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This is a long message. Thank you for your patience.

I need advice on how to advance my kids’ piano instructions. I do not know what the right paths are because I don’t have any music training. I would really appreciate some suggestions from experienced players and teachers.

Elizabeth, my older daughter, is 11. She is a 6th year student. She can sight read somewhat. For example, she played “Color of the Wind” from Dan Coates’s “Easy Piano Timeless Popular Classics” the first time she saw it. She made a few mistakes, but the melody was clear. She has no problem sight read Czerny’s “The School of Velocity”. She has adequate finger controls. Dynamics in her playing is clear.

Vivian, my younger daughter, is 8. She is a 3rd year student. She can sight read too, but slowly and with more mistakes. For example, she learned “Let It Go” from the same Dan Coates’s book without help. She generally has no trouble with Keith Snell’s “Level 3 Piano Repertoires.” The dynamics in her playing needs work. Softer notes can become inaudible, louder notes fortissimo.

Elizabeth liked her lessons when she started. She liked playing kids’ songs. Vivian had even more fun. After learning the basics, she would play, by ear, bits of pop music like Taylor Swift or musicals like Mary Poppins. Elizabeth and Vivian like playing with different voice and transposing on an electronic keyboard, to make songs scarier or more Christmas-y for instance. They experiment with styles too. For a while Vivian played notes with staccato for “Pac-Man” style and Elizabeth tried playing classical in rag. I think this is great. I ask them to listen to music in movies and TV, because melodies are often re-arranged to express different emotions.

However, I don’t think their piano teacher feel the same. Lessons mostly stay within the lesson books. When Elizabeth and Vivian asked to learn “Sound of Silence” and “Let it Go”, she agreed but did not deviate much from lesson plans. She has only cursory checks on these extra-curriculum songs. Even within the lesson books, she does not discuss emotions of the music. Dynamics and tempo changes are just something to do, and not explained in the context of their emotional impact. She assigns far too many songs to master. Her explanation is that skills are developed only with a large variety.

I strongly disagree with this teaching method. I want my kids to feel the music and experiment with changes. Brushing over the emotional side turns an artistic exercise into rote learning. The teacher’s method seems ineffective anyway. My kids remember dynamics better after they see the emotions. For example, Vivian quickly remembered the dynamics in “Let It Go” after she saw Elsa’s emotions on YouTube. And I think it’s important to master at least some pieces, for bragging rights if nothing else.

My wife discussed these concerns with the teacher a few times, but we don’t see changes. I am considering stopping the lessons. Vivian is losing interest, and Elizabeth sees learning piano only as work. For me, if learning piano only builds muscle memory, I’d rather my kids have open-ended plays, like making their own Lego creations.

So my questions are:

Is the teacher’s strict learning method typical? When does it end?

Is there a teaching method more aligned with my expectations? What is this method? How do I find a teacher?

If there is not a formal method that engages students more broadly, what can I do to keep my kids’ interest up?

Thank you.

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I'm not a teacher, but just an adult beginner. You make it sound as if your teacher is rigid and not able to adjust to what you think maximizes motivation for your kids.

Maybe you are right. But consider that truly learning piano is not all fun. There is a lot of hard methodic work to do, and rewards are reaped in slow-motion. This is difficult to maintain to our modern world, where everything caters to short attention spans and instant gratification. Only few kids can escape this draw. The majority loses interest sooner or later, and just continues because their parents make them (often the parenting strategy is to allow them learn a different skill, but not "none"). It's natural and cannot be avoided. Switching teachers or music styles (classical/pop/jazz) may help, but won't fix it long-term.

Another big issue is that working on the musical aspects of a piece requires that the mechanical aspects are already mastered. You need note values, fingering, rhythm, AND spare mental resources to work on the music itself. This means that your kids will spend more weeks on the same few pieces, learning less pieces per year. This does not automatically raise their motivation.

Also, your kids need to develop understanding and "an ear" for music. Progressing with practice requires ability to constantly self-judge. It's so much easier to progress with notes and rhythm, because it's just yes or no. Musical expression is different. There's no clear right/wrong. Your kids need to be ready for this, or they won't know how to meet the expectations. Singing classes are probably a good way to accelerate this (but fills precious time slots too).

