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Ages & Stages: Piano Lessons Through the Years

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You’re a parent.  I’m a parent. But, I am not your kids’ parent.  I’m the piano teacher. (“Really?,”  I can hear you say.)

But, as a teacher/coach, I see my role as piano teacher as an extension of parenting; and, my role changes with each student’s life stage.

Let’s categorize students into three stages:  Elementary Years, Tween/Teen Years, Adult. No need to waste any time, feel free to scroll to your student’s stage.

Elementary Years 6-10

Most elementary children are ready to make choices in their own extracurricular activities.  A parent’s role is to help the child clarify – rather than dictate – their choices.

“Choice making builds self-sufficiency and allows children to have a sense of control over their time outside of school,” says Karen Petty, Ph.D., professor of family studies at Texas Women’s University. “But,” she goes on to say, “parents should put financial and time parameters on their choices.”

As your child’s piano teacher, I don’t get to decide his/her extracurricular activities, but instead, I am the coach for their music education.  During a piano lesson, I try to help students clarify – rather than dictate – my music choices for them. For example, “Would you rather play ‘this’ or ‘that’?”  I like to give students a choice of music that teaches the lesson of which I need for them to learn.”

The teacher/coach knows how best to help the student succinctly progress in music/sports/etc.   I don’t know a lot (read “ANY”) elementary children who could navigate their way through their own music education.  Good piano lesson method books are really helpful for this age group.

Tween/Teen Years 10-15

I clearly remember the day when I discovered that I was no longer the driving force in my oldest son’s life.  He was 14. Though he had been an avid swimmer for years, he informed me that he had no desire to be on the high school swim team.  The swim coach could not change his mind, nor could I.

At some point during the late tween/early teen years, most students find themselves at a crossroads with either the commitment that they made as a young child, or a commitment that was made for them by their parents.  Sometimes the activity, like piano practice, starts to yield more stress than enjoyment. Perhaps, they are even bored.

If this is the case, it is time to have a talk with their teacher/coach.  Perhaps, there is something that the teacher/coach can do. When presented with this challenge, I often use the opportunity to insert an element of creativity into lessons; or, I will use ‘Pop’ or other music to pique the student’s interest.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

If you and your student decide to call it quits, I would advise you to set an expectation that your student will finish out the semester (culminating in a recital).  Sometimes, there are valid reasons to quit before the semester ends. If your student is exhausted, over-scheduled, needs to concentrate on school work, or just wants to explore other passions, (parents) help them strategize a graceful exit.  

As a teacher, I think it’s important that the student him/herself let me know of their decision to quit.  This will give me an opportunity to give the student closure (including an open invitation back into the studio).  

Adults

As clearly as I remember my oldest telling me he no longer wanted to swim, I can visualize unpacking contents into his college dormitory and driving away.  Letting go. For nearly two decades, I was the commander-in-chief, coach and now it was time to move into the counselor/consultant stage.

Before tearfully driving back home, he indulged me in one last act of ‘mothering.’  I made his dormitory bed for him. He knowingly smiled as I pulled the fitted sheet over the mattress.  Deep down, I knew that any additional ‘controlling’ would invite resistance and resentment.  I had a few of these encounters as well; these are not proud parenting moments.

Enough of memory lane.

Adults in the piano studio are just that, adults.  It is my job as teacher to act as their consultant, knowing full well that they are paying me for my expertise and they may choose to take it or leave it.  I have learned that this, too, is my job with my young adult children (Except that I don’t pay them!  Well, if you consider food and shelter pay, then maybe yes.)

Did I mention that I love teaching adults?   I’ve found that even more important than teaching the actual mechanics of playing an instrument with adults, is the exploration ‘five W’s and an H’ with them.  

Why do you want to play?

What type of music would you like to play?

Who do you want to play for?

When do you see yourself meeting your goal?

Where do you want to perform your music? For whom?

How much time do you have for practice?

Then, and only then, is it my job to make their dream a reality.

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