Friday, February 17, 2012

Piano Wars

This is a video of Grace at her piano recital. I'm biased, of course, but I think she's pretty good for her age.

The problem is that behind this piece is two full months of practice. This video doesn't show me sitting next to her for two to three hours each week--demanding that she curl her fingers, clap out the rhythm, modify her fingering, play those five measures ten times in a row, okay just three more times. You can't see me asking her (for the EIGHTIETH TIME!) to take her feet off the piano keys, to stop wiggling, and sit up straight, please. You can't see her slumping to the floor in despair to cry and sob, "It's too hard!!"

I am experiencing a collision of priorities in my brain. I want Grace to work hard at something. I want her to reap the rewards of practice. I want her to find confidence in being really good at something difficult.

But I also want her to be happy. And I want us to be friends.

I've let her relax with her practice lately. I haven't sat next to her every afternoon. I haven't yelled at her to focus. I haven't made her practice at all, frankly, which means I'm losing some money every month. Instead of practicing, we have started to talk. Chat. She has started to tell me about friends in her class. About things that happen in school. Grace is not a natural conversationalist, so her chatter is precious.

Are these issues related? The fact that I'm not demanding perfection and the fact that she's starting to talk more?

I remember reading some mothering advice Marjorie Hinckley gave to her daughters: "Save the relationship." At the time, I didn't agree (and, in retrospect, that was stupid). I think I want a good relationship with her more than I want her to be a concert pianist.

Should I just help her find something else? Something that she loves? Or are you still too appalled by my horrible mothering to respond?


  1. Elise, how old is she? I've been teaching for 4+ years and I've got some theories... Email me! Jenkins . Brianna at gmail :)

  2. I've also been teaching for about 6 year (30+ students now!) I would love to talk to you about my ideas for what to do/what I've seen/what I do with my own kids.
    if you get a second to email me too aprillllarsen at gmail

  3. Read the book, if you haven't already, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I think you are doing great... she has no idea what she is capable of unless you show her. You will find a happy medium. I wish that my mom would have pushed me harder to excel. And I really wish I knew how to play the piano.

  4. I'm more of the mindset of just letting kids be kids and they'll find what they love to do. Encourage. Support. Challenge. Love. That's the kind of mom I want to be. I don't like the "Tiger Mother" philosophy. It scares me. I don't want to be in my kids' faces so much. Just play freely and learn and grow. I grew up with parents who were moderately disappointed in me when I didn't grasp an instrument or excel in my schooling and I can say I was pretty insecure and lacked self-confidence. That's just me, though. Don't listen to me. You're probably doing all the right things. :)

  5. I think the idea is good, but the timing is bad. She is still a bit young to force the kind of discipline you are hoping for, which could result in resentment for piano and you. I would say give it a couple of two cents(:

  6. You are the absolute best Elise. Isabel and I have piano wars. I stopped nagging and she was playing well all by herself for a while. Then she stopped practicing very much at all and I still didn't say anything. She had a piece that she was avoiding- it was a duet that she would play in a big festival. She had to audition for it and she didn't get in. It was really sad for her. Her teacher wanted her to do a lower level, but I felt like she needed a little natural consequence. It was sad to see her not succeed. She saw the costume and was really upset about it. So not fun. A
    I am so glad Claire is reading the book. It is funny how all of my kids had varying degrees of enjoyment (and complete frustration) with that book, but they all learned. Noah is doing really well in kindergarten and he was my most resistant.

  7. So when I was in 1st grade, Mom tried to give me a piano lesson - once. She told me that she was either going to kill my love of her or my love of music, so she let go of forcing me to play. Years later, I got the bug all on my own and spent hours practicing just for the love of playing. I don't know how normal my personal experience is, but I do know that my best friend in High School's mother would nag her daughter about not practicing the piano and why couldn't she do as well as me. Not necessarily a fair thing for her to say, but the idea of comparing with another wasn't taboo back then. So what I'm trying to say is, just as reading is like potty training in your later post, playing the piano also could be a play it by ear and see when the desire and love grab her. Then when that happens, it's time to encourage/help her with the piano. Just my own feelings, although I haven't taught for as long as the two women who commented earlier, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt. : ) Much love!!!

  8. Just an FYI - the bug/love of piano didn't come to me until the ninth grade (just a trickle) and then full force in eleventh grade. And if I do say so myself, I think I play pretty darn well. : )

  9. Oh Elise. I love you. You must know this.

    But, you cannot sit with her and pick apart the way she plays. My mom did this. I still haven't forgiven her. And, I'm not even joking. I am sure you are much nicer than my mom was. She screamed at me to play the right notes. To pay attention. To play slower, faster, more stocatto, louder, etc. I remember getting spanked on more than one ocassion because my mom felt that I wasn't trying ... or I was intentionally not doing my best. No, I'm not lying. It. Was. Nerve. Wrecking.

    Feel like a better mom now? I seriously doubt you've done any of those things.

    I am not a natural piano player, in that, I cannot sight read. Period. Every piece I ever learned, I had to practice over and over and over. And, I started playing at the age of 5 and I was forced, yes forced, I begged and begged to quit, to play until the age of 18. We could quit when we could pick up a Hymn book and play any Hymn the book opened to, or when we turned 18. Well, the age of 18 came first.

    I quit, for real, the day I turned 18. And guess what? I have never played another note on any piano since then. Not one. 13 years of piano ... down. the. drain. And, I was a great pianist. I played Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Rachmaninoff, etc. and was classical taught. My parents shelled out $90/hour for my lessons.


    By the age of 6 or 7, my mom had literally RUINED it for me. It was over. And I somehow, magically, hung in there for another 11/12 years until I was allowed to quit. I don't know what it was about her constant scrutiny over my piano playing that caused my overwhelming disdain for playing the piano. But, she made me feel completely and totally inadequate in that area and I never got over it. Never felt confident. Never embraced it because I never felt good enough.

    It's funny ... the way that things translate to a 6/7 year old. And, it's a fine line between teaching them a lesson that they'll look back on and appreciate ... and completely blowing it and creating such painful memories that 23-24 years later your kid still hasn't forgotten or forgiven you.

    So, I love you. You know this. But, tread lightly. And decide if the battle is really worth losing the war over. Just my two cents, but like I said, I was traumatized. Still sort of am. ;)