It appears as if I was defending your teacher, but actually I'm not. It's just food for thought.

Maybe you can "sit in" with your kids' classes for a few weeks (as passive observer) to get a better understanding on the teachers methods and limitations.

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As a parent who knows a little bit about piano and sending his kid to learn piano, the first very difficult question I am asking myself all the time is why I ask my kid to play piano. This is also a question my kid is always asking.
In my case, at the beginning the pandemic situation last year, which has ceased almost all children activities. So we were looking for a quite “quarantine” activity which should be difficult enough to be learned for a long period. So the piano seems a very good candidate.
We find a very good piano teacher for him and I am assisting his home practice. Just after several weeks, I really feel “oh my god, why we had this idea...”. I am having almost weekly one new answer so far.....

Go back to your question, you have mentioned that your daughters could reproduce the music they like independently. Their objective to follow piano lessons has accomplished. They start to feel learn piano as a work. For me that is a very important achievement. It is now your turn: you should answer the question what your daughters should still learn from piano lessons.


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I met young people who got enrolled with a private teacher or a music program. In 1 family the father took lessons but hated it. He hasn't touched piano for years but nonetheless got his kids into it. After a few years they quit and spend time texting or on social media.

Piano playing for me is personal. I was stressed at work and needed a balance in life. Coming from a non-musical family, other family members see music as an academic exercise. Students would learn standard Classical repertoire most students would play. They think people need to start at a young age and spend years to master it. I'm with a group of adult learners (some are retired). I don't have an issue downloading music outside my assigned repertoire. I took violin playing in school years ago and like Classical music even when others listened to Pop.

We all went to school and learned to read. There is a library of books and nothing against people reading materials outside their school curriculum. I don't see a problem playing pieces outside those assigned by a piano teacher since we can read music. I don't like teachers who are too rigid and only stick to "standard" repertoire like some Suzuki teachers.

Someone in the family took violin lessons years ago but eventually quit. We all know practice is time consuming. And we're not going to be playing all the pieces we like. In order to get to the ones we like, we have to learn repertoire by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. for playing techniques (the pieces we don't necessarily like). People who get into playing music as time-filler is heading for failure. We need expectations the type of music we want to play from day 1 instead of letting the teacher decide.

I don't agree with people who say you learn to play to an advanced level and you'd like piano. If you don't enjoy playing from day 1, you're not going to like it 5 years later. I don't just practice music for the sake of techniques. I experiment with different sounds and make recordings along the way. Instead of playing a piece as written on paper, I'd sometimes rearrange pieces to get an original sound. Nobody in my adult piano group does music arrangements. With the free time we have during the lockdown, I'm spending as much time on the computer arranging music as learning to play them.

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
I don't agree with people who say you learn to play to an advanced level and you'd like piano. If you don't enjoy playing from day 1, you're not going to like it 5 years later.

You have a point, although to some extent that is heavily affected by secondary gain (often social reward) or being inspired by a teacher.

The other side of that is that like foreign language, musical vocabulary is more easily acquired while young, and gives you options later if you do develop a desire to learn an instrument or to sing.

I've had a number of friends who wanted to play or sing, and joined our choir or picked up guitar after they retired. None of them succeeded, but it was certainly painful for the rest of us too.

One of my children lasted a year in piano lessons and the other a year in middle school band. Neither had the desire to continue but they learned the basics of notation and it has lasted. The piano player sometimes fills in when I'm short a handbell ringer, and she has no trouble reading music; the trumpet player bought a ukulele and had a great time learning it. Those early lessons left them with some basics that they can choose to apply later.


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Your issue is a cultural one. I would be very much like that piano teacher, giving the pop music only a cursory check near the end of the lesson. I enjoy some popular music, but most of it is best enjoyed later on because the rhythms are challenging and the good stuff is at a higher level. Probably your daughters are playing the rhythm by rote learning when they play pop.

A firm classical instruction is best, in my opinion. The best music is classical of course.

