Recently, my dad-in-law was at our home, and he remarked with surprise that six year old B must really enjoy playing the piano, since he saw her going to practice on it a few times, totally of her own volition! I guess this must be in stark contrast to what he experienced, when his own three children learnt the piano, decades ago. Enforced practice and not a few teary episodes. So this was refreshing indeed.
This is also what is constantly heartening to me, that B is able to practice at her own pace (with some reminders), and enjoys doing so daily. In fact, many mornings, the first thing she does upon waking up is to go to the piano, and play a tune or two (with the mute pedal on of course, since we don’t want irate neighbours knocking on our door when sun hasn’t even risen).
I guess this is also largely because her piano lessons come with no stress, since they are tailored to her pace, and not according to any external schedule of external exams. Rather Montessori-like, in a way.
I sat in one of her lessons recently, and took some videos!
Even though she doesn’t play perfectly at every piece, she does seem to be learning well! Love seeing the comfortable rapport she’s built up with Teacher Ann too.
She has progressed to playing very simple pieces with two hands. B reads notes pretty well now, both in soflage as well as the notes’ letter names.
Apart from learning music theory and undergoing ear-training (precursor to Aural competency) with Teacher Ann in class using this activity book (below), B has some weekly homework, which consists of fun activities such as learning about different time signatures, note durations, and colouring Mozart!
What I found really interesting was that the lessons incorporate “Improv” too! When I looked through the music books, I noticed at least two instances of musical improvisation. B can play any tune with any rhythm she wants, whilst Teacher Ann plays a baseline. Super fun.
This also encourages musical creativity, and allows the child to really “feel” the music instead of just playing a set piece.
In every class, there is also a segment of rhythm and motion. Music involves the whole body (and some would say the soul), so this is certainly a good way of attuning all their faculties to musical rhythm.
We are glad that B has enjoyed her lessons across all these months, so we’ll be signing her up to continue lessons with Teacher Ann!
It’s a real joy that her current journey in picking up a musical instrument has been so pleasant, without the tears and stress that characterised her dad’s and my early years in learning the piano.
As time passes, we are sure that the level of difficulty must needs increase, since advanced technicality on the piano is often nurtured through sheer hard work and much sweat, if not blood and tears. For now, we are happy for her not to have to take exams, and to learn at her own pace, as long as our budget allows!
In our fast-paced and results-oriented society, many times there is no luxury of time or resources to pursue music for its own sake. Many might feel that it is a waste of time and money to take lessons for a year with no exam certificate to show for it.
Or perhaps, some deeply believe in the rigour demanded by practicing for exams, and it is training that will benefit the child in other ways too. I wouldn’t disagree with that, but my heart does go out to the many Singaporean kids who already face a demanding school syllabus and CCA schedule by default, and still have to contend with the pressure of ekeing out an hour a day to be exam-ready.
How much is ‘hard work’ before it turns to ‘pressurising stress’? At this age, instrinic motivation is rare though ideal, and most times extrinsic drivers