When my daughter started the first grade, the beginning of the school year brought more than a new teacher and new room at her elementary school. It also brought the start of piano lessons, very much against her will.
I can still see the chubby-cheeked, bobbed-hair little girl staring at me, defiance in her eyes, saying, “I don’t want to take piano. You’re only making me do this because you want to do it.”
I have to admit, that six-year-old was right. I did want her to do it. I wanted her to take piano lessons because it’s what I did, and my mother before me. I wanted it for her because I had read so many articles reporting on research that showed children who played a musical instrument performed better in school, particularly in math.
There are also other reasons I wanted her to take piano lessons. What I wanted her to get out of piano was this:
Learning the importance of practice
Being good at something and reaching your goals takes practice and hard work. Learning to play the piano is a great teaching tool for this. I can’t tell you how many times my daughter would start practicing a new song the day after a lesson, stumbling to find the notes, and end up crying or shutting down with an “I can’t do this” face. But after some coaching, sometimes raised voices, and more often than not, tears, she would practice again the next day, and the next, and at the end of the week she was playing the song and maybe even calling it her new favorite.
Better time management skills
Fifteen minutes a day might not seem like a lot to ask. When you’re six, however, and your baby dolls need to be dressed, it can seem like an eternity. Making time during the day to practice, and learning to work it in around homework and soccer practice has definitely helped my daughter learn the skills needed to schedule her own activities and value her time.
An added form of stress relief
I remember being in my daughter’s position, telling my own mom I didn’t want to take piano. Her answer to me was, “I just want you to learn enough to be able to come home after a bad day and play a few songs.” That seemed so strange to me at the time.
As a young adult, if I’d had a bad day at work, or was just feeling down, I could bang out some Billy Joel or Disney tunes and get up from the stool a half hour later feeling much better. Losing yourself in music takes your mind off your problems and provides a great place to escape.
Opening up future possibilities
I don’t expect my daughter to be a concert pianist, but I do feel the music she learns will serve her well in adulthood. The ability to read music will allow her the option of joining a choir or even a band, which can provide a great place for making friends and be a good social outlet.
Of course, even though I felt my reasons for wanting my daughter to stick with piano were totally justified, I did plenty of second guessing along the way. What if that little six year old staring at me with fire in her eyes was right, and I really only wanted her to take piano because I had? Was I being selfish? Unreasonable?
For years, when my daughter would beg to quit and I wouldn’t let her, I kept a strong stance in front of her, but inside I was questioning myself and my motives. Should I let her quit? Does she really hate it that much?
The answer to those questions always remained a solid no. I knew in my heart of hearts she really didn’t hate it that much. Even if she didn’t love it, it was so good for her.
Now, six years later, the bob cut is grown out into a tween’s long straight hair, and the baby fat has melted off her cheeks. The tears over practicing are a distant memory, yet she still makes sure to remind me, very regularly, that she does not like taking lessons or practicing the piano.
According to a deal we made a few years ago, she will be able to quit next year when she is eligible for middle school sports. I have admitted to myself that while piano might have been a passion for me, it is soccer that has her heart.
I am here to say, though, that the six-year struggle was worth it. When she comes in the door after a bad day, a cloud of moodiness settled over her shoulders, she goes to the piano and bangs out the triumphant chords of the Star Wars theme, and I can almost see the cloud dissipate. Piano lessons may have been a rocky road full of tears and raised voices, but there was joy to be found through it all.