From my personal opinion, you need to draw examples from the classical repertoire and not listen to the lower music tastes of Let it Go and Taylor Swift. When your radio is on in the car, why not play some classical piano cd's or Beethoven symphonies?

Here is what I think will happen if you switch to a teacher who likes the kind of pop instruction you like. The kids will be able to play a few more years but then they will quit. I'm willing to bet money on it. Musically, this diet does not sustain interest. Also, they will have trouble with the rhythms. It's better to teach a variety of pieces, which your teacher is doing.

I would ask your teacher if she is meeting HER goals with your children, rather than your goals. She is the professional. I would ask your children to work harder at the teacher's goals. I'm willing to bet they have trouble working hard at other things. Say you asked them to really execute a Lego creation like a house built for a single piano teacher; they would likely start to think of it as work and konk out before it's done. The lego pieces will be strewn on the floor and the "open" play would be closed.

Part of your job as parent is to teach your children to work really hard at something. Piano is only fun when you work hard at it.

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Originally Posted by TimR
You have a point, although to some extent that is heavily affected by secondary gain (often social reward) or being inspired by a teacher.

Totally agree that someone who learned to read music playing 1 instrument can transfer his/her reading skills to another. In my case, I started with a violin. My school teacher got people in class to learn basic chords (major, minor, augmented & diminished). We learned a lot of music theory that had no practical use for playing violin, viola or cello since these instruments only allow us to play "broken" chords 2 strings at a time and not 3-note chords like a guitar. When I started piano over a decade ago, I still remembered how to form chords from 3 decades earlier.

There are other considerations:

* A lot of young people get enrolled in music programs or with private teachers by their parents. They didn't make the decision or choose the instrument. On the other hand, kids don't have enough exposure to music or an instrument to make informed decisions. People who come from a non-musical family, the parents don't know enough to make sound decisions either so the first year can be a lot of trial & error (finding if a child likes music and which instrument would be suitable).

* For some it's the matter of finding the right instrument and their talent shine. Yo-Yo Ma was handed a violin by his father but passed for a cello. Sujari Britt's father put her through piano lessons but she wanted a cello instead.

* For others the first few years is the matter of trying out music in general regardless of the instrument. Some just don't have an interest in music. A while ago I read a newsletter posted by the president of the Kawai Association of America. The family has a Korean ancestry. The father wanted his son to play piano. He ended up playing baseball not because he liked sports but he didn't want to be forced into piano.

* Some people held onto the age-old believe that you have to start at a young age. I didn't have a problem getting into piano. Someone in the family took violin lessons years ago. She feels that the violin would be her only choice if she wants to play music again since it'd be too late to learn another. And she would need a teacher from day 1... as if she has to relearn the materials she already mastered before. Picking up music later in life even as retirees in their 50s & 60s is becoming common. Some people gave up years ago for various reasons got into playing years later.

Coming from a non-musical family myself, mom being a practical person had an interesting way of picking instruments. She would only allow us to play a "light" instrument like violin or flute so we wouldn't have to carry a lot of weight to music lessons. Piano is an exception since it stays in 1 spot. Someone in the family got a guitar because he was the most athletic. The sound of the instrument or the repertoire we'd play didn't matter to her.

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Coming from a non-musical family myself, mom being a practical person had an interesting way of picking instruments. She would only allow us to play a "light" instrument like violin or flute so we wouldn't have to carry a lot of weight to music lessons.

If my kids were unathletic, I'd make them play tuba. That would solve both problems, learning music and getting some exercise.


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Originally Posted by macbruins
Elizabeth, my older daughter, is 11. She is a 6th year student. She can sight read somewhat. For example, she played “Color of the Wind” from Dan Coates’s “Easy Piano Timeless Popular Classics” the first time she saw it. She made a few mistakes, but the melody was clear. She has no problem sight read Czerny’s “The School of Velocity”. She has adequate finger controls. Dynamics in her playing is clear.

