The convo I'd like to have with parents about Piano Lessons...

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I’ve been teaching professionally since 2010. I’ve taught group classes, private lessons, outreach programs, and college courses. My students have ranged from ages 5 to 80. With now almost 10 years (OMG) of teaching, I’ve accumulated several observations, goals, and insights that I’d like to share with you (especially, you parents).

Because fall is right around the corner, (and I for one still have a nice sun tan on my brain) I’m going to list 5 points about why I recommend piano lessons. Most of my points can apply to other instruments, but this list will center around the piano. Acquiring musical skill is important, but seriously, the instrument alone merits plenty of excitement!

5. Let’s get the “fun” issue out of the way.

First, let me acknowledge why this is such an issue. I’ve heard you. You hated band. You despised piano lessons. You cried for a year learning the guitar. So now there’s NO chance you are going to make the same mistake with your children as your parents did with you by ignoring how you felt.

While I can appreciate the sentiment and the desire to improve, I’m always a little disappointed that the conversation (with yourself about the resentment for musical instruction you had when you were between the ages of 5 and 18) hasn’t really evolved. You were forced to enter essay contests, participate in the science fair, write fictional stories, and perhaps play sports, yet you weren’t traumatized by the experience nor upset with having participated. Even though you did not want to become a journalist, scientist, author, or an athlete, you have been able to embrace the adult versions of these activities: you read the news, care about the environment, read books, and have a favorite sports team.

Learning an instrument is fun, frustrating, off-putting, challenging, rewarding, stressful, and engaging. Your child will be motivated, frustrated, excited, sad, upset, angry, obsessed, and probably most of the time, nonchalant about it. Hopefully the following points will help create a new perspective in navigating these array of feelings. But first things first, I wanted to retire this misconception and unrealistic expectation.

4. Technology and Music

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For many of us, the transition from cassettes—CD’s—Napster—Itunes—back to vinyl—Apple Music/Spotify/Pandora/YouTubeMusic has been somewhat fluid. As the technology changed, we as the consumer supplemented the intermediary steps: making mixed tapes/cd’s, listening to the radio, keeping CD’s for the car even though we mostly transitioned to an Ipod, etc. I think it’s important to spell out this timeline simply to remember all of the steps that have lead to our current status. What technology ultimately has changed for us is ownership and time. While I find my Apple Music subscription a godsend, I already know what to look for, what I’m interested in, and how to efficiently discover more. Our generation’s filter was developed over years of seeking out music, simply to have access and to hear it.

More importantly, we’ve listened intently to a lot of music that we didn’t like. Simply from the car radio, we were well versed in the musical preferences of our parents, grandparents, and siblings. We can rely on a general knowledge of music and styles ranging at least over the past 100 years, if not more.

Your kid will have to work for that knowledge. We did not. It just was the time and the way it was. Just remember, it’s different now and you might have to provide the structure, time, and limitation.

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3. Acoustic Powerhouse

No. 3 is all about the piano. Probably one of the most democratic instruments…ever. The piano is a beacon of luxury as well as the catchall for shortcuts and makeshift arrangements. Repertoire for the piano is incredibly vast, diverse, simple, complex, easy, difficult, and everything in-between. The history and technology of the piano is the result of tedious concentration, industrial innovation, and the accomplishments of probably the most persnickety people that have ever lived.

The experience of playing the piano cannot be imitated. Sure, electronic pianos and the like are smaller, less expensive, and more convenient. So are drum pads. But I doubt you have tried to convince a drummer that it’s the “same” as a drum kit.

If the scale or cost of a piano is intimidating, think about this:

  • Think longterm. Most of today’s dealers (Steinway & Sons, Yamaha, Kawaii, etc) have programs that can help you start small and grow.

  • It is one of the few handcrafted (or hand+machine crafted) items that are widely available. They’re beautiful and elevate any room they live in.

  • Before you go looking to steal your grandmother’s spinet, remember: a piano requires maintenance and care…just like everything else you own. Your car, refrigerator, or oak dining room table wouldn’t be amazing sitting for 60 years without care, use, or attention. Don’t be shocked that a piano isn’t either.

  • Consider the piano to be the most glorious distraction from ‘screen time’. Add musical family time to the renaissance along with bike rides, playing in the dirt, coloring and drawing, and cooking.

2. Tangible Access

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Let’s address the pink elephant in the room: you maybe don’t like classical music. You have attended stuffy concerts, felt bored at 2+hr programs, and didn’t appreciate the room staring at you for making a clapping faux pax. You might feel uncomfortable with the subject because you wish you knew more about it, but alas, it’s not a priority. You acknowledge its importance but probably inadvertently contribute to the notion that it’s elitist and not for everyday enjoyment.

The generic term “classical music” is a broad label to describe a genre that spans almost 350 years. If you go to the symphony, see a chamber concert, or hear a soloist, you most likely will hear a program of works that showcase different periods throughout the 350 years. Yea, it’s pretty cool. It’s like hearing a sonic timeline that connects you to the past and present.

So what’s step 1 in diving in? You could go get a music degree, read Norton’s Anthology of Classical Music, and self-medicate with Bach-themed concerts… 😒😒😒😒😒

OR, you could approach it the way you’ve approached all other music. Start with one recording and let your discovery spider web from there.

I hope for your kids, they listen with you and take piano lessons. I encourage this type of timeline equation:

[learning an instrument + time = enjoying classical music]

I don’t really advocate this one:

[learning an instrument + time = requirement to be a professional musician]

or this one:

[learning an instrument + time = death to passion by discipline]

If you keep the right frame of mind, it fits so many more personalities, situations, and timeframes AND helps to educate and instill a huge piece of our history and humanity.

1. Future Season Subscriber

I’ll make this pretty plain and simple. Put music (or the arts at large) back in the running with everything you are doing to make sure your kid cares about the environment, their health, their creativity, and their education. The payoffs from your kid learning an instrument are immediate, like: self expression, problem solving, discipline, coordination, and multi-tasking. But let’s talk about the payoffs of the type of adult it creates: cultured, curious, empathetic, patron, and an active member within their arts community. Right? Right!

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Oh, and what year do I think they should start?

Anytime after 6yrs old.