Getting A Piano Finally

We finally bought a piano! El had been practising on a keyboard for the longest time. The children like the keyboard because of the tunes and beats, and they can change the instruments too. However, we need to switch it on for them. It is also hard to gauge the amount of strength needed to play the notes on a piano.

I had been hesitating to get one because El kept complaining about how he disliked playing the piano. He still says that from time to time.

What sparked the change in mind was El’s mini piano concert held by his teacher. He practised hard and I played the accompaniment. We performed together to a group of other students’ parents over two nights.

playing piano

On the first night, El fumbled slightly. On the second night, he played very well with confidence! I was so proud of him.
el at the piano

He finally saw some reason for practising piano. I decided it was time to get a proper piano, instead of stealing practices at my mother’s place on an infrequent basis.

I also do not have to resort to the sticker book, which was quite useful in getting him to practise piano. I had given away many Dinosaur Train DVDs as he completed getting 50 stickers for each round. I had also finally caught up with the trips to Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and the zoo that he requested as part of the reward for achieving 50 stickers.

Therefore, we decided on getting a brand new Yamaha piano. There were a few pianos, vastly different in prices. Our interior designer had promised that there would be sufficient space in the living room, but after measuring, we could only fit in a piano that was 152cm wide and not much more. We bought the cheaper version, made in Indonesia.

When the piano first arrived, I was very sad because the notes sounded off. After a week or two, the technician came and tuned the piano. The notes sounded better. It was not so bad after all.

piano
I really hope El will continue to play the piano. As part of the Christmas package, we have $150 worth of vouchers. I wonder what to do with them.

“I want to learn the violin,” said El recently.

Eeks, would the piano be short-lived?

El Composes Gar Come To Play

El’s piano teacher wants him to play Gallop Pony for the annual concert. She had sent me a video of him playing that song before. We were at my parents’ place and I got him to practise the song. Since I could remember it from memory (almost), I played for him and he played too. He could remember it and played from memory, with a little hiccup.

I tried to teach him to link the notes and use his wrist movement to make the notes sound better and not staccato-like.

Then, because he wanted to play Pearl in the C, he became very agitated. I did not remember this song, so I could not play it for him. I got my husband, who was at home, to take a photo of the song and send it to me.
Pearl in the C

He did, and we played the song, which was just a series of C notes an octave apart.

gar el inspiration

Then, he swiped through the whatsapp photos, and noticed a picture of Gar. Immediately, he put the phone down, and started playing a few notes.

B C B C |A… | B C B C |D…|

I started singing to the tune, Gar(x) Gar(x) Come, Gar(x) Come and Play, using Gar’s full name. He was amused by it, and I suggested writing it down.

We went to my old room, where there was a grey office table I used to work at. I could not find any manuscript paper, so I took a piece of blank paper and drew the stave (or staff in American English for 5 music lines) using a plastic clipper for bags and a pencil. He climbed up a red stool and sat down. He wrote ‘Gar Come To Play’ at the top of the stave.

The notes are right between two clefs, so I wanted him to write them an octave higher. He went ahead to draw the beautiful middle C on top of the stave. I had to change the treble clef to bass clef.

“Hey, your tune starts with B, not C,” I reminded him.

He got down from the red stool, and ran out to play the notes again. He ran back and said that it was okay to start with C.

He was unhappy with how the B looked like, saying it was too flat. I erased it and he drew over it again. Eventually, he had written C B C B A C B C B D, all in minim beats.

Gar Come To Play

It was getting late, so we took the paper and left. I promised him I would buy manuscript paper for him. Music prodigy he is not, but at least he is showing more interest in piano now!

Carrot Vs Stick – Sticker Reward For Piano Playing

With lots of screaming and tears, I was close to stopping El’s piano lessons after one year. There were some spikes in interest, but most of the time, his interest was low, especially if you compare to his extremely strong interest in art.

I knew that he did not like playing the piano because he was experiencing failure. Learning everything else such as dinosaurs, animals, countries, capitals and flags was extremely easy to him. Whenever he could not play the next note correctly, he would get extremely frustrated and throw tantrums.

With the frequent meltdowns, people around me felt I was pushing him too hard. It was easy to let him give up, but I thought that he needed to know that it was alright to make mistakes, and that with practice, he should be able to overcome challenges and become more resilient. By not letting him learn how to fail, I would be doing him a disservice, as Dr Gail Post mentioned in her blogpost about failure as a life lesson. Dr Martha Beth Lewis also talks about reactions to failure by gifted children on piano playing.

Suddenly, an idea came to me. Instead of forcing him to play the piano, I should make him like piano. Instead of using the stick approach, I should dangle the carrot instead. I told him that as long as he earned fifty stickers, he would be able to go to River Safari, where he could see gharials, beavers and pandas. It was a place he wanted to visit again, but I had been too busy to bring him to.

Almost immediately, his attitude changed. He was willing to practise just one time, to get a sticker. Initially, I started with a sticker for each time he practise a song. Slowly, I was able to stretch it to a sticker for one song. He could choose leaves or marine creatures, or even lions and cheetahs. He started filling up his book. For each day of practice, he was able to get between three to five stickers.

sticker reward for piano practiceWith practice, he was able to play better during his piano lesson, and it became more enjoyable. When we had reached around 35 stickers, his playing became much better. His teacher actually recorded him playing the piano without any errors, and sent a video to me. I was definitely extremely happy about that.

el plays piano

Despite this initial success, I knew that playing the piano was just another activity to him, and it was not something fun yet. According to Therese Haberman’s article about gifted children and play activities, she mentioned that getting children to practise the piano or other instruments would qualify as skill development instead of play. El was playing the piano because I made him do so.

On one occasion, I started dancing to the music he was playing, when we discovered one instrument on the keyboard produced multiple notes when played. He laughed, and I played for him to dance. This was what piano should be about – fun, expressive and free.

He had been drawing a lot recently, and then suddenly, he started composing his own songs, just when we were reaching fifty stickers. He drew different beats and wrote his own lyrics. There were some spelling errors but I decided that it should not overshadow his newfound interest.

micheals tset music

He included drawings too to decorate the page. He also played on the piano for me. These were just simple tunes, but the fact was he did all these on his own accord. He even asked for the keyboard to be switched on, when I usually had to ask him whether he wanted more stickers to go to the River Safari before he would walk to the piano.

get yor hets

I asked whether he needed a music manuscript book. He declined. When he played the songs to me, he realised that he needed the staff so that he would know what notes they were. Like what Haberman said, when a child writes a poem spontaneously or composes music on his own, that can be seen as play and relaxation. I am so glad he has found another artistic outlet.

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