Vivian, my younger daughter, is 8. She is a 3rd year student. She can sight read too, but slowly and with more mistakes. For example, she learned “Let It Go” from the same Dan Coates’s book without help. She generally has no trouble with Keith Snell’s “Level 3 Piano Repertoires.” The dynamics in her playing needs work. Softer notes can become inaudible, louder notes fortissimo.

Elizabeth liked her lessons when she started. She liked playing kids’ songs. Vivian had even more fun. After learning the basics, she would play, by ear, bits of pop music like Taylor Swift or musicals like Mary Poppins. Elizabeth and Vivian like playing with different voice and transposing on an electronic keyboard, to make songs scarier or more Christmas-y for instance. They experiment with styles too. For a while Vivian played notes with staccato for “Pac-Man” style and Elizabeth tried playing classical in rag. I think this is great.
Your kids are obviously well-taught: they can read music and learn pieces by themselves. Their teacher has done a great job. Every piano teacher's ultimate goal is to have their students develop all the skills they need to be able to play anything they want, with reasonable accuracy and musicality.

Eventually, students will decide they have enough skills to pursue their choice of music. How long before that happens depends on how far they want to go, and what genre they are interested in. Students focusing on classical will require a lot of advanced skills honed over years and years if they want to reach advanced standard (and I'm not even talking about conservatory level).
For instance, I had non-stop lessons for ten years before I achieved my performance diploma.


Quote
I ask them to listen to music in movies and TV, because melodies are often re-arranged to express different emotions.
I think it would be better if you listen to classical music yourself and get your kids listening to it, so they can understand how great composers "manipulate" the listener's emotions with their music - but not by adding loud bangs and percussion and swoons to the same basic stuff like pop and movie tunes.

Let me give you an example, of three well-known classical songs by that great songwriter Franz Schubert (English lyrics are in the videos):

The story of the hapless trout:


Night and dreams:


The menacing Erlking, with a tragic denouement:


See how everything fits together - lyrics, melody, harmony, rhythm......and dynamics? Classical music is like that: everything goes together to produce the whole. Not that you can't then re-arrange the tunes and turn it into something else, but anything you do to the original will produce an inferior product. There have been lots of pop songs which "borrowed" their tunes from classical music, but none of them lasted long, unlike the original music.

Learning to play the piano is about learning skills (a lot of them, musical and technical, over years), so that you can project what the music means to your listener/audience - not about making "arrangements" of existing classical piano pieces.
If you just want fancy arrangements with crackle & pop, you could buy a synthesiser and it will make anything you want to your heart's content - but are you actually making real music?

Your daughters can have fun learning pop stuff by themselves as well as continuing to develop more skills with their teacher. (Yes, they still have a lot more to learn.) FWIW, when I was a student, I played pop songs and movie themes by ear for fun by myself and with friends, while learning classical with my teacher. I was basically having my cake and eating it: continuing to pursue classical piano to an advanced standard while using the skills learnt from classical to have a bit of fun with pop and other stuff on the side, where anything goes. (There are no wrong notes in improv.) My main focus was, of course, classical, which is why I am performing as well as teaching now.

So.....why not let your daughters continue to learn properly with their teacher even as they enjoy dabbling in other stuff on their own, with or without their teacher's help? If they decide that they prefer to continue playing what they like on their own rather than continuing to learn new skills, then by all means, stop lessons. But make sure that is what they want (rather than what you think they want, or what you prefer for them).

When I was a kid, my parents knew nothing about music, but luckily for me, never interfered with my piano lessons (even though they didn't see the point of me continuing with them, because I couldn't/wouldn't play - or smile - like Richard Clayderman). Which was why I got to become the pianist and musician I now am....... whistle


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I also started piano lessons at a young age. To make this really succinct: my lessons were all classical music, and I loved every minute of it. Did I also play pop, Broadway, show tunes, gospel, simple ragtime? Of course. I just played around with every type of music I could find at home, while still playing classical. I never felt the need to haul any of it to my lessons— I just used what I learned in my lessons to play other genres. In order to make this work for your daughters, you need to use arrangements that are at their skill level and mirror what is included in their lessons, arrangements can be found at every difficulty level.

Maybe get their teacher to help you select the arrangement level that matches what they have already learned


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Originally Posted by Candywoman
Your issue is a cultural one.
....

