Saturday, February 23, 2013

Piano Lesson Progress (or lack thereof)

Piano Lesson Progress (or lack thereof)

I have a bit of an admission to make.

Hunter, who will be eight next month, still doesn't really know how to play the piano. Pretty much not at all.

It has little to do with his skill or ability and everything to do with my pitiful lack of commitment or consistency.

It kind of hit me hard when, looking through my beginner's piano book (that I used as a child) I realized that I was the exact age Hunter is now - a month short of eight - when I finished that book.

Kind of sad when I have theoretically been "teaching" Hunter since age two and he is still not even a quarter of the way through it.

Piano Lesson Progress (or lack thereof)

I guess my problem has been that music is generally the last thing on my list of things to do in the day.

It is, supposedly, our "last" thing to do, sort of an "after school" activity, and the truth of the matter is that by the end of the day I am usually just, well, done.

Even though I know how important music is to brain development and academic learning, and what a wonderful skill it is to have, I only have so much energy in a day.

And when I consistently prioritize music as "last" and "after everything else is done" (which usually even all of that doesn't get done) it is just simply not going to happen.

Piano Lesson Progress (or lack thereof)

So, I am certainly not content with this. And instead of just convincing myself that I will "try harder," I have instead decided that it is less about trying and more about changing the way I have been doing things entirely.

The whole concept of waiting until the end of the day to do something of the nature of piano lessons was a bit absurd in the first place.

I mean, sure, in a perfect world, by late afternoon I would still be bursting with energy and enthusiasm.

But in reality, by the late afternoon I am tired. Mentally and physically. And sometimes even a bit short on patience. And the house is in need of some tidying and dinner in need of cooking.

So the new plan is to actually start each day with our music lessons. Immediately after breakfast.

It really only takes but 10-20 minutes and it is so silly that is doesn't get done every day. But timing is everything and I am firmly confident that by a simple timing switch (and "priority" upgrade) we will be able to see real and genuine progress.

The program we have is Alfred's Basic Piano library. I have a great many books in the first few levels of the program and going through them will get him to be able to play the piano and play it well.

I am also planning on creating some flash card videos to help accelerate his note reading recognition, pitch, key finding and grasp of the basics of music theory. Will certainly share them on this blog when I am finished.

"...and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever..." 2 Chronicles 5:13

Hunter is currently 7 years, 11 months old


  1. 2013/02/26 at 9:48 am

    Good luck! Music is very important and some kids do it best early in the day. I know in college I would always do my music theory homework first thing in the afternoon (4:00) and leave other homework (studying, writing, reading) for when i was more tired. I needed my whole brain for the music.

    8 is not too late to start and do well!

  2. 2013/03/09 at 8:46 pm

    So funny you posted this! I have been teaching my daughter how to play since she was 4, she is 5 now and still not finished with her first book. I would love to see the cards that you come up with. I agree, it is about consistency, but i also think it is How we teach that is important. I find the books that they make young children, very distracting with those silly pictures, and with tiny notes and lines. If you find or make something better please let me know!

  3. 2013/04/11 at 5:07 pm

    Currently, I teach piano and other instruments and I also taught pre-school through 2nd grade mainstream classes for years. I’d love to share some thoughts regarding child development, parent goals/expectations and music education.

    It sounds like maybe you are homeschooling and including piano as a daily “lesson” has been challenging for reasons such as time, energy and motivation. If that isn’t right, I apologize, as the situation is not exactly clear. Since you have not mentioned if your child is looking forward to this daily lesson, or avoiding it, that is the first discovery you must make. The best situation is when the child is wanting to learn.

    If he is honestly “just not interested” right now, then it might be time to consider taking a break from piano itself, and try incorporating music into other areas of study, such as history (of instruments) or science (build an instrument). You could be studying the Civil War and uncover all the interesting music that went along with that time in history and compare it to the 60’s or some other time when music was changing the world. Talk about penny whistles and drums vs. digital and electronic music and how music frequencies and sound waves are invisible but still have a visible impact on the physical world. Lots of free projects out there online to demonstrate the science of sound. Go to free concerts at the park or at your local college. Read fiction books where music is the focus-like “Mole Music”or “The Story of the Orchestra”, sometimes these books come with a CD for listening. Join a community choir or theater group. Find music he likes, sing in the car, listen to soft classical music during study time, and ask him if there is another instrument he would rather try.

