Sunday, March 20, 2011

Music Requires Discipline

Samuel, age 4,  pretending to play Chopin
How many times have you heard someone say,"I wish my parents would have never let me quit piano lessons?"  As a piano teacher, I hear it all the time. I believe piano dropouts could have been piano success stories had their parents approached practice time in a disciplined way.  I firmly believe that discipline will produce a love for the instrument and lifelong skills.
So, as a homeschool mom as well as my son’s piano teacher, I wanted my son to practice as much as I asked my students to practice.

My son was ready to begin piano lessons at age six. Living with a music teacher gave him a few advantages  because singing, listening and moving to the music have always been part of his environment. Early on he would sit at the piano and reconstruct melodies he’d heard and play pieces that were advanced for his age. He did this just for fun.

But practicing piano for 30 minutes a day, five days a week was no fun at all. Sitting with my son at the piano, I discovered that it’s not easy! We struggled with it daily. I also discovered how much discipline and commitment is required for parents to teach children to form good habits and develop discipline within themselves.

As I read up on the Charlotte Mason philosophy, I discovered the concept of short lessons, and  I realized that’s why my requirements were so frustrating for parents and students. Asking a child to sit and repeat songs over and over for 30 minutes was just too long. Shorter, successful time slots at the piano seemed more attainable and enjoyable.

When my son was finally able to participate in his first group piano lesson, he would come home and play his songs above and beyond what was assigned.  However he would play too fast, with incorrect fingering and without the required "sing as you play" instructions from the teacher (me!). So here are the steps we have been implementing, for the last few years.
  • Practice a minimum of 5 days a week.
  • Take out your assignment and follow it in order.
  • Mom sits with him during practice. (I no longer have to do this, but always stay very close by)
  • Practice everything on your assignment at least once (still working on this!)
  • Listen to the class audio CD often - it is an excellent example of "living" music.
  • Samuel, age 8 at a piano recital 
  • Play the piece/scales slowly and without mistakes or you must repeat.
At the beginning he complained and cried and honestly, I wanted to cry too!  But I knew that practicing correctly was the only way to practice. After a few days his attitude improved and he would sit at the piano and follow the rules.  Slowly but surely, his piano playing was improving, almost automatically.

Pleasing his parents (and other encouraging family members) with beautiful music, is a reward he enjoys. My expectations and disciplined routine has netted other benefits as well. At age 8, he can distinguish between a good and a bad performance of the same piece, formulate musical ideas (which he adds to his pieces) and employ the attentiveness needed when attending a recital or concert. Our goal is not for him to become a concert pianist but have the knowledge necessary to understand great music.Who knew that discipline in such a small area of his life could produce so many benefits!? (Charlotte Mason did.)


See Jamie blog said...

We have a lovely piano sitting here and one of these days, we ARE going to start lessons! :)

Love the idea of applying CM's short lessons to the piano as well. I'm sure that would make for much less frustration!

phillipsgirl said...

This is a great practical way to teach discipline to our children. Thank you!

Dorla said...

Thanks for stopping by!

Nancy said...

Wonderful application of Mason's philosophy to learning piano! We also make sure to do our practicing after a session of listening and narrating. The change of venue and type of lesson seems to work well. Again, Miss Mason already knew this.

Ring true,

Carletta said...

Thank you for these tips! My 2 oldest children have been taking lessons for almost a year, and it took me a while to figure it out that I needed to sit with them and encourage them through the very hard work it takes to learn to play the piano. At first, I thought it was supposed to be all fun and let them stop practicing at the first sign of struggle. They were very pleased with themselves the first time they pushed through the difficult times and learned to play a piece to the best of their ability. It was a great life lesson for us all!

KayPelham said...

This is very encouraging to read. My son also has the joy of having his mother for a piano teacher. We are just beginning a new style of his lessons and he is very excited about it. We are shifting from every day being a lesson with Mom hovering over him to having the lesson on Mondays and then him following his assignment book the rest of the days -- like a "real" piano student :) He got so excited. He thought I was going to do all of school like that. Whoa, there, fella. Not yet. We'll get there, though :)

I'm glad you made a point about the long practice sessions. I used to tell my students that a little each day is far better than cramming just before your lesson. I appreciate you applying CM's short lesson ideal to practice time. I think you're right on about that.

Your son is a handsome young man. Quite an honor and joy to be teaching your own, isn't it?

Dorla said...

Your little one is funny!
Indeed it is a privilege to teach your own - it is definitely a challenge - but worth every moment!
Thanks for stopping by,

Melissa said...

Though you probably didn't intend to, your mention of "assignments" really gave me a real ta-da moment! I always "send" them off to "practice" without structure. You've inspired me to re-think and re-purpose our music time!!! Thanks!

Traci's Teaching Times said...

Hi, Dorla, great post. I have found that shorter lessons work well for my daughter also.