I agree with the most part but for this part
Originally Posted by Candywoman
....
I would ask your teacher if she is meeting HER goals with your children, rather than your goals. She is the professional. I would ask your children to work harder at the teacher's goals. I'm willing to bet they have trouble working hard at other things. Say you asked them to really execute a Lego creation like a house built for a single piano teacher; they would likely start to think of it as work and konk out before it's done. The lego pieces will be strewn on the floor and the "open" play would be closed.

Part of your job as parent is to teach your children to work really hard at something. Piano is only fun when you work hard at it.

the teachers' objectives I have heard in the past:
-finish Thompson volume.... (for me: no sense)
-fix hand/finger position... (for me: no sense)
-maybe Czerny (for me: no sense)
-Sonatine (for me: no sense at the beginning, but I liked some of them at some points)
-Bach two voices inventions... (for me: no sense at that time, it makes sense years later)
....
-first sentimental and than express it with music... (for me:no sense for a very long time, but it is now the most important part during my entire piano learn process. my personal objective was Chopin Polonaise. I dropped at some point for university, but I understand how to do it now)

I mean the teachers' objectives makes sense when someone knows the results, but it doesn't make sense at the moment of execution. It is hard to motivate the student. As parent, the only motivation I can tell is learn to do something difficult...


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It sounds like maybe the teacher you have is just not a good fit for the type of piano instruction you're looking for. What I recommend is that you ask around, maybe at a local music store, for recommendations of teachers. For example, I would be a great fit for your girls if I were in your area. Teachers like what you're looking for exist. You may hit the jackpot if you can find a music teacher's organization, like Guild or NFMC. Teachers in those organizations are more likely to know each other and be able to recommend teachers with openings.


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This kind of "mechanical" teachers may only be met on the lowest levels of music education. They are good at teaching basic skills, but they can't teach music. It may be that your daughters are ready for a more advanced teacher. IMO.

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Originally Posted by Candywoman
Your issue is a cultural one.
First, thank you. I very much appreciate a teacher's opinions.
You're correct that this is a cultral issue. but it's a bit complicated and I'll save it for later.
Originally Posted by Candywoman
A firm classical instruction is best, in my opinion.
At what point are students encouraged to branch out?
Originally Posted by Candywoman
Here is what I think will happen if you switch to a teacher who likes the kind of pop instruction you like.
Actually, I am hoping for lessons with more emotional content, not necessarily lessons heavy in popular music. I used popular music in my post to show that one, my kids used to think learning piano is fun, but no longer; and two, they are more engaged in their lessons when they understand the emotions, but their lessons do not cover this aspect of the music.

Example: Vivian (my 8-year-old) worked on Liszt “Liebestraum” No 3. Despite watching several performances (e.g. Lang Lang), she played some notes as loud as she could. When being reminded that the music should be soft, she simply said “those notes are forte.” But when she played “Let It Go” too loudly, just reminding her Elsa’s emotions improved her phrasing. To me, Vivian played “Liebestraum” literally, but internalized “Let It Go.”

My thinking is that if Elizabeth and Vivian can emotionally connect to their lessons, practices will be easier and more fun. But there are no discussions of emotions in their classical instructions. I think this component is very important for their advancement.

Talk of emotions brings me back to the cultural issue.
Originally Posted by Candywoman
From my personal opinion, you need to draw examples from the classical repertoire and not listen to the lower music tastes of Let it Go and Taylor Swift.
The fact is that classical music is over most people's heads, including my kids. When my wife and I watch classical music performances on YouTube, our kids can’t get past the first 10 minutes. When they play classical music for their friends or our relatives, kids stare blankly and adults offer polite praises. Then they ask for the music they know. This steers Elizabeth and Vivian toward popular music.

I think this tendency can be countered if my kids’ performance can have a bigger “wow” factor. For example, if they master a few pieces in “School of Velocity” or “Fur Elise.” But their teacher usually moves on quickly.

