There is an unusual level of conflict going on in our house these days centered around the piano. The children are constantly fighting over whose turn it is to practice and frequently I will see a line of children waiting to play. Plus, the music they are playing sounds pretty good and the songs are always recognizable. This is a far cry from just 6 months ago when I had to beg them to practice and the level of music they were playing was not that advanced. This can all be attributed to our new piano teacher and his unusual musical philosophy.
When we moved to our new house I sought out recommendations and was led to this new music teacher who was in high demand (at first he couldn’t even squeeze us in). When he showed up at the door, I was happy to be greeted with an enthusiastic gentleman who had a kind manner and was generous with the praise. The only thing that seemed strange to me was that he placed little numbers on the keys and said that he was not going to teach them to read music. All my children can already read a little music and to me that seemed an essential part (maybe even the purpose of) taking music lessons. The piano teacher informed me, though, that his philosophy was that music should be fun, all about playing, and that they should be drawn in by being able to play whatever song they wanted using the number system. He told them to start making lists of their favorite songs and by the end of the lesson, my son was playing the beginning of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (his choice). Piano man also instructed me that I was never to remind them to practice and that they should want to play when the mood strikes them.
I’m very torn on this new philosophy and I think it is connected to my more general values in regards to education. What is the purpose of the music lesson? I guess if my goal is to get them to play cool and classic music on the piano, then his method makes sense. But, is part of the music lesson teaching the structure of the music? In many ways, I see piano lessons as just as much about teaching children a new type of language and that the reward for sticking with it is to play beautiful music.
Of course, my son was already becoming bored with the music because he couldn’t play anything interesting and probably would have quit piano altogether had Piano Man not walked into our lives. Yet, when I walk past the numbers on the keys (he’s added letters in the last week), I feel kind of like we are “cheating.” Am I now teaching our children instant gratification? My daughter can play “Let it Go” but can only read the music for “Mary had a Little Lamb.” Are they getting the dessert before the vegetables? Then again, in my own teaching, I do adapt play as part of my curriculum. When teaching about early language development, my students use clay to explore cuneiform. The notion of my children skipping over steps and leaping into these advanced pieces reminds me of our non-linear world. Is learning mimicking the Internet culture and losing its hierarchical structure? Is play and gratification more important than discipline and the rewards to attention and focus? The children are playing more and more every day and it’s certainly more pleasurable to listen to, but though they can play piano are they learning to be piano players. Does it matter?
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