Friday, September 27, 2013

life lessons learned in piano

Daniel and I often butt heads during his piano practice time. He likes playing the piano well enough, and he loves his teacher, so getting him to practice in the first place isn't the big challenge. We clash whenever I - how to put this delicately - offer suggestions to help the practicing go a little more smoothly.

I am really and truly trying not to interfere. He is good at learning independently, and having Mom breathing down your neck pointing out every little mistake is only going to make the whole thing stressful instead of fun and enriching. I get that. And I want his teacher (who is excellent, and whom I completely trust to work with him on all the things that might give him trouble) to be the authority figure, not me.

But every once in a while, he'll hit a wall with something like scale fingering or playing a rhythm incorrectly for the second week in a row, and when that happens it's impossible for me to keep my mouth shut. It goes the same way every time. "Daniel, I see you're frustrated with this scale. Can I show you a little trick I know?" "Nooooo! Stop it, mom, don't DO THAT!"

In general, this has gotten better (except for the scale fingering - that's a big hurdle when you start adding octaves), and I believe a big reason for this is that Daniel is learning the value of putting real, actual effort into learning a skill. He's a kid who naturally does well in school. He's a good reader, quick with math, and being only in second grade, has yet to encounter a project or subject that is truly difficult for him.

I've had many piano students like this in the past - smart kids who do well in school without having to try exceptionally hard, and then after the first few months of piano lessons, it takes actual work and repetition to learn the assigned pieces, no matter how smart or talented they are. It's kind of a shock to the system for those kids who, for the first time, have to put repeated effort into learning something well, and they often want to give up trying.

That's the danger of telling kids "You're so smart! This is easy for you!" Because then when it's not easy, they don't see the value of putting in the effort to learn. I know I'm not to first person to point this out, but I've known it for a long time.

Anyway, now that Daniel has been taking piano lessons for over a year and has experienced the satisfaction of working hard on pieces that seem difficult, he doesn't get so frustrated when he can't play something perfectly right out of the gate.

I believe this particular life lesson (if I may be so bold), that of granting patience to yourself as you put in quality time and effort into learning a skill or completing a project, is hard to learn. It takes practice. It takes repetition. But the satisfaction and confidence to be gained once the effort pays off in a successful performance or really great science fair project, or what-have-you, is well worth it. And as someone who spent so many years studying the piano and other keyboard instruments, I feel like I've learned it over and over again.

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