Thursday, August 03, 2006

Piano Lessons

A while back I made an agreement with Einstein that we'd sign Sunburst up for "formal" music lessons before her eighth birthday. Somewhere he read that this was Important for some such reason... maybe it was that they learn better, or faster, or fire some special neurons in their heads that only exist before the eighth year, I don't quite remember. I'm sure it was a Good reason. When she showed interest in playing the piano this summer, we conveniently signed her up to take lessons with our piano-teacher neighbor.

It didn't quite go as I had expected.

First, I'll say that my expectations always get me in trouble. However, when I sign a child up for lessons, I expect that they will be taught something, and that the person I'm paying will do the teaching. This was the way it worked when Sunburst took gymnastics lessons, trapeze lessons, and felted doll-making lessons. The only finger I had to lift was the one that signed my name on the check. I assumed the same would be true for piano lessons. Boy was I wrong.

The piano teacher taught only at the very first lesson and then assigned Sunburst homework in her music book, which then we, her parents, were supposed to help her figure out, i.e. TEACH to her. Sunburst went back to the next lesson, demonstrated the material she learned at home and received more homework. By the end of the third lesson, when Sunburst received upwards of a dozen pages of new material to learn while the "teacher" was on vacation, I about nearly split in half. What exactly was I paying for?

I've heard the horror stories of parents having to help their public-schooled children through two or more hours of homework a night, and oddly enough it's those same parents that say, "Oh, I could never homeschool." Don't they know they're already doing it? We're all homechoolers here.

Apparently I can now add Piano Teacher to my ever-growing list of credentials.

I pulled Sunburst out after the fourth lesson. She refused to go back until she had completed all the homework assignments, and was extremely dissapointed when the "teacher" didn't have enough time during the lesson to check all of these new songs Sunburst had worked so hard on. Worse yet, this teacher uses a reward system to get the kids motivated to play. After they master a new page/song, they get rewarded with a sticker on that page. When they finish the book, they get a prize.

The whole idea curdled my stomach. I'm one of those crazy fools that thinks learning should be its own reward. And it was hard to tell until that fourth lesson whether or not learning piano was it's own reward until Sunburst didn't get stickers for the work she had done. She didn't get the recognition for doing the work-- really, I think that's what the meat of it was, that she worked really hard to finish up those pages and learn the songs, and then they didn't even go over them. All that work for naught. I'm sure that's how Sunburst saw it.

She came home from that lesson completely disinterested in the two new pages she was supposed to work on. I cancelled her next, and final, lesson, and instead she just practiced the three songs she would play at the piano recital. She was so motivated to dress up and play in front of people that she woke up at the crack of dawn, slipped on her puffy crinolin-lined dress, and woke us up to the sound of her fingers plinking away with wild abandon. She practiced off and on all day, on songs that she could play with her eyes closed by now, and she did just fine at the recital.

But on the way home she asked if she could have a reward. "For what?" For getting up and playing in front of people. "Why should I reward you for something YOU wanted to do?" It was hard, she said. "So was learning to read," I said, "which was also your idea." True, she said. "And did you get a reward for doing that?" Yes, she said. The whole world opened up.

Such insight from a seven-year old! I had to pick my lower jaw up off the floorboard of the car before I could respond. "True," I said. "Welcome to the whole world of music."

As things would turn out, our piano-teacher neighbor moved out-of-state shortly after the recital. We met the woman who was recommended to take her place. Already feeling a bit jaded about the whole thing, I frankly asked her what her teaching style was. She didn't appear to have one or even understand the question. I tried again, "Do you teach using a rewards system?" Oh yeah, there's rewards, she said. Kids love the sticker thing.

Now for those of you that don't know me, my musical background is zip. Sure, I've been singing along with the radio since I could talk, and I seem to have this uncanny ability to memorize lyrics and sing along in the grocery store, but really I have never played an instrument, never had formal training in anything musical, and up until the flute business, I considered myself completely inept. Although I can hum like nobody's business, and as a child we practiced playing our noses while we sang along to "Winchester Cathedral." But that's it. When it comes to the formal subject of music I'm really, incredibly sensitive and hyper-critical Eggshell woman.

I know. A whole post about overcoming perfectionism, and like you, I'm all too human. This is that area for me. And yet... it appears as if "formal" music instruction will continue at home, taught by yours truly.

The earth is going to move. The ground is going to shake. And the whole world is going to open up... for both of us.

3 comments:

  1. Funny how music lessons work, isn't it? I have a lot of friends who like the Suzuki school for music lessons. We've lucked into recorder lessons with our German/art teacher (this woman truly is Renaissance!). But for the most part, we do music at home. Easy when Dad's a musician I suppose ;)

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  2. It sounds like you guys have found an ideal situation. Good for you!

    ReplyDelete
  3. http://faeriedust2001.blogspot.com/2006/08/homeschool-meme.html

    Tag--you're it!

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