There’s no doubt about it. Most mothers, as they usher their little one to that first piano lesson, are cherishing images of the year end recital. Visions of tiny tots in puffy little frocks and dress shirts, sitting at a huge shiny grand piano and dangling their tiny feet above the pedals are just so darned cute. They’re almost irresistable. For the parents.
What is odd, is that so few of those parents remember their own piano lessons decades earlier and the misery of those recitals, where they were forced to sit stiffly awaiting their turn at the keys. Little mimeographed “programs” were often distributed and each child would locate his or her name in the apparently endless list, and then sit there trying not to fidget while struggling with perspiring hands and a distinctly uncomfortable fluttering in their stomach. Apart from the one or two “star” pupils who were often older and whose names appeared at the end of the program, most of the others didn’t enjoy the experience at all
Nowadays, that piano recital is an even greater obstacle to leading a child to a point where they actually enjoy playing the piano and enjoy the music. Because modern mothers have become slaves to the idea of “healthy competition” and “getting ahead”. Comparisons are inevitably made and each mother either feels her child is better than all the others, or that he’s not lived up to his “potential”.
Both points of view are unfortunate. There is nothing more distressing to a good teacher than being confronted by a child whose mother thinks he’s a second Mozart. Sorry folks …. the chances are very slim. Mozart and Mendelsohn are the only two child prodigies I can think of …. and this is because they composed music and weren’t merely performing monkeys.
And the mother who fears her little one hasn’t measured up and scolds him for making a mistake ranks even higher on my list of joy-killers. The child already feels humiliated and the thoughtless parent piles their own disappointment on top of that, effectively sucking any joy the child ever felt for music and the piano right out of it. That’s another youngster who isn’t going to look forward to the next year’s recital and is almost destined to lose interest in the lessons as well.
I won’t be party to this. Music is one of the most wonderful gifts we can have in our lives. It can inspire and comfort, change bad moods to good ones and at its best, make our souls fly. And learning to actually make music can be one of the most rewarding activities a child will ever have. So I bend over backwards to make sure that every aspect of learning to play the piano is a positive one.
And piano recitals don’t fit into that goal. Yes, for the one or two most talented ones, recitals can be a sort of reward … an opportunity to show off. But that comes at the expense of the others. Some will be bored, some will be nervous and most will just wish the tedious event was over. The misery that these recitals cause the student is only a small part of the much greater loss.
That loss is the huge amount of time wasted in repetitive practice. This is the most distressing sacrifice made to the piano recital. Weeks and sometimes a couple of months are spent repeating a simple piece over and over again to make sure there won’t be any slips when the child is finally seated at that big piano for their moment on stage. Time which would have been so much better spent in learning six or eight new pieces. Maybe not perfectly, but that isn’t nearly as important as the practice in reading notes. and each new piece offers another opportunity to practice those notes.
No matter what “method” is flogged by various teachers and publishers of student music books, the basic truth is that you HAVE TO READ THE NOTES. You can learn to fake an accompaniment with chords and if you have a good ear, you can pick out a basic melody. But to be able to play confidently, you have to learn the notes. There’s no way around this. And the time wasted on preparing for a recital could be so much better used in note drills and learning more and more pieces more and more quickly.
I make this very clear when I interview parents before setting up the first trial lesson. There will be no recitals. This is one of my two basic rules. (The other is my age requirements).
But …. I do have an alternative. The “Piano Party” …. which has proved immensely popular with the children and gives everyone an opportunity to perform … or not. There is no pressure, no butterflies in little stomachs …. just a lot of informal fun and sharing.
I will be posting details and hints on holding your own “Piano Party” soon.