By Pamela Chan, Contributor
I can’t remember when the questioning started but I do know that we were being assessed. When would my children start to learn the piano? Were my twins attending piano classes? How often were they playing the piano? Were they progressing? Did you know X’s child, of the same age, is quite advanced already?
I actually did field these questions. At the same time I could see that their contemporaries were going to piano class.
When my children were 4, I started to see other children their age sitting at the piano playing simple tunes. Now that they are 5 1/2, other children are playing the piano using both hands and reading fairly complex sheet music. I am not referring to any child in particular that we might know. You will see this pattern the world over and I have seen it repeatedly over the decades.
Meanwhile – back at the ranch – my two children didn’t even want to touch the piano.
And let me just stop and note that we happen to have a lovely, apartment sized Baldwin piano at our home. I even ordered special music books from the United Kingdom to help us along. I could see that the music programme was well designed.
There was just one stumbling block and it was a big one. “We don’t want to learn the piano”, both of my children told me. Before he turned 5, my son started to tell me he wanted to learn the violin. I didn’t feel that he was ready. My daughter wasn’t interested to learn any instrument. How could this be? Doesn’t every child want to get their hands on a piano?
Since I started to have those thoughts, I have heard stories about children who aren’t interested in the piano at all. But isn’t the piano the perfect starter instrument before pursuing other instruments? Apparently not all children, at least, think so.
My children have attended a group music lesson since they were newly minted 4 year olds. Their teacher uses Kodaly music instruction methods to teach a group of 10 children, along with a healthy dose of exposure to world music. Now that my children are well into their second year, they’re learning about writing music and enjoy playing wooden xylophones as a group. In the next level up the children learn to play the recorder.
Since we have attended these classes for 1 1/2 years, shouldn’t my children be inspired to learn the piano? While observing the class, I picked up a book that their teacher had left on the side board. It included notes about every instrument a child might want to play. I found content about the best age to start each instrument. I was surprised to note that most of the instruments do not have a young age attached. The average starting age appeared to be 6 – 8 or even older. The author suggested the age of 8 for starting the piano and also mentioned that children who started earlier were probably being pushed by a parent and helped along until the child learns to be motivated and like the piano. “Pushed”? Yikes. The author explained that as younger children start school, they are emotionally and intellectually focussed on the challenges that school presents. The suggestion is that they aren’t ready to start the piano until they are a little older.
You can imagine that many, many parents will contest that statement vigorously. Of course many children start the piano before they are 8. (For the record I was 10. But then again the opportunity didn’t present itself before then.)
This suggestion about when to introduce children to an instrument did get me thinking. We know that there are children who are actively campaigning to learn an instrument and will stick with it once they start. But what about everyone else? If we didn’t sign our children up for musical instrument classes, would they ask to start? How can we introduce children to music lessons in such as way that they will develop a life long love for playing that instrument? We all know people – and maybe you and I are some of them – who worked their way through the Royal Conservatory music lessons, competitions and performances, but barely touch their instrument of choice in their adult years.
Have you heard parents muse about all the arts classes their child took years before. “Look at them now. They don’t even like the arts. What was the point?” I was left speechless during one of these conversations. What could I say in response?
We never hear those stories, but they’re out there. I have seen how someone can be gifted, when it comes to playing an instrument, but will say later on that he/she felt pushed to perform and never liked the experience.
I had to accept defeat and I even said as much to my children’s group music teacher. “They don’t want to learn the piano. I guess I’ll wait and see…”
See Part Two coming up for more discussion about waiting, watching and observing your child’s level of interest in a musical instrument.