Last week a new adult student came for her first lesson. She described herself as a ‘complete beginner’ but when we chatted at the start of the lesson she told me that she had started to learn as a child, but had given up after a while. Her mum played the piano and was keen for her to learn too – but she didn’t push her or insist on it. My student really regretted this – and told me that she wished she had been pushed more as a child as she would now be able to play.
The spectre of the “pushy” mother is something that many of my students’ parents actively want to avoid. I often hear comments such as “I just want them to love playing, I don’t want to push them into it…” And whilst I agree with them, I then remember the refrains of many of my adult students – “I wish I’d been pushed more”, “I wish I’d learned to play when I was younger”, “I wish I hadn’t given up”……
So should children be pushed into the piano? The mother of four of my students, aged between 3 and 8, is very clear on this. She is insisting that all four of her children play the piano until they reach Grade 5 – after that, it is their choice. Her reasoning is this – Grade 5 standard is a very competent level of playing and a solid understanding of music, piano technique and (hopefully) a wide range of repertoire will have been achieved by this stage. Her motivation? She herself never had lessons as a child although she always wanted to. She has taught herself over the years and is only now – in her early forties – having formal lessons with me. Many would describe her as pushy – and she does have to resort to bribery and sanctions at times. But all her children are showing real promise at the piano and all participate in the family Sunday concerts at which every member plays their latest pieces (from Dogs and Birds to Beethoven Bagatelles!)
I don’t remember being pushed into the piano. I started playing at the age of three, having lessons from four. My father, a good amateur pianist himself, was always playing at home so – to me – playing the piano was just something that you did, like going to school and learning to read. Saying that, my Dad does say that he had to nag me into practice and – from his perspective – there were times when he had to be pushy with me. But now I don’t remember the arguments or the pushing – I just grew up playing the piano and it has been a fundamental part of my life ever since.
I don’t know the answer. Like everything there is a balance and – of course – all children are different. But – if the child is enjoying the piano on more occasions than not, and is making progress and showing an interest –then it is worth a degree of pushing to encourage good habits early on. There are always times when they won’t feel like doing their practice but with a degree of pushing (or encouragement) they will see that it is something important and something that does require a degree of effort and commitment – like learning to read, play football, swim etc. Piano lessons are an investment – of time and money – and to make them worthwhile I do think that regular practice is necessary. And – with most children – sometimes they will need to be pushed to do this practice. But then – hopefully – the investment will pay-off, the child will grow up with music and the piano as an integral part of their life, and they will never have the same regrets as so many adults seem to nowadays.