After many years of watching students grow and develop, I’ve noticed that some experience a turnaround of feelings about playing the piano, and it can occur at any level of study from beginner to advanced.
In some instances, the materials used by the teacher can dampen enthusiasm for learning, but more often, a complex set of pycho-dynamics is at work.
A mom or dad might unconsciously project their feelings of insecurity/inadequacy onto a child. In their mind, a level of “perfection” must be attained without reservation. There is no place for “wrong” notes or hesitation.
Children with very “perfectionistic” parents come to lessons feeling like the world will crumble if errant notes creep into pieces.
Very young students, in the 6 to 8-year old range may start out with that wondrous tabula rasa, absorbing each new phase of their learning adventure with eagerness, but in no time, a form of rebellion and non-compliance emerges.
In many of these situations a parent who lives through the successes and “failures” of his/her child transmits this message loud and clear 24/7, with its global effect on many life activities.
I must admit that my jaw dropped when one mom who stayed during lessons, jumped out of her chair, sauntered over to the piano, pushed her child off the bench, and began demonstrating the “proper” way to execute a difficult passage. In a conspicuous violation of boundaries, she scolded her daughter and faulted her for “not getting it,” right away.
You can imagine how the child felt, let alone the teacher.
Perhaps this was a classic maneuver of a Tiger Mom, but in truth, parents of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds have “acted out” in the same inappropriate way.
“Shout outs” are usually more common, and these aren’t associated with confidence boosting, cheerleading efforts. They’re quite the opposite. You might as well have an angry coach on the sideline picking on players thought to be lazy or not trying hard enough. The same would apply to piano students perceived by parents to be performing below par, even before they’ve had a chance to “play” and develop. It’s the metaphorical Little League syndrome, where only players who can hit home runs are put in the line-up. The rest are benched and eventually drop out.
A beginning student is doing very well. She follows directions and is making progress.
During the week her parents follow through by helping her practice since she is very young and needs reinforcement. Goals are communicated by the teacher in a post-lesson phone conference and by e-mail. Everything seems to be humming along.
As lessons unfold, the child becomes less and less interested in the piano, where joy was previously in abundance.
Upon a close examination of the situation, it’s found that mom or dad have scolded the child during every practice session; vilified him for collapsing his hand position, playing wrong notes and having a short attention span. Real threats to take away piano lessons if practicing continues to be “lazy” and unfocused are leveled at the child.
With such egregious, negative reinforcement on the home front, love for the piano turns to avoidance and aversion. It leaves the piano teacher with a battling, stubborn child who will do anything to have lessons terminated to alleviate overwhelming parental pressure.
A self-fulfilling prophecy is in motion.
In no time, lessons die on the vine. Love for the piano is no longer shared with the teacher who is perceived by the student to be one step removed from the parent.
The teacher is abusive and transmits an impossible performance standard. In some instances a child’s head might be shoved into the music when wrong notes are played.
Yelling and screaming permeate lessons making them a grid of high tension without relief.
Add in components of case 1 and 2, substituting teacher for parent and all the ingredients for a nasty divorce from piano are in the making.
Can love for the piano be rekindled amidst the turmoil inflicted by some parents and teachers?
Perhaps with psychological intervention, or miraculous enlightenment.
For teachers dealing with parents who “live” through the “performances” of their children and demand impossible levels of perfection, the only thing to do is make them gently aware of their impact and suggest a healthier behavioral direction.
With parents who discover that the teacher is creating undue stress during lessons, the best remedy is to find another instructor who is caring and compassionate.
If all else fails, there’s always Dr. Laura. She’ll go the tough love route and suggest that piano lessons be canned without a second thought.