Parent vs. Teacher

As parents we have the ability to create the groundwork for starting music lessons on a happy note, so to speak. In fact, for most of us music is already at the center of our lives as it is our profession and our passion. However, combining one’s work with one’s family life can be a very tricky business, especially if it means deciding to teach your own child music.

I had the blessing/curse of growing up in a very musical household. Both my parents were amateur musicians and my live-in grandmother was a mean momma on the boogie woogie/gospel piano church circuit. From the start, I was encouraged to explore and play music, even to the point that my mother bought a beat up piano so that my toddler fingers could play and damage it at will.

What first began as an organic teaching environment soon turned into a stifling musical relationship. While my parents moved me onto other teachers as I progressed, my mother could never quite let go of that role. No matter what I was playing on the piano or violin, she could not resist entering the room to give her opinion of how I was playing a particular piece. Even though she had the best of intentions, it finally got to the point that I refused to play any music in the house and would skip classes in high school to go practice at the local university.

So, can we as musicians be an effective teacher to our progeny? Or do too many other factors begin to toxify the situation? I actually have a policy in my studio that I will take a professional musician’s child only if they agree to act as a parent and not as a musician. I know of other teachers that will not take on a child of any colleague, period. But, then again, I do know of a few examples of professional musicians teaching their children very successfully. Then, as I think about those select few, in all of those situations the kids only relate to their parents in the musical arena. In every other aspect of their lives, there is tension and miscommunication, and often I am hearing about it from both ends.

So, should we let our young go? Or, can we find a balance? I think of this a lot as I now am a mother with a three year old. Thanks to the mindfulness of mostly her dad, she sings constantly and loves all music. And, thanks to me, she loves to noodle on the piano and do improvisatory dance as I noodle on the piano. But, I am not going to teach her formally. In fact, I am not even sure if I am going to have her start on piano. She loves the cello. And, I can’t play that at all. Maybe we’ll start there. And, hopefully, I can keep my mouth shut.

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