I love my daughter’s piano teacher. I think she is a genius. Her manner with children is firm but encouraging and her patience is extreme. Her method of teaching blows me away. She simultaneously teaches her students to read music, to understand music theory and to improvise. Every lesson starts with student and teacher sitting together playing and ends with them playing the blues together. She gives her pupil guidelines that fit where they are in their understanding and then she accompanies them. It always miraculously sounds like music to me from the next room.
On day one of lessons she taught them to play what she calls, “Japanese Garden.” The student plays only black keys of the piano while the teacher plays chords under them. It is beautiful. The child feels competent. On day one. Brilliant.
I made my oldest beg for a year before I let her take piano lessons. When she started coming home from school and picking out tunes she was singing in music class, I began to look for a teacher. She needed cajoling for the first couple of years in order to practice, but by year three, she could not walk past the piano without tickling the keys with her increasingly adept fingers. When my son entered kindergarten, I knew that he would be accompanying us to piano lessons whether or not he was taking them. The teacher was offering mini 15 minute lessons for younger kids. I asked William if he was interested and he said, “sure.” So we signed him up. He is a homebody and every week would beg to stay home and play with his legos instead of driving the 3o minutes to piano. But even if I stopped giving him lessons, he still had to make the drive with us. So he decided to keep taking the lessons.
I realized at some point last year that I could not expect him to practice by himself. A 6 year old is not capable of that. Well, this 6 year old was not capable of that. So I made a commitment to sit with him for practice, to approach it as playing with him rather than practicing. That is all he needed in year one anyway: to feel comfortable at the piano; to have fun. Nerissa told me that she learned the answer to the question: “Do you know why we practice?” is “To make it easier.” But I also think it is: “To make it fun.”
This year, I have clearly gone off the deep end. I once again gave William the option to stop playing piano. He once again said he wanted to continue. And so, now I bribe him. For every minute he practices piano, he can play on the iPad or the neighbor’s xbox for a minute. It makes him sit at the piano longer. And the longer he sits there, the more fun it becomes and the more fun it becomes, the more he wants to do it. Last week, he was practicing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy- the 6 fingered, 3 from each hand, version. His sister galloped off to get her violin and they proceeded to play a duet. William felt so proud, so competent. He now plays Ode to Joy all the time. It is still a struggle to get him to practice new things, but the fact that he has found FUN in playing music competently means we are on the right track. That’s what playing music is ultimately all about.