Sucking the Joy Out of Lessons

When I was a little girl, I remember my mother reading “Winnie the Pooh” and how she’d imitate Eeyore’s lugubrious monotone  ……  ” It kind of sucks the joy out of it”.    Years later that little phrase  became a sort of private joke we shared when we saw someone fussing or unnecessarily “regulating” some otherwise pleasurable activity.

As a music teacher, I have been dismayed by several practices which often suck the joy out of music and lessons for young students.   Starting lessons much too early when the child’s natural attention span is too short, his fingers too small and his ability to learn too slow.  Subjecting the child to those deadly piano recitals and the required boring repetitive practicing of the “recital” piece.   Insensitivity to the child’s feelings when correcting errors.  Overuse of the metronome.   Too much technical practice which many children will never need or use.  Horrible contemporary children’s piano music which is often confusingly dissonant and frequently loaded with “cutsie” imagery splashed all over the page.  Even scheduling lessons for Saturdays is a mistake because most children feel that Saturday is their holiday.  A music lesson on that day just seems like an unwelcome extension of school.

The solution to this is remarkably simple.   Appropriate age for beginners.  Substitute those recitals for “piano parties”.   Use psychology while correcting the child, remembering that most children want to please and to be praised.   Be generous with that praise and allow some laughter now and then.   Use the best music.   Forget about tricks.  There’s aren’t any.   You HAVE to read the notes.    So make that note-reading fun.

And above all, PLAY the piano for your students.   Not in the mechanical “follow me” way, but the way a concert artist would.   The simplest child’s piece,  played beautifully,  can be a gem and can inspire the young student like nothing else.   And occasionally play a few seconds of a great classic.   The “Pathetique” or the flashy “Flight of the Bumblebee” will get young eyes shining.   I once had an adult student so convinced that I was somehow electronically faking it, that he crawled under the piano looking for some recording device hidden under the keyboard.   Then he requested a repeat while he hovered mere centimeters above my fingers.

So here I will discuss a few of the major ways joy is sucked out of music lessons.   And in another post, I’ll offer ways to put it right back in.

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