Monday, July 03, 2006

The Reluctant Pianist

I have a piano student who is a stereotypical American boy. He likes baseball, climbing trees, and running through the house. This kid definitely shows musical talent but has decided that playing the piano is not his cup o' tea.

His mother started butting heads with him about practicing and she came to me with her concerns. Apparently their home had turned into a war zone with yelling, prodding, cajoling, unsuccesful bribery, tears, angst, and constant upheaval. "What do I do?" she asked. I told her I've seen this before. Kids decide to quit practicing. The parent becomes distraught and tries force, forward and reverse psychology, and every logical and illogical argument at their disposal. Nothing happens. Nothing changes.

I told her to let him not practice if that's what he chooses. Piano lessons are an extra-curricular activity for her family. I reminded her that Beethoven's father did not consider piano lessons or playing with mistakes a choice, and he battered and beat poor Ludwig into submission. He also beat a musical genius, but the emphasis is on "beat." I told her to let her son choose to quit if that's what he wants. The real essentials, like school, are not a choice, but this is an extra-curricular activity, correct? She agreed that learning the piano is not mandatory. She just wanted him to learn to play. Well, so do I, especially with his talent. But the chronic nagging and yelling have to end. It doesn't work unless you carry it to the extreme that Beethoven's father did. She quit yelling and nagging. Sure enough, he quit practicing.

His last piano lesson didn't go so well. He isn't making progress because he isn't practicing. If a student doesn't practice, I won't teach them. I may have talked my way out of a client, but I think there should be peace in the home and I don't want to be a part of some kid's torturous ordeal.

I have had piano students who never needed to be forced to practice, and they learned everything I could teach them and were passed on to better teachers. Two of them are now playing Chopin better than I ever could. That's a teacher's goal, for the student to surpass the teacher's skill level. Kids can become better than you at something, but they'll hate you if you force them to achieve. Beethoven taught piano lessons, and the record shows he didn't rap a single knuckle. And neither will I.

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