I wrote this post on a Thursday night. This means earlier today I engaged in a battle with my kids over the need to go to piano lessons. And I can assert with a solid level of certainty that we will have the same conversation again next Thursday. As we make the 15-minute car ride to the music studio, I will hear wails of “How much longer are you going to make us do this?” and “I don’t like to practice!” and “None of my friends have parents who make them do this!” I tell them it’s important to me and that they will thank me when they are older. And, in those moments? My words don’t matter a bit.
My 11-year-old daughter has been taking lessons for a couple of years and my son for nearly a year from a fantastic teacher. She offers decades of experience and a holistic approach to teaching music. Technique, theory, history, and artistry all make up part of her curriculum. I have seen both of my children grow in their musicianship. When they have an especially productive lesson or perform well at a recital, they cannot wait to practice more. They tell me how excited they are to advance their skills to the level of some the older students sharing the stage with them. But that usually disappears by the following Thursday.
There are three reasons that I force my kids to take piano lessons. I’ve shared these reasons with my kids over and over. Maybe you will understand them better?
Music is an important part of my family’s story.
Both my grandmother and mother were piano teachers. My mom also was a professional cellist. My father? A school band director and a piano tuner. I have aunts and uncles who are accomplished musicians and cousins who are still immersed in playing piano or another instrument well into their forties or fifties. I grew up performing in piano recitals. Like my siblings, I played in the high school band and orchestra. It always was a given for me that my own children would learn to read music as well as the fundamentals of playing the piano. I do not expect my kids to be carbon copies of their relatives before them. But just like appreciating the food or the language of one’s culture, I want my children to know how much music influences and enriches the lives of their family members.
I’ve never heard a friend say, “Man, I wish my mom hadn’t made me take those piano lessons when I was little.”
Instead, the lament is quite often the opposite. Quite a few people have shared that they took a year or two of lessons as a child but were then allowed to stop. Now, they wish they had stuck with piano a bit longer. I know that at ages eleven and seven it is difficult for my kids to get why playing arpeggios and memorizing a Bach piece for recital carries lifelong value. But I’m patient. And that day in 2038? It will be worth it. I didn’t love practicing for my mom’s recitals when I was a kid either. But I am grateful that now I can sit down at the piano in my house (the same piano on which my mom taught lessons and which was in my grandmother’s home before that), pull some music off the shelf, and start playing. Musical literacy brings me great joy and an important outlet for stress relief.
My children need to be challenged and face some frustration while developing a skill that takes patience and practice.
My kids do very well in school and usually excel when playing sports. I share this not to brag on my children—because that’s just obnoxious—but instead to offer a distinction when it comes to their study of piano. My daughter and son both have struggled to learn their notes and theory. They whine over the need to play scales multiple times. They must try over and over to get their fingers to cooperate with the more difficult passages. More important lessons in perseverance are in play here as they learn the satisfaction that comes from hard and focused work. I like that they struggle. I like that it doesn’t always make sense right away. And I love when their efforts result in progress that brings them great and well deserved pride.
I don’t expect my children to become professional musicians. I don’t even plan to make my kids take music lessons until they graduate from high school, if they do not desire to do so. But I feel strongly about the benefits that come from learning music. And, for now? I will make this choice for my kids.