Saturday, May 12, 2007

Piano Lessons and Music Appreciation Part I

I've been wanting to write this post for a long time. I have some very definite ideas about music, and thought I'd record them here.

First, a little background. When I was younger, I was a fairly accomplished musician. I can say, with humbleness, that I have true gift from the Lord for music. I always loved music, and playing musical instruments came so naturally to me, it's still is a bit eerie. I never could sing, but I could play just about any instrument I picked up. My main instruments were piano and trombone, and I could also play flute, a little clarinet, and some oboe and baritone. I was a total "band nerd" in high school, and I even made a little money acccompanying soloists, playing in pit orchestras, at weddings, and in a small jazz band.

For whatever reason, I quit playing so much in college, and dropped it all almost completely once I got married. I always had plans to get a piano, give the boys lessons, maybe take up violin with them, and one of my long-time "life" goals is to learn to play the cello. However, our life has been so tumultuous the last 6-7 years or so, I hadn't given it much thought. Then, when we bought our house last summer, we had the opportunity to keep the previous owners' piano, and I have had SO much fun playing again, I can't believe I ever stopped! I've started piano lessons with J1 this year, and we have both had a great time. I'll detail our experiences more in Part 11.

Someone recently asked, on an email list I'm on, about music lessons, and when they should begin. I'm all for "kindermusic" type programs, if you and your toddler want to do that (with an emphasis on the *and your toddler" part of wanting it - I tried that back when J1 was little, and he cried the whole time - I only took him twice. Hard to believe my little social butterfly was once a very shy, reserved toddler!) But I'm speaking of formal lessons. Personally, I think that unless a child demonstrates a passion and/or a gift, formal instruction shouldn't begin until at least age 8 years old, probably closer to 10 or even 12. If your child has a gift from God the way that I do, you will know it. I begged my parents for lessons from a very young age, and they finally let me begin when I was about 7 years old, but I wish I had started at 5 or 6. If you don't sense a gift or passion for music, just wait! Forced instruction is a sure way to kill a love for learning of all kinds, but especially in music.

That said, I also believe that every person deserves an understanding of music. I think piano is particularly beneficial because it provides a basis for so much else that you might want to do with music, and because it involves both hands it is really awesome at building your brain in new ways. I think all kids should have 1-2 years of piano instruction, when they are old enough to be self-motivated.

Now, music lessons can be expensive, especially with multiple children. I know we couldn't afford it! But, if you've had at least 2-3 years of piano instruction yourself in the past, you could teach your child. Or, you might know someone, (like me!), who doesn't have enough formal instruction to be a "professional piano teacher", but knows enough to give your kids the basics for a year or two and would do it for a reasonable price, or for barter (piano lessons for babysitting or housecleaning, anyone?) If you live near a college, call up the music department and ask if they have any students who would teach - college students will often teach cheaply, or even barter for, say, access to a laundry machine! You should also have a piano, obviously. It doesn't have to be an expensive new one, I've only ever had beat-up old pianos, and they're great! You can usually find a used piano via word of mouth - tell everyone you know you're looking for a piano, say a prayer, and you'll be amazed at what turns up! If you just can't find a piano, or lack space for one, even just an electric keyboard could work (though in my opinion it's just not the same, it would be adequate for the kind of basic instruction I'm talking about).

In Part II, I'll detail what we're doing in our lessons, and also share some music appreciation hints and tips.


Amy said...

I'm glad you posted this - just the other day I was feeling guilty that I was the only one teaching my DDs beginner piano, but with 5-6 years of lessons and many more years of flute/sax/other music lessons, I guess I'm a little qualified. :)

MamaJen said...

Yes! Exactly - I think you and I are both very qualified to teach at a beginning level. I'm always amazed at how quickly it's come back to me, after taking *years* away! Now, personally, I think I would only feel comfortable teaching for about the first 3 years or so, after that, if my kids are interested in continuing, I'd probably get an outside teacher. But to teach the basics, which is so very important, I think anyone who has had 3-4 years of music instruction could do it themselves! :-)