Meanwhile, other activities are also taking their time. For example, Elizabeth wants to stay ahead in math and to play soccer competitively. They will naturally move to rewarding activities and spend less time on piano. At that point, forcing them to learn will just turn the whole thing into a stinky chore.

So the questions I am trying to answer are, when push comes to shove, is it better to continue piano lessons with popular music, or no lessons at all? And how do I move my kids away from that point in the first place?

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Originally Posted by bennevis
I think it would be better if you listen to classical music yourself and get your kids listening to it, so they can understand how great composers "manipulate" the listener's emotions with their music - but not by adding loud bangs and percussion and swoons to the same basic stuff like pop and movie tunes.
First, I really appreciate hearing from a teacher. Thank you very much, especially for such a detailed post.

Your suggestion is one I hear often. But I want to ask, does it work for typical elementary school kids?

I realize that popular music is disposable while classical masterpieces will last eternity. But just like other pinnacles of human achievements, appreciating them requires a level of intelligence and maturity that many people don’t possess. My kids are two such people. My wife and I often watch performances of classical music on YouTube. Recently, all four of us sat and watched Lang Lang playing Liebestraum No 3. My kids couldn’t get past his expressions.

For a while, my wife and I made up little stories to explain the music in their lessons (like in Disney’s Fantasia). We hoped they would feel more emotions while practicing and playing, but that didn’t work either.

Originally Posted by bennevis
So.....why not let your daughters continue to learn properly with their teacher even as they enjoy dabbling in other stuff on their own, with or without their teacher's help? If they decide that they prefer to continue playing what they like on their own rather than continuing to learn new skills, then by all means, stop lessons. But make sure that is what they want (rather than what you think they want, or what you prefer for them).
I don’t think time is not on my side. My kids already show lower level of interests in their lessons, and they committed much of their free time to other activities.

I brought up popular music in my original post to show that, one, my kids would practice and play when they felt learning was fun; and two, the dynamics/emotions in their classical lessons are nothing more than written instructions that they do not feel. I understand that popular music do not make good instruction materials.

And this leads to back to getting my kids emotional invested in their lessons. If they study music they understand, they will have more fun and learn faster. And if they play the kind of music that audiences (classmates, relatives, etc.) like, they will draw more positive responses, which will encourage continuing learning.

I would prefer that my kids to continue learning piano for a few more years, especially for the 8-year-old. But finding motivations is hard. They do not practice voluntarily anymore.

Additionally, learning piano is just one of many activities competing for their time. For example, for the past year Elizabeth practiced soccer, by herself, hours every week because she wants to play competitively. And because of her many activities, I find it hard asking her to practice piano for more than four hours a week. But if her interest in piano isn’t strengthened, she will eventually stop and spend those hours on other things.

I am trying to find a way to stop us from getting to that point. But if we get there, aren’t piano lessons heavy in popular music better than no lessons at all? Can you let me know your expert opinion?

Thank you.

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Originally Posted by dogperson
I also started piano lessons at a young age. To make this really succinct: my lessons were all classical music, and I loved every minute of it. Did I also play pop, Broadway, show tunes, gospel, simple ragtime? Of course. I just played around with every type of music I could find at home, while still playing classical. I never felt the need to haul any of it to my lessons— I just used what I learned in my lessons to play other genres. In order to make this work for your daughters, you need to use arrangements that are at their skill level and mirror what is included in their lessons, arrangements can be found at every difficulty level.

Maybe get their teacher to help you select the arrangement level that matches what they have already learned
Thank you for the advice. How did you find the music outside your lessons? Did you just try them to know if they are right for you?

My daughters are the first ones in the family to have any music training. Although there are many websites offering sheets for download or books for sale, I don’t know which are at their levels, and certainly not what are close to their lessons.

My wife did ask the teacher to help, but it didn’t work out.

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Originally Posted by zonzi
It is now your turn: you should answer the question what your daughters should still learn from piano lessons.
Originally Posted by zonzi
I mean the teachers' objectives makes sense when someone knows the results, but it doesn't make sense at the moment of execution. It is hard to motivate the student. As parent, the only motivation I can tell is learn to do something difficult...
For my kids, I wish they have fun practicing and playing like they did. They loved messing with songs like “I Wish You A Merry Christmas” or “Do Rei Mi”. I want to get them that feeling again.

