music has on us, a kind of inarticulate, unfathomable
speech, which leads us to the edge of the Infinite and
lets us for a moment gaze into that!” — Thomas Carlyle
Music enriches life in Mt. Lebanon in various ways: Bands, orchestras, and choruses… First Friday sidewalk entertainment, concerts in the park and parades … religious organizations’ hymns, organists, cantors and bell choirs.
In school, children discover Mt. Lebanon’s strong music connection. Classrooms reverberate with melodies from music classes, instrument instruction and concert rehearsals. The school district’s commitment to music pleases parents who value the benefits bestowed upon the child who learns to appreciate and create music.
Many parents take active roles in their children’s musical development, helping them balance music lessons with a frenetic schedule of sports, social activities, volunteer work and academics. The encouraging hands parents offer and the choices that parents make on behalf of their young musicians, help improve the children’s chances of success.
If a child begins taking music lessons in school, there are many instrument choices. If the child begins taking lessons at home, he or she often will start with piano.
How can parents help ensure that piano lessons—or any kind of music lessons, for that matter—nurture a child’s self-esteem and pride rather than shatter his self confidence and prompt him to quit?
First, the child has to be ready. Parents can gauge readiness by observing a few simple things. Does the child have a sense of rhythm? Does she climb onto Grandma’s piano bench to bang away? Is she enthusiastic about reading? (Music is a symbol-based system, as is reading.) Can he sit still and focus on simple tasks? (You should not have to glue him to the bench.) How are her hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills (essential when manipulating fingers across narrow keys)? Does he grasp the concepts of “right,” “left,” “up,” and “down” and demonstrate visual acuity—essential in tracking the subtle movement of notes across bass and treble clefs. If the answer to these questions is “yes,” the child like has the strengths that will lead to a good experience.
The next and possibly most important step is selecting the right teacher. But how to do that?
Looking back on his three daughters’ experiences on the piano, Mark Perilman, Ridgefield Avenue, says, “Parents should look for someone with a good demeanor—a person who treats children with respect and knows how to adjust expectations to each child. The kids should respond well and want to learn. Most of all, the kids should like the teacher.”
Perilman’s 13-year-old daughter, Eliana, adds, “The teacher should also have faith and confidence in you and should understand you and your feelings.”
Mt. Lebanon has an abundance of qualified piano instructors; parents need only to make a good match. Here are some things to consider before settling on a teacher: How is your child wired? Does his learning style match the teacher’s method of presentation—auditory… tactile… close-up-and-personal… comfortable at a distance? If your child has special challenges, is the teacher willing to address them? Which sort of personality will your child respond to? Nurturing, or assertive? Funny, or firm?
The way a child reacts to a piano teacher’s style determines if the relationship will be, in musical terms, legato (smoothly connected) or staccato, (sharp and detached.)
Word of mouth among parents is a good way to find out what various teachers are like and to narrow the possible choices. Before committing to lessons, parents should discuss expectations and goals with the prospective teachers. If everyone is on the same page, the student should get off to a good start. Once they choose a teacher, parents may want to watch the first few lessons—a teacher with patience and a student at ease on the bench are signs of a good partnership.
As the child becomes more proficient, goals will determine the intensity of piano lessons and the amount of practice. If going to Julliard wins out over playing Jingle Bell Rock for the family over the holidays, more rigorous lessons and practice is a must. A serious student eventually may not need parental supervision, but at the outset, it’s important for parents to monitor the time they spend at the keyboard in preparation for lessons.
Whether the goal is a seat at the ebony grand on stage with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra or completing Level 6 in Alfred’s Basic Piano Series, achieving small steps en route to those goals is fun for the student and a key to success at the piano.
“I think that you want the kids to enjoy what they’re doing and have fun,” says Karen Jarek, Sunrise Drive, whose daughters, Martina, 9, and Julianne, 13, have taken lessons for four and six years, respectively. “How well they play isn’t as important as how much they enjoy it. Music shouldn’t be like homework—dreaded. It should be something that the children look forward to.”
There are several other things that can make or break piano lessons. Some children love performing for an audience at a holiday recital or end-of-year-event; others dread it—be aware of how your child feels.
Julie Freedy, Park Entrance Drive, whose children, Maggie, 11, Katie, 14. and Andrew, 9, all study the piano, recognizes the value of putting on a show. “It teaches them to rise to the occasion and perform in a friendly environment,” she says. The kids want to do their best, so they are motivated to get the job done. Kids inherently love positive feedback and developing a sense of accomplishment.”
Dee Gardner, mom of Leah, 8 and Mark, 9, says both her children enjoy performing in public: “On Mother’s Day at brunch at St. Clair Country Club, my son, Mark, asked if he could play the piano for me. Of course I said ‘Yes!’ The kids love the praise and attention they get from performing. This motivates them to become the best that they can be at the piano.”
But if a child dreads the thought of playing in public, neither parents nor teacher should pressure the child to perform. Terror leads to turn-off!
Another way to motivate students is to allow them to supplement the teacher’s curriculum by selecting their own music. With ownership comes commitment.
And parents who make daily piano practice and regular attendance at lessons a priority send an important message to the student: If learning to play the piano is this important to my mom and dad, it just might be important to me.
Sofia and Silvana Vujevich, 9 and 7, know exactly how their parents feel about piano lessons.
“In our house, our attitude appears to be nonchalant but it is focused,” says their mother, Lisa, Forest Glen Drive. “Practicing the piano is a daily ritual, like eating breakfast or brushing your teeth. We do a lot of encouraging by applause, hugs, and cheering.”
As with the Vujevich family, music lessons can be a source of pleasure for the whole family, as the young musicians rock the keyboard and rattle the windows. Memories of the staccatos, legatos, and vibratos the children generate will echo within long after the kids are gone and the house is quiet.
“When I’m at the piano, I love when I push a key, and it makes a different sound, says Leah Gardner. “I’m really happy when it’s the right sound and it makes pretty music.”