Against Disciplinarian Piano Teachers

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There are two types of disciplinarian piano teachers, the amateur and the professional. Neither is suited to teaching children.

  • The Amateur, Type 1: Those who terrorize suburban children, often kids with “wolf” parents, with unrealistic demands and gruff manners.
  • The Professional, Type 2: Those professionals found in conservatories whose job is to produce professionals.

Type 1 is useless, even destructive to the profession and culture of music itself. For kids, they usually spell the end of interest in the piano.

Type 2 is an elective decision. If you want to be a musical artist in the classical sense, you’ll need a slave driver to mold you.

We’re here to talk about Type 1 today, the suburban piano teacher who bores kids to death and demands complete adherence to their “method.”

The rationale of the disciplinarian is that children will evade work wherever possible. Thus children, like cattle, are put into a narrow walkway that allows no escape. Within this narrow walkway, they will learn “the basics” of piano, whether they like it or not.

The method is simple: go from page to page in a standard text, demanding perfection on each page. The book does all the work for the teacher, for one new concept is revealed on each new page, leading to a gradual curriculum. There is one huge flaw: the music is terrible, kids hate it and often show no interest at all.

Their primary tools are repetition and guilt.

Kids are sent home to “practice” (repetition) and if they don’t, they get shame and guilt.

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In terms of the nature of children, this “strict” method has nothing but flaws.

What these piano teachers need to understand is child psychology. The first rule to learn is that force does not work.

What kids really need is what I call a “Creative” piano teacher.

A creative piano teacher doesn’t teach from a specific book, doesn’t have a specific, one-size-fits-all method.

A good piano teacher is clever enough to figure out what the child is capable and willing to learn that day. The likelihood that what kids need is found on page 1 of your Faber, Bastien, or Alfred piano method is very slim, indeed.

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The first thing I do is find out what the child knows, like left/right, up/down, and what they like, pop/classical, rap/jazz.

Then I ask, “What song would you like to play?”

numbered keyboard
Numbered Keyboard

As soon as we find a suitable song (some kids choose horribly complex music and have to be dissuaded) I begin by simplifying it. For example, if I know that the child has difficulty with left hand, I omit left hand until we can deal with that separately. But the point is that they are playing a song they like, and have chosen themselves.

Once you get them happily playing one simple song, introduce another, and another. They should be attempting as many songs as possible.

At this point, our hypothetical disciplinarian is boiling with rage at observing this “creative” lesson. “What? No hand position, no posture, no fingering, no notes?”

Our hypothetical disciplinarian is outraged at the form in which the classic information is being transmitted, because it is not being taught in the exact order and form they are used to.

But then look at the child’s face as they attend this “creative” lesson. They are beaming, and ready for more. “I want to learn that song that goes…..”

What do you care more about? Pleasing this pedantic monster, or hearing your child say, “This is fun! I want to do more!”

I agree with the pedant in some ways. Fingering, reading notes, rhythm and theory are all important parts of learning the piano. But not if it makes the child quit.

But listen to what the child said: “This is fun!” Being approached in this “creative” way makes them want to do more.

Any musical concept can be taught to a smiling, happy child who is having fun. Nothing can be done with a petulant, resistant child.

The failure of the pedant is that they fail to interest the child in doing further work. They refuse to lower the bar, temporarily, in order to allow for the age of the child.

Fun is the quickest way into a child’s mind.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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