    If he IS still really interested in learning piano, I would suggest that the “lesson” be 45 mins once a week, and the practice 10 mins minimum daily, until you see some small improvement. You run the lesson, and he runs the practice. Just set the timer, tell him you are available in case he has a question, give him the book and then walk away. Even if he is improvising or experimenting the entire time and not doing the song from the book, that is still increasing his enjoyment of the instrument, making a positive experience, establishing a practice time habit and developing fine motor skills. Then of course if he wants to sit there longer that’s up to him. If you assign a theory writing homework, it’s due at the next “lesson”. At every “lesson” ask him what he worked on during practice. If he says “I don’t know”-rephrase for him-“sounds like you made your own song, tell me about that” and ask questions like was it fast or slow, loud or soft? Incorporate the technical terms later. Make your instruction about the importance of practicing if he wants to move ahead, at the beginning and at the end of each lesson in a matter of fact way. (No judgments or emotional coercion) Work on the book song at the lesson and do not move ahead in the book until it can be played reasonably. Date each page in an official way and write encouraging notes. Expect to work on the same song for a few lessons and ask if he has any questions. Identify all the symbols on the page and make it fun. Have him write finger numbers or note names on top of all the notes on the page. Find supplemental games and materials to make the lesson fun. Improvise together-make a song sometimes during the lesson, after working on the book-like the last 2 minutes. Do some research.

    ..... part 1 of 2

  4. 2013/04/11 at 5:07 pm

    part 2 of 2......

    Make sure and add other musical activities to the lesson book, and please try to avoid making the comparsion of where you were in the book at his age to where he is today. You had completely different upbringings and are completely different people. He still has potential to become a concert pianist, if that was what he really wanted to do. But that part is up to him.

    Two more ideas for you might be switching the book, to something he can relate to better and/or getting a another piano teacher. Especially if you think the lack of his enthusiasm is directly related to your own energy level and daily priorities. Sometimes when one is learning piano from family members, other home/relationship dynamics come into play. Daily struggles, home habits and regular distractions tend to cross over into your lesson. Maybe a fresh face is just what is needed to give him a fresh perspective on the material. Also, it’s someone who can see him without all the history of what went on earlier in the day, and he is free to focus on the music, without the burden of any earlier transgressions.

    Your childs goals and interests around music will change from time to time, and it is important to discuss those as separate from your own interests and goals for him. Offer as many choices as you can. Kids are fantastic for coming up with solutions that solve a problem they are having. If you say the solution has to work well for both parties (you and he), write down what you both really want from it to make sure it’s fair.

    The most important questions to ask yourself-is “why do I want him to do this” and “what do I want him to remember from this experience in their life”. Often the “why” (confidence, musicality, enhanced intelligence, fine motor skills, creative thinking) can be achieved in alternate educational avenues-not just piano lessons, and the “what” is the one with the lasting impact. Music lessons often span years of a youngsters life-so what ever you choose now might carry an emotional load of freedom, creativity and enjoyment, OR obligation, frustration and distress during the most formative years. Everyone remembers their piano lessons.

    The most important thing to ask him is “What do you really think about the piano?” and listen closely to the answer.

    Follow up with “Are you still interested in lessons?” and “What do you think you need to really learn how to play?”. The answer might surprise you.

    If you do decide to take a break, make sure to announce it in a way that leaves an open invitation for the future. Such as “It sounds like you might need a break from piano lessons right now. Let me know when you feel ready to try again.” Then choose a date a few months away to check in and have a musical conversation-NSA. Leave the piano/keyboard out and ready for free exploration. Enjoy playing it yourself:)

    Good Luck!

    1. 2013/04/11 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you SO much for your detailed, insightful comment! I really appreciate you taking the time to write that out and share your experience.

      To clarify, and I’m sorry it wasn’t more clear in the blog post, our lack of piano lessons didn’t have anything to do with my son’s reluctance (he has always enjoyed music lessons) it was just that I have been not very good at organizing it and so it just wasn’t getting done.

      So far since this post has been written things have been going very well! We have been doing daily music lessons for about 15-20 minutes on average just working through Alfred’s Basic Piano library. I genuinely appreciate all of your fantastic ideas and suggestions, I will definitely keep many of those things in mind and use some of them!


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