Not long ago, a woman appealed to the piano community on Reddit for advice on how to keep her children interested in their piano lessons. She knew many people who, after giving up lessons as kids, later regretted that their parents hadn't forced them to stick it out. She said she had decided to "be that parent," but was finding it difficult. One of her children was more interested in TV and video games than piano, and resisted practicing in particular.
I felt for her — for both of them, actually, because I completely understood both sides of that coin. I'd been both the adult who regretted giving up lessons and the kid who hated practicing. (We were paying this woman to teach me things, young me thought, so why did I have to do most of the work?)
People had a number of good suggestions for this woman: limit lessons to 30 minutes. Let her take a few weeks off. Maybe this teacher isn't inspiring her anymore and it's time for a change. Arrange for her to meet an older kid a few levels ahead by whose skills she can be dazzled. Get the teacher to incorporate some favourite pop songs or film scores into the mix, if he or she hasn't already. Come to a compromise whereby she continues her piano studies until an agreed-upon level, after which she can pursue a new instrument. Have her "earn" TV and game time in proportion to how much she practices.
My first piano teacher told me I should be aiming for an hour of practice every day. These days, I can sit at the piano for 75 minutes straight before I realize any time has passed at all, but an hour can feel like an eternity to a child. I wish someone had told me that it didn't have to be a continuous hour — four 15-minute spurts work just as well. I read somewhere that some music teachers think it's even better. It staves off fatigue, gets you used to playing at different times of day and helps reinforce things over a longer stretch of time.
My advice to parents whose kids are resisting practicing piano (or any other instrument) would be:
- Remember what it's like to be learning a musical instrument.
- More than that, remember what it's like to be a kid. There are kids who are super keen, and there are kids whose piano lessons were someone else's idea. The kids in the latter category may well still like it, but they don't see it as a career or even a serious hobby. They see piano lessons as an extension of school and practicing as an extension of homework. I know; I was one of them.
- Speaking from experience, the "you'll regret it when you're older" comeback to talk of quitting lessons doesn't resonate with a child. I talked openly of stopping my lessons and was told I'd regret it, which I did (though the end of my lessons came when my teacher moved and I didn't pick them up again for 16 years). But as a kid, I couldn't fathom the notion that I'd feel any differently than I did right then.
- When a student is really interested in the subject matter, practicing doesn't feel like work. It doesn't feel like work to me now. But it has to really speak to them in order to make practicing something they actively want to do. As a kid, I probably would have responded better to lessons had I gotten to work in some video game music (a much more prominent industry now than it was then). Instead, my repertoire consisted almost entirely of Conservatory-approved material covering the major classical eras and some modern works, which I'd never heard before.
- Make sure the student and teacher are on the same page about the students' goals. I had no illustrious visions of one day playing Beethoven concerti in front of large audiences, but my first teacher's approach seemed to be more suited to a hardcore student. As a result, I always felt like I was letting her down when I couldn't sightread something flawlessly the first time I encountered it.
It may be that I learned to think of it less as practicing and more as fun because I'm an adult who's been out of school for six years, and it doesn't feel like work because it's a respite from work. Maybe I'm just older now, and I understand that practicing is essential if one wants to improve. Maybe it's because I have goals now, which I didn't really at the time. Maybe I'm just having more fun now.
Once it's fun, it's so easy to love, even through the frustrating moments. If you can love it, or adapt it so that you love it, you're set.