I received a disheartening email from a close friend about his daughter’s frustration with trying to learn how to play the piano. She started taking lessons at the age of six; she initially loved it and quickly excelled at it. But soon she became bored by the corny music in the lesson books, finding it intellectually insulting even when it might get tricky for the fingers. The teacher started trying to guilt trip her, calling her a “lazy little girl” when she didn’t practice.
They ultimately stopped the lessons and are looking for a teacher who might inspire and reestablish a positive relationship with music. Now, however, the daughter thinks that piano study is Victorian and dull, and is more into other things. Her father is accepting of this but still wonders about how to find the right study situation for a musically gifted child. So, how do we go about fostering a positive relationship?
Luckily the father saw that continuing music in his child’s life meant not working with this particular piano teacher. However, it happened after the girl’s experiences had already led her to conclude that playing the piano was not fun, but dull, old fashioned, and not for her. He is now faced with the task of trying to find a way for his child to come back to music and view it in a positive light. How do we undo negative experiences with teachers so that children can still be receptive and willing to try again?
First, I would give the child a small break from lessons. While doing this, I would talk to the child and explain that I understand why she would not want to take piano lessons from a teacher who would not listen to her, would give her music she did not like, and would call her names. Tell her that what the teacher did is not what most teachers do (I hope!) and that you would like for her to try a different teacher to see if that makes a difference in how she perceives the piano. By doing this, it helps the child regain a sense of ownership in the process of learning music. They need to feel that this is their activity and that they have a say in it.
In the case of my friend, because his daughter has been deemed a “chosen one,” there is the added stress of the child being told she is talented and she cannot waste her gift. So that this does not taint the beginning of her new relationship with a new teacher, I would also stress to the girl that yes, she is great at music, but what matters most is that she likes music. It is okay to be good at something and not want to do it. This will take a lot of pressure off her and off the father, as well as the new teacher.
There are other thoughts I have on how to pick the right teacher, and I will focus on that in next week’s rant. As for the old piano teacher: as terrible as she sounds, there could be worse. This week CNN listed the top ten professions of child molesters. Guess what was listed as number six?