it. I made the mistake once of mentioning that ukeleles are just like little guitars, and he responded "Okay. Let's go get one." Nooooo, I replied. You have to read music before you can have a guitar, and the best way to learn to read music is playing the piano. "But I already know how to play the piano," he insisted. Nooooo, I replied. You can make noise on a piano, but you don't know how to play it. This argument went on for some time until I finally said we could get him a piano book for him to learn from, and that's what we did this morning.

We went to the only store left in town that sells print music and I looked through the early beginner method books while the kids wrestled and argued over who got to stand on the step stool. After threatening at least 3 times that if they didn't quiet down and stop fighting we'd leave with nothing, I finally found a decent method (Piano Adventures wins every time, but gosh I could do with a change...though the early beginner books are new to me), so we paid and got out of there as quickly as we could.

Our first "lesson" went just about as I expected. Mostly, Daniel wanted to play with the CD that came with the book, but finally sat down, then immediately got upset when Anya wanted to participate. He stomped off in a huff when I let her have a turn with an improv exercise, then came back when it sounded too fun not to try. Ten minutes or so into our time at the piano (I'd rather not actually call it a lesson since I'm not going to be his teacher) he got wiggly and impatient, so we called it quits until next time.

Boy, this is hard. If he's interested, I want him to pursue that interest. I know I can never really be Daniel's piano teacher - not without disastrous results, anyway - but he's not quite old enough for proper lessons, so for now this is what we're doing. I'm sure there will be plenty of arguments (I never wanted to learn anything from my mom, either), but hopefully he'll learn a few fundamentals before he's ready for the real thing.


katie said…
Suzuki guitar would be a good option for him. Greta's teacher starts with 4 year olds.
Claire said…
I know this kind of opens a can of worms with opinions in teaching/learning styles, but do you think Daniel would enjoy Suzuki piano lessons? I remember my experience (at age 5) being very engaging and positive. I also feel like I was able to learn a lot of songs quickly, because I didn't have to mess around with learning to read music. That totally kept me motivated.

I'm hoping to get Ben into that maybe this winter/spring. And, I think Sue Ellen teaches it, right?
Animal said…
My first piano lesson, with MY mom, went something like this:

Mom: Son, this is middle C.
Scott: No, it isn't!
Mom: Um…yes, it IS.
Scott: No, it ISN'T!
Mom: Time to get you a piano teacher.

On the other end, re: needing to read music before getting a guitar (or whatever), we've showered Roz with lots of musical gifts. She got a uke last Christmas, and she loves it. She strums and makes up songs…actually pretty cool! She also got a harmonica as a stocking stuffer, and she likes that too. There's the piano where she experiments, and a couple of recorders & a kazoo lying around, as well as mountains of my drum stuff. She just plays, and has a great time.

Don't discount the fact that lots of professional musicians - people who were/are in fact TREMENDOUS musicians - never could read. Louis Armstrong comes immediately to mind, as does Frank Sinatra. And I remember watching an episode of G.S. Family Jewels, where Sophie is playing the guitar on the couch and Gene comes walking in from behind her, opining "Hey, I really liked that movement there to the F minor chord, that was really unexpected." HUH?!? For a guy who, by his own admission CANNOT read music, how the hell did he know what the chord was by EAR alone? And, how does he know what "F minor" means, anyway?? Clearly, he knows tons about music, no matter what he does with his bass.

I always stress to my students in jazz history that there can be a rather snobbish attitude among the "musical elite" about reading music, and I encourage them to remember that sometimes, learning by ear is equally effective. Either way, it should be fun, right?

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