How To Get To Carnegie Hall
The old adage says if you’re trying to get to Carnegie Hall, practice, practice, practice. But what if you’re not trying to get to Carnegie Hall? What if you’re six years old and you don’t know where or what Carnegie Hall is?
Most kids are thrown into piano lessons more or less voluntarily, with the expectation that it will be fun. They’ve seen pianists play, or heard them, and it looks enjoyable to thump out a tune on that big box. What could possibly make a person endure all that practicing?
They want to get to Carnegie Hall, that’s why. But, to get to Carnegie Hall, you must first want to get there. So before you start all that practicing, you will need to want to practice.
Give Them A Reason To Practice
The mistake most piano teachers make is to expect children to practice without giving them a reason. Telling a child that you will be angry or disappointed is not a reason, it’s a threat. The reason a child starts piano is found in the first moment the child looked at a pianist and decided to try it.
What the child saw is that it looked fun to thump out a tune, and so that is what you must give them. Let them thump out that fun tune they like. Until you establish the fact that thumping out tunes on the piano is fun, you haven’t a chance of succeeding with most kids today. Forget how to get to Carnegie Hall. Get them in front of the piano and make it fun.
Kids Follow Fun
The good news is that as soon as you establish fun as the guiding principle, the child will follow you like a dog, unable to get enough fun from the piano, always seeking more. I hate to tell you, but that hypothetical child now wants to practice, except, in his mind, it's not work but play.
This is why parents of my students never have to tell their children to practice. Here’s an example. Yesterday I taught a bright eight year old his fourth piano lesson. Each lesson after the first, his Mom remarked, “He’s in there all the time practicing. How do you do it?”
Play And Practice Are The Same
To be honest, what he is doing is not practicing in the conventional sense. Practicing, in the classic sense, is sitting at the piano for half an hour with the clock ticking, repeating the “music” numbly.
I gave this boy the music he wanted. A Beatles tune, a Rolling Stones song, Fur Elise by Beethoven, and Billy Joel’s Piano Man. He chose the songs. I arranged them so he could easily negotiate the song. He used simple chords for the left hand when appropriate.
Turn The Piano Into A Toy
The piano is now a toy to this child. As long as I feed his hunger for more songs, he will play all day, eager to figure out how to play faster, with fewer mistakes. He plays with fingering, mostly good, sometimes childish. You have to trade off between teaching him something he will eventually need to know, and teaching him what he wants to know now. What he wants to know will be absorbed like a paper towel. You won’t have to nag or ask him to play.
Yes, there is hard work in store in the future for this boy. All of musical theory and technique are in front of him, a long road to travel and he hasn’t even stepped on it. But he has now the one thing he will need to succeed. He will need a love of the instrument and a desire to make it work for himself.