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Are Kids Piano Recitals Harmful?

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ARE KIDS PIANO RECITALS HARMFUL?

You've never seen a frightened child until you've stood backstage at a typical kids piano recital.

One of my discoveries in piano teaching is that a child's greatest fear is failure and humiliation. Anything that appears too hard is shunned automatically for precisely this reason.

Still, some accomplished kids are attracted to the gladiatorial aspect of piano recitals. They participate willingly. Others are generally persuaded with guilt to participate.

For those children who have a high skill level, the attraction of a recital may be high.

But almost all kids are struggling with the physical dexterity required to play piano, and the recital becomes a horrifying realization that their gifts are smaller than their neighbors, not a pleasant realization for a six year old, especially in front of 20 or 30 families.

The dogmatists claim that much is to be gained by these competitions, but I assert that nothing is gained, and much is lost.

ACCOMPLISHED CHILDREN

A child who has some accomplishment at the piano is the only candidate to profit from the experience of performing for a competition.

These children really need no reinforcement. They know they are good, have compared themselves to the competition, and are prepared to do battle.

But my point is that successful kids don't need more adulation, especially at the expense of those kids who cannot match their gifts or experience and time at the piano.

Do we have baseball games for children in which the slower kids are humiliated in front of everyone? No, the skill levels are carefully matched so that no one feels too out of place.

AVERAGE CHILDREN

These kids are doing the best they can at the piano. The last thing they need is to feel bad about their efforts at the piano, which is exactly what happens at these events.

I've seen kids who could easily play very well in a few years, turn their back on the piano. They do this because the recital changes their emotional mindset about the piano.

What was a fun, solitary pursuit is suddenly made into a bloody battle of nerves and will, with parents pushing the child and the teacher suddenly becoming the ringmaster of a rather unpleasant experience. 

THE ONLY RECITAL THAT COUNTS

To me, the ease with which a child plays is a sign of their joy at music-making. Some kids, taught by disciplinarians, play grudgingly for a family or social gathering. Other kids, taught by my methods or similar transparent ones, are simply unafraid to share what they have learned, a song or two, and play with gusto and joy.

They may not play perfectly at all, but there is not fear. Fear is the central emotion that I see coming out of the piano when played by a disciplinarian's student.

No child I have ever taught has experienced fear, gruffness or disappointment in their lessons. These emotions are absolutely unprofessional, unacceptable and unproductive.

Here's a story only a week old, as told by a parent of one of my students:

"We went over to the neighbor's, and their daughter played a song, reluctantly. She was very good, really. She played a fast piece. But there was no joy in it, she even said as she got up from the piano, 'I hate it. My mom forces me to play.' Then my two boys got up and played, like, eight songs each. They were simpler songs but they were smiling and bouncing and having a great time. Everyone gathered around and really enjoyed them performing. It made me think that there's no point in giving someone piano lessons if the teacher makes them hate it."

The only piano recital that counts is the one in your living room. What matters is playing for Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Betty.

It matters more that their friends hear them play and enjoy it.

Don't forget that kids have no idea where Carnegie Hall is and couldn't care less.

Nevertheless, during piano lessons I play a game called PIANO RECITAL, in which I print up a program of pieces they know, take tickets (from no one) and act as audience and critic. Speaking like an announcer, I introduce them and explain that they are the greatest pianist in the history of the world.

Then we have fun and refine the pieces in this neutral atmosphere. It is perhaps a dry run in terms of performance, a "soft performance," if you will.

I become a stuffy critic and make ridiculous demands, remarking, "I feel that the first notes of Star Wars could have more tone, more pedal and you forgot the G chord, by Jove!" But it is more a joke than an observation.

Carnegie Hall starts in your living room.

By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved

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