remember, there was a famous book in the 1950's, WHY JOHNNY
CAN'T READ, which launched a public furor that was largely
responsible for the introduction of phonics into the public
phonics, American children were taught by a ridiculous system
developed by the book companies. This system contained the
immortal and lovable characters Dick and Jane, but did very
little to help American kids learn to read.
But there were
many other reasons why Johnny couldn't read in the 1950s, just
as there are reasons that Johnny can't play the piano today.
We should make
clear that we don't mean children in general have difficulty
with the piano. Properly introduced, the piano has a well-earned
reputation as an infectious toy that commands interest from
But most kids
don't get the brilliant, creative piano teacher they need.
They get Mr. Noodleman, let's call him, (with sincere
apologies to any actual piano teachers named Noodleman.)
thinks that playing the piano involves only reading music. He
doesn't believe in playing by ear, by eye, by brain, by
anything other than the "old school." And, frankly, he's
musical conservatives are right in this sense: unless you learn
to read music, you are helpless and illiterate in the giant
world of music. You cannot speak the lingua franca, and will
have to have everything explained to you in words of one
syllable, if you can find someone who will do so.
But what these
musical "conservatives" don't acknowledge (though they
must see it coming) is that the student of such methods will
quit the piano long before they have any chance to reap any
working, usable benefits.
Is a piano
method usable if there are no students who will endure it?
It's like a
kamikaze army, who defeat themselves with every battle. That's
what childhood piano lessons are like with average piano
But, back to
Mr. Noodleman, who has chosen the Kamikaze method of piano
teaching because he was taught that way. If you don't learn,
tough luck, you die (quit) and another kamikaze takes your
Now YOUR child
gets to attend these expensive ritual meetings, ostensibly
intended to get the child interested in expending years of
hourly effort to learn this arcane sport.
they get is Mr. Noodleman, who really wants to make his mortgage
payment more than finding that subtle key that will unlock your
child's fragile mind and get them interested in the piano
enough to do a little self-directed work.
Noodleman has a curve on which he grades, and if you don't
measure up, there is really no direction for you but OUT of the
It's not that
he wants to lose a client and the income therein. It's that
his method only allows for a certain reaction from the student,
and when Noodleman doesn't get that reaction soon enough, he
will turn cold and ugly enough that your child will soon figure
out that the piano is not for them.
Who loses? Your
still find any number of six year-old kamikazes willing to pay
his mortgage, so he doesn't need the complexity of Johnny's
sensitive case folder. In other words, he doesn't care.
What Noodleman doesn't understand as a teacher is that
EVERY child's case folder is sensitive and difficult. There is
no "norm" at the piano unless you are trying to get to
Carnegie Hall, and if you're trying to do that, you're crazy.
But your child
is not without guilt in this j'accuse, since we have been so
brutal with poor Mr. Noodleman.
Johnny's problem, which can easily be solved with a patient,
creative piano teacher:
Johnny is too
young to understand effort. Waited on hand and foot by Mom, he
knows how to do almost nothing for himself.
mechanical skill is with computer games, an activity that
sharpens motor skills even as it eats away and destroys any
creative impulse: Nintendo does it all for you. So there's no
need to be creative.
In the same
sense, the television is doing the same thing for Johnny:
don't think, just watch the stories and the fun commercials
and everything will be all right. But it isn't all right, in
the sense that computers and television ask the child to do
nothing creative that hasn't already been mapped out for them.
feeling a child has during a television program that hasn't
been carefully crafted by a producer, a director and a team of
professionals against whom the child's mind
has no defense.
have my child spend a half hour with the thoughts of Beethoven
than any one of the predatory "educators" churning out
the garbage at Disney and the "culture mills."
The piano is
never passive, and is much like driving a car: you have to be
aware every second or risk injury.
requires the opposite skills that computers and modern empty
digital activities require. You have to do EVERYTHING, every
Yet most piano
teachers serve as destroyers of interest rather than nurturers.
help Johnny play the piano, since Johnny's piano teacher is
too busy paying his mortgage.