Strict Piano Lessons Don't Work For Kids
Strict piano lessons don't work for kids. I see proof of this each day. A child may follow a strict instructor, but they neither like it nor profit from it. For example, I taught an eight year old girl at a piano lesson today. She'd had two years of lessons, which her mother said she hated. As she put it, she didn't hate the piano, just her overly strict piano teacher.
This is a bubbly, bright little girl, a pleasure to spend half an hour with. As I always do when a child has had previous lessons, I tried to see how well she could read music. I put a simple piece on the music stand, a Bastien book, and asked her to play the first piece. It was just five keys up, five keys down, a very simple proposition. She couldn't find Middle C. She couldn't read a note of music.
I was my usual solicitous self so that she wouldn't be scared. My manner was neither angry nor surprised. I have run into this situation in every house where the child has "had lessons" of the conventional sort. They cannot sight read, really read the language of music when they are presented with an unfamiliar piece of music.
Teach Skills, Not Pages
It was clear that she had gotten through a year and a half of lessons simply by memorizing the material, a sure sign of high intelligence and a surer sign that the previous piano teacher had taught her nothing. So much for the value of "strict" piano teaching. Such teachers have their "method," and nothing else matters. They don't consider the child or their feelings about the piano, not their parents.
It does not occur to these teachers that the parents are paying a lot of money to have their child hate the piano. All that matters is the teacher's piano method and the child is forgotten. In such a studio, the atmosphere is "teacher-centric" rather than based on what the child can actually do comfortably.
In this upside-down universe, the child isn't there to learn piano, they are there to please the master.
Try A Song With Numbers
Show The Child You Are On Their Side
My solution? I quickly numbered the keys and put a little library bell at the right end of the piano. I said. "Let's play songs. What songs do you like?" She liked Twinkle, Twinkle, and five minutes later had happily mastered it with her instinctive right index finger. "Let's do another," I said jauntily.
We did song after song, and after every song I played a little "victory" music and whooshed up the piano in a glissando, whereupon she rang the bell with great enthusiasm and glee. She had a dozen songs written out. She called her Mom and played them all for her.
Pedants Hate Fun
She hugged her Mom and said, "Fun, fun, fun!" Her former piano teacher was, of course, probably turning over in his grave. I know what his reaction will be: "What? No fingering? She isn't reading notes? What about rhythm? No theory exercises? This is an abomination. She'll never learn properly." I agree in some ways. Fingering, reading notes, rhythm and theory are all important parts of learning the piano. The single element that his "strict" piano method left out was the most important to her. Fun.
Fun Is The Most Important Element
His lessons had no fun, whereas mine consisted of cleverly constructed fun that made her interested. I can teach all the above, fingering, reading, rhythm and theory, to a smiling, happy, motivated child. The failure of the strict teacher was that all his discipline failed to interest the child in doing further work. And the parents paid thousands of dollars for this "accomplishment."
A Warm Atmosphere Produces Results
All the important concepts of beginning piano can be easily learned by any child if the atmosphere is warm. The work must be presented on the child's level. This child is proof, to me, that the old, "strict" piano methods do not work at all, and in fact do the opposite, making kids hate the piano experience. The child and her parents were literally robbed by this inflexible tyrant. Now they have a chance to take it all back, and more. Fun is the quickest way into a child's mind.