For myself, I want them to continue partly out of pride. My wife and I signed them up to fill some free time, but they did much better than we expected. Elizabeth’s teacher used to ask to enter her into competitions every month, thinking she would do very well. We declined because we just wanted her to have fun.

And I don’t want them to waste the time they already invested. A few years of lessons, hours of practices per week, add up to a lot of playdates they had to miss.

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Originally Posted by Brinestone
It sounds like maybe the teacher you have is just not a good fit for the type of piano instruction you're looking for. What I recommend is that you ask around, maybe at a local music store, for recommendations of teachers. For example, I would be a great fit for your girls if I were in your area. Teachers like what you're looking for exist. You may hit the jackpot if you can find a music teacher's organization, like Guild or NFMC. Teachers in those organizations are more likely to know each other and be able to recommend teachers with openings.
Thank you for the suggestion. I will ask around.

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I'm seeing an equating of "dynamics" with "emotion", which I think is overly simplistic. What are the playing techniques and physical skills that enable a pianist to convey emotion? This If I were the student/parent, this is what I would ask the teacher. (I can play piano "with emotion" but I cannot break that down into detailed explanation and execution as I do with bowed string instruments.)

OP mentioned having a sparse musical background. In view of that, it's even more important to seek music learning from more "professional" sources vs. taking cues from the popular trends. Here are a few things that I took notice of:

Originally Posted by macbruins
like playing with different voice and transposing on an electronic keyboard, to make songs scarier or more Christmas-y for instance
These are technological effects, not piano technique.

Originally Posted by macbruins
played notes with staccato for “Pac-Man” style
Generally, entire pieces are not played in a "staccato style" unless it's a student piece made for the purpose of practicing staccato. A pianist does need it as a technique/tool of articulation to be able to employ a variety of sounds in a given piece.

Originally Posted by macbruins
music in movies and TV, because melodies are often re-arranged to express different emotions
I'll be overly simplistic and point out that some of the emotions conveyed by the film composer/score are achieved by orchestration (combinations of instruments), harmony, voicing, rhythm, or things that are not piano-specific. A pianist should spend ample time listening to *piano music* (and not only music arranged for piano) and still needs to connect the "emotion" of the music to what physically to do when sitting at the piano.

Originally Posted by macbruins
lessons mostly stay within the lesson books...only cursory checks on these extra-curriculum songs
I would do the same. As a teacher, I've picked what we are working on for the skills and benefits offered by those pieces and exercises. (I have standard selections as well as variety.) Sure, I will spend time on additional material of a student's interest but not as a priority. If an extra piece is within the student's independent ability, I should not need to hand-hold her through everything. I should have taught her well enough for her to be able to handle most of it. If she has an idea of what she wants to do with the piece (play it more artistically or something) but needs help with the physical execution, she should ask that specifically. If an extra piece is beyond her reach, our time is better spent building the skills needed to do that piece, rather than going through it note by note.

Originally Posted by macbruins
used to think learning piano is fun
What was fun? The kids' songs? (which are common for children's learning so that they can gain some basic skills before venturing into the "masterworks") Playing popular music? (I personally view that as "dessert" and use "classical" repertoire for skills although some may disagree) Playing what they liked? (keeping in mind that a teacher's job is to help you increase your skills and challenge you in ways that you wouldn't think of...if you only want to play what you want, you don't need a teacher - or need a teacher who is willing to put aside an expertise of guiding students' directions and only answer the questions you ask)

Hard work and fun don't have to be mutually exclusive. You put in the work, you get better, and you find it fun. For most people, if they are "not good at something", they don't find it fun. This is why I have a problem with the mindset that learning needs to be made "fun" - yes it helps (and especially for children who are learning through play) but if you view fun as what's easy or superficial, you are not going to reach deeper mastery.

