256. Music Lessons

I’ve taken music lessons, given them, and my wife and I paid someone to give them to our children. As a student, I hated both piano lessons and voice lessons. I took them because I thought it was the price I had to pay if I wanted to be good at playing the piano and singing. My school music teacher had heard me playing piano once, and had told my parents that I had talent, and that it would be a crime to waste it. My parents had responded by paying her to give me piano lessons.
I’m not sure, but I don’t think piano lessons did much to improve my playing. I learned that I shouldn’t rest my fingers on the piano when my teacher was watching; I should curve my fingers. I learned that I should look at the sheet music when my teacher was there, and pretend to be reading it. Once in a while, my teacher would stop me and point to a note. I’d look at the note, figure out what it was, and correct myself. When my teacher wasn’t around, I played whatever I wanted, except when my mother heard me and said, “Bob, that’s not what you’re supposed to be practicing.”
As for voice lessons, I didn’t practice at all, and I didn’t understand much of what my teacher was trying to teach me, partly because of her German accent, and partly because even when I could understand her words, I often couldn’t make heads nor tails of her meaning.
When my daughters took piano lessons, they seemed to be having a little more fun than I’d had, but they didn’t stick with it, and we didn’t force them to. I don’t think either one of them wishes they had continued lessons. It’s typical for adults to wish they’d taken lessons and persevered, but having had lessons and occasionally tried to persevere, I am one adult who wishes I had spent my time doing something else. I’m glad I can sing and play piano, but I don’t think lessons had much to do with either.
Then I tried giving piano lessons. I loved it. I let the children tell me how they wanted to spend the time, what they wanted to learn. Sometimes I actually taught them to read music, but more often, we had fun exploring the piano keyboard, picking out tunes, and talking. At first, I felt guilty about the talking, which often had nothing to do with music. But whenever I checked it out with parents, they told me it was okay. I guess my style was famous and infamous enough to attract people who liked it and repel those who didn’t.
I don’t believe that talent is in great danger of being wasted. If a child wants to develop talent, that will probably happen with or without lessons, and is often surprisingly possible even when the talent isn’t immediately apparent. If there’s a good child/teacher match, lessons can be helpful. But if a child doesn’t want to take lessons, I don’t believe that anything is wasted by allowing the child not to.

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