The rule in the Hyun home about Piano Lessons is that you can’t quit. Ever… you can change piano teachers, but you can’t quit piano… I’ve heard too many adults lament about how their “parents let them quit piano.” Implied is that only if their parents would have had a little more fortitude and forced them to play, they would be great pianists today… but because of their weak-willed parents, they are not able to play piano…
Well, I decided long ago, my children will never accuse me of being weak-willed… at least not when it comes to learning the piano. But the fact is learning to play the piano is VERY difficult, and there is a steep learning curve. There is a long period where playing (practicing) may be very difficult. And just like learning anything new (tennis, golf, programming, snowboarding, any musical instrument), you need to be able to power through the ugly part of the learning curve.
Now, I’m not advocating “forcing” your children to do anything… but I do think it’s the parent’s responsibility to find a teacher that can ease the pain of climbing that learning curve by making it fun. Frankly, that is a tremendous talent (whether it’s for piano, sports, or any other skill).
With this backdrop, we’ve gone through 5 piano teachers in the last 5 years. Some moved. Some had babies and stopped teaching. Some were great and some were not.
I don’t expect either of my kids to be entering any classical piano competitions or playing in crowded auditoriums. I feel my hopes are modest. I want my children to love playing the piano and singing songs they enjoy. I hope they will be able to play some church hymns when they are needed. I hope they can accompany their families on Monday nights for Family Home Evening. I hope they can entertain some senior citizens in an assisted living home. I hope they can pick up a guitar and lead a few songs around a campfire.
But, this can’t happen if you can’t get the kids to the bench. If you can get the kids to the bench, then they will get better. We’ve had a few teachers that loved the kids and catered to the music they enjoyed playing. Our kids would naturally practice these songs that they liked. We’ve also had a few classical piano teachers who were obsessed about technique and love to talk about how great of a teacher they were. The problem is, they were not providing music or instruction that made our kids want to play the piano. In the end, they were failing to connect our kids to the music. The consequence was that both Caleb and Andrew found practicing the piano a chore and you heard less and less practicing.
We are in a bit of a break from piano teachers right now and I have taken over temporarily. I say temporarily, because I am desperately looking for a great piano teacher that can relate our kids to music.
When I was a kid, I honestly hated piano lessons until the 8th grade. In the 8th grade, my mom found this high school kid that was teaching piano – Chris Halon. He changed my world. Until then, I was only taught classical music. Chris asked me what songs I wanted to play. Then, he showed me how to play them. From that point on, I only played songs I heard on the radio. It’s when I really started loving the piano. I could hear a song on the radio, and he would show me how to play it. It was awesome!
In this break between piano teachers, I’m taking the opportunity to show my kids what I learned from Chris. My goal is just to keep them coming back to the bench. I don’t think they are too far from learning everything I have to offer, so I want to find a piano teacher that can take them farther.
However, it’s very difficult to find a piano teacher that’s willing to coach a student in the direction that the student wants to go. I suppose it’s easy to tout some teaching methodology (like Suzuki method) or some educational credentials (like Juilliard)… But, I just want a teacher who has a group of students that are loving what they are playing… I don’t care about where they went to school or what kind of method they are using. Show me a recital full of kids that are loving their songs. I’m a very interested customer.
In the meanwhile, I’m sitting down once a week with the kids and asking them to print out some tabs of their favorite songs from Ultimate Guitar. There has certainly been an increase in piano pounding over the last few months. And the playing has been “fun”. I try to sneak in some theory and challenge them with various techniques as the songs require them. I don’t really give them a hard time about correct technique or even correct notes. I do try and emphasize keeping the rhythm steady. The toughest thing about home instruction (without a teacher) is the discipline. It’s so easy to skip a week. Hopefully, we can keep it up until we find our next piano teacher.
And I’ll admit it. In our home, we “force” our kids to do piano. I am completely unapologetic that we “force” our kids to develop all kinds of skills. But in the end, the hope is they are going to love it.