The Biggest Mistake In Kid's Piano
The biggest mistake in kid's piano is committed all the time, almost always by the parents. Never change course if the child is wildly enjoying lessons. I had a super-talented nine-year old boy as a student. This child can play any pop song, or any song for that matter but he prefers pop, by ear, by eye, practically instantly. He had a teacher before me, but the child wouldn't read music for that teacher, and didn't want to do so with me. He hated reading music. If I brought out a page of notes, he shrank under the piano bench as if I had pulled out a dental drill.
Some Kids Listen Better Than Others
The first thing I noticed about the child was that he had a fabulous ear. If I played a chord progression to a pop song in a certain rhythm, he could figure it out and repeat it exactly within several seconds. He utterly loved the science of chords and playing the piano in a physical sense. He had the "idea" of it perfectly. All we had to do was continue refining his skills as he grew up.
A Natural Performer And Artist
When I discovered his remarkable ear, I temporarily abandoned reading music, and put the child to playing by number. He flourished, suddenly learning three or four songs at a lesson. After a few months he would let me have him read a few notes each lesson, which he did perfectly as well, but grudgingly and reluctantly. He hated wasting time reading music that could be spent learning songs. According to his mother, much of his self-esteem was based on playing songs for people and amazing them. He was a born performer and musical artist.
Reaping The Rewards Of Musical Skill
After a year he knew just about every classic pop song you can name, all perfectly played in the correct pop style and rhythm. His parents were ecstatic. Everyone who heard him said, "My, this kid has been well taught." Not a shred of nervousness playing for crowds, a complete natural pianist. This child was a star in the making.
Dad Makes The Mistake
Suddenly Dad, a very proud and haughty man, an arbitrage lawyer accustomed to destroying companies on a daily basis, decides that his son is so talented that he should attend the local conservatory. We live in Westchester County, New York, 30 miles from Manhattan. There is no end to the number of outstanding conventional music schools and teachers here. I don't mind personally. It's his child, and he does need to learn to read music, which is all he will get at the conservatory for the foreseeable future. But is he ready? Is he ready to trade what has been a wonderful, low-pressure hobby for him, for a high-pressure competitive environment where he is expected to match wits with every talented piano kid from here to Mongolia?
Compete Or Create?
My estimate was that he was only nine, so leave him alone developing by himself. There's time enough for conservatories later. He loves sports equally, so should we put him in a special sports camp as well, up at 4 AM to exercise and then a quick football game before practicing tackling for two hours? The point is that the desire to enter the formal challenge of competitive musical education was made by his father, not by him in any way. Of course he'll do it, he's a great child and will do whatever Dad says. But is it what he wants? Right now, he wants to play the piano every second. He is discovering something new at every turn, developing his own way of doing things and feeling perfectly comfortable at the keyboard, in command and having fun.
Be Careful What You Ask For
"Do you really want to trade that enthusiasm for the unknown of the conservatory?" I asked the father again, but he was adamant. So David (not his name) went to one of the finest local conservatories.
The Kid Quits
I heard nothing for a year until I ran into the Mom in the supermarket. She told me David had almost quit the piano. "He doesn't like it. They play all classical and he wants to play rock and roll, too, but they hate pop music. I don't know what to do." I hated the idea of this kid not playing piano at all. "He should keep playing what he wants. Can't he play what he wants at home?" "Well," says Mom, "He has to play scales and things and then practice for an hour, so there's really no time with sports, too." I remembered all those excited lessons where he eagerly asked me for another song, exploring singers and bands much like in the movie School of Rock. Another victim on the way to Carnegie Hall. So passes childhood. The biggest mistake you can make is to interfere when all is going well. It is enough to have a child who wants to play the piano and does play and enjoy it. Making it into an accomplishment is a parent's problem. Often, the parents foolishly impose this problem on the child.