Plus four ways to encourage kids how to practice and play the piano…
There was always a piano in our home growing up, a fixture in our living room that was covered in picture frames and hymnals but served much more than just a piece of furniture that took up space. Our piano was where my mom practiced offertory hymns for the Sunday service, where she taught piano lessons to kids from our church and neighborhood, and where we sidled up next her on the bench to listen to her delivery of our “Play something” pleas—Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” among my favorites. My mother taught all three of us kids a round of beginner lessons—how the spaces in the treble cleft spell out F-A-C-E and how to listen to a metronome to keep 4/4 time—but none of us were very good at taking lessons from our own mom. So, after conquering scales and the first few Michael Aaron piano course books, we each called it quits, settling for a well-memorized version of “Fur Elise” to show off whenever we found ourselves next to a piano in someone’s home.
I regret not keeping momentum on those old piano lessons and cherish the rusty skills I still have but even more, I value the role that piano music played in my childhood—a constant outlet for my mother’s creative expression and consequently, a continuous comfort in our home. “Play something,” was often repeated—when company visited, when my grandparents were in town, when holidays begged for living room caroling concerts or when I simply wanted to marvel at my mother’s ability to construct beautiful melodies by ear. And rooted in my memories is what followed—the way she took the bench, held her posture and began to play—swaying slightly as her fingers danced across the keys, losing herself to the melody or the feeling or perhaps the meaning of the songs that I knew she loved—”It is Well With My Soul” or “The Old Rugged Cross.”
I remembered all of that as I signed my own daughter up for piano lessons this week. And whether she only makes it through the first few course books or far surpasses “Fur Elise” with a passion to keep on plunking, I will cheer for a love of piano from the sidelines and from my own return to the bench when we bring our first piano home soon. While I’ll always support my children’s budding and fading interests in various sports and hobbies as they grow, my piano zeal feels a little more fervent. I want them to know the joy of getting lost in music and the satisfaction of expressing themselves through songs that comfort and awaken them as they play.
And I hope our piano, like those of my childhood, pulls us together like a magnetic force—around the bench, around each other, at holidays, at night, on afternoons when rainy day silence begs for living room recitals. We will listen with appreciation for the skill of composition and the satisfaction of musical expression that represents all good things in life—the hard work and practice it takes to deliver and the way it makes us feel when we do. My children will know how good it feels to play something—anything—a note, a song, a feeling, a dance, a contribution to those around them and to their own artistic souls that long to express themselves.
So yeah, I’m a little enthusiastic about piano lessons. Now off to buy a metronome.
Have a new little pianist in your family and hoping to keep the musical flame lit? I asked my mom, my piano hero, for a few tips on helping kids stay excited about music.
No Rules on Musical Expression: Kids, especially when they’re first introduced to piano, are going to want to perform whether or not they have the skills (trust me, they won’t at first). As hard as it is to listen to that awful-sounding melodyless plunking or five hundred rounds of Chopsticks, recognize those song-making attempts as musical expression and let your kids play outside the lines until they learn more about composition and can read music.
Living Room Concerts: So three lessons in, your child learns how to play a scale and a rusty rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Celebrate with a living room concert. Have your child make tickets to pass out, set up a row of chairs and gather the family to listen to and celebrate the new tunes. As your child learns more songs, make living room concerts a family tradition. He’ll love having an audience, and you’ll encourage the joy of musical expression.
Take Them to a Local Orchestra Performance: Find a local symphony production or call some community music stores to see if they open their music lesson recitals to the public. Get dressed up and invite your child to come along. During the concert, point out the things you love and the way the music makes you feel. Remind her that all of these opportunities are open to her in the world of classical music (or jazz, rock, etc.)
Play Piano Music in Your Home: The best way to love piano music is to make it a part of your lives. Introduce your child to piano tunes by Mozart and Schubert as well as classics like Billy Joel and Elton John. When you’re playing the radio in your car and hear a great piano piece, turn it up and celebrate it. It won’t be long and your child will be attempting to mimic these performances.