I had started learning piano when I was three or four at Yamaha, and I enjoyed my lessons. Every weekend, my parents would drive me to Plaza Singapura and I would have lessons accompanied by my mother. I guess I was introduced to the piano early on, as I saw a photo of me with a toy piano when I was one.
With El, I thought I should start him with piano too, but there was no piano in my house, except at my parents’ place. I had brought him to a child psychologist over his poor sleeping habits, and she suggested letting him go for classes in the mornings just to let him have more structure. She suggested piano, art and swimming.
The music schools I saw had lessons available only on weekends. It did not meet his needs, so I decided to get a piano teacher for him. I managed to find one who lives in the same estate as us, had experience teaching Yamaha with certification, and of course the usual classical training. She seems very experienced and her students have done very well too. She could only teach him once a week, so he started lessons.
He enjoyed the lessons in the beginning, as they were really simple. The book was accompanied by a CD, so he could practise together. However, as I did not have a piano at home, I could not really practise with him. My mother lent me her keyboard, so we finally had something. However, I was very busy, and I did not practise with him much, only on a few occasions.
On the rare occasions we practised the piano, Gar would push him away and climb onto the chair and play the keyboard himself. He would also demand that I play ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ for him. By then, the reluctant piano player would run away and continue writing his own stuff or play other games. In addition, it would be Gar’s bedtime soon, and playing the keyboard would be too noisy.
He had a theory book, and he enjoyed the book very much. It taught him simple note recognition, and note count, but the best part was that there were stickers. He enjoyed sticking the stickers, and would do pages ahead of the teacher. However, when it got to the more difficult part where he had to draw the notes himself, he started losing patience.
Hence, after a few months, he needed to be enticed with food and snacks to go. A month or two ago, he started to go for lessons, especially as the car turned into the street where she lived. I had to carry him to the lift and up to the door, just to get him to go for lessons. He also kept saying he did not want to learn, which was unfortunately suggested to him by his grandparents.
I seriously wondered whether I should stop his piano lessons, and listen to him. It was fun and easy in the beginning because you could get away without much practising. Many children complained that they had learnt piano up to a few grades, and then totally hated their parents for making them play. They also gave up playing. Some might have gone on to become pop or rock musicians, and picked up guitar on their own.
Was I trying to make him a music prodigy when he was not? Was I imposing my own interest on him? However, I had read countless books, which suggested that passion only comes after you have acquired a certain level of skills. Mozart was a child prodigy because his father made him practise piano from a young age. He reached 10000 hours of practice much earlier than other people.
At the same time, as the mother, I have to do things which I think is right, not what my child thinks is right as he is not mature enough. I had also asked him earlier on whether he wanted to take piano lessons and he agreed. I did not want him to think that giving up was an option, at least not so early in the beginning. When he went to my parents’ place, he actually rushed towards the piano, and climbed up onto the piano chair to play. He actually did not dislike piano! I had also seen him climb up the chair willingly at his teacher’s place.
Piano inculcates discipline. It also trains the whole brain, which encourages both creativity and structure. It helps with memory. It helps with hand coordination (and foot too). It trains concentration too. It is also fun when we could play whatever we want. What El needs is structure. I am unable to provide much structure for him due to certain reasons which I am trying very hard to overcome. Practising the piano on a daily basis provides structure. His poor sleeping and eating habits stem from lack of proper structure.
El asked me why he had to learn the piano. He would not be satisfied with just ‘because I told you so’, so I thought of possible reasons. After hearing a couple, I think he got it. He came to practise two songs. The practice showed as he cleared those two songs and had to play the other songs again.
His teacher held a concert for her students. El was supposed to play, but I guess she thought he was so bad she did not put him in. I was very surprised to find out that she got another student who was four years old too, and had only spent one month with her, to perform. She performed the first piece they had learnt, and sang a song. El could do that. Why was he not given the chance to perform? I think it was very clear.
During the recital, he was bored out of his mind. He complained that it was too noisy when the next performer played the piano. He covered his ears and whined. When there were other performances, he was lying down and doing all sorts of things except paying attention. Yet, when a boy played Beethoven’s Pathetique, El listened. He even suggested giving a flower to that player at the end of the recital. I asked him whether he wanted to perform next year, he said yes. I was surprised. Perhaps he needed to see what other children were doing.
Just yesterday, after pulling Gar away from the piano, he finally came to practise one song. I have to learn to be more firm with him. I guess one song at a time. Let us see how things go.