Originally Posted by macbruins
when she played “Let It Go” too loudly, just reminding her Elsa’s emotions improved her phrasing. To me, Vivian played “Liebestraum” literally, but internalized “Let It Go.”
Let It Go has a vocal component. The way I introduce young students to phrasing is by singing and breathing. You have to know what the phrase is to be able to get into what is it doing and where is it going.

Originally Posted by macbruins
The fact is that classical music is over most people's heads...
When my wife and I watch classical music performances on YouTube, our kids can’t get past the first 10 minutes...
I think this tendency can be countered if my kids’ performance can have a bigger “wow” factor. For example, if they master a few pieces in “School of Velocity” or “Fur Elise.” But their teacher usually moves on quickly.
If you want to learn more about and develop a greater appreciation for classical music, you have to listen more. Start with programs and performances that are designed "for families". It was easier to do this pre-pandemic, as our local symphony had these several times a year and stories would be shown or told alongside the music to introduce kids to what the music "means". A classic for me as a child was the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Rhapsody Rabbit" featuring Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.2. Tom & Jerry had a similar episode "Cat Concerto" and there are a number of these old animations that you can start with.

Mainstream audiences (think nationally televised talent shows) are notoriously wow'ed by the typical flashy pieces over other pieces that might be challenging to execute with technical and musical perfection but that sound "simple" (because they were executed so well). If you are really not that interested in delving deeper into classical music, there's nothing wrong with making that a personal choice, but it will of course be the minority view on a forum such as this.

Fur Elise is notoriously butchered by students itching to play something "standard" that sometimes advanced and pro players can have a hard time taking it seriously. However, here is a short video of Lang Lang explaining playing it "in a way that has a special feeling":

If you'll be distracted by his facial expressions, just listen to it without watching. At the end he says something about hoping that kids will treat it as a real masterwork and not just [he plunks the opening phrase as an example]. How are students taught and when (what level) about higher level interpretation? That is going to depend on the teacher's long-term view.

If the teacher moves on quickly but you want to work on the piece more, what's stopping you from continuing to work on it or asking the teacher another question about the piece?

Originally Posted by macbruins
I would prefer that my kids to continue learning piano for a few more years, especially for the 8-year-old. But finding motivations is hard. They do not practice voluntarily anymore.
Do you view piano as "this is part of your education, something that is as important as math or reading, that you continue while you are in [elementary / middle / high] school"? Do they do other homework voluntarily or other household tasks? Do you view piano as a leisure/extracurricular activity that can be dropped "when I don't feel like it anymore"? Again, neither is objectively wrong but it's a personal/family decision. I've had students who gave up music for sports and also students who gave up sports for music (meaning eventually they chose to pursue one more seriously than the other, leaving the other to be casual dabbling).

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Originally Posted by macbruins
Originally Posted by zonzi
It is now your turn: you should answer the question what your daughters should still learn from piano lessons.
Originally Posted by zonzi
I mean the teachers' objectives makes sense when someone knows the results, but it doesn't make sense at the moment of execution. It is hard to motivate the student. As parent, the only motivation I can tell is learn to do something difficult...
For my kids, I wish they have fun practicing and playing like they did. They loved messing with songs like “I Wish You A Merry Christmas” or “Do Rei Mi”. I want to get them that feeling again.

For myself, I want them to continue partly out of pride. My wife and I signed them up to fill some free time, but they did much better than we expected. Elizabeth’s teacher used to ask to enter her into competitions every month, thinking she would do very well. We declined because we just wanted her to have fun.

And I don’t want them to waste the time they already invested. A few years of lessons, hours of practices per week, add up to a lot of playdates they had to miss.


This makes no sense: you want them to currently miss play dates to compensate for the historically missed play dates? Waste more time to make up for what you see was previously wasted time? Lessons should be for wanting to learn to play.

You weren’t able to get your teacher to help you choose music at an appropriate level? Take the first page or so of two different arrangements of the same music to a lesson and ask ‘which one is appropriate’. With many web sites, you can preview the music or look inside the book before you buy. It is much easier now than back in the dark ages where you needed to buy the music before you tried it

Is your teacher using a method book series? If yes, the series will often sell companion books of additional music at the same level. If they are in a level 2 book, look for other level 1 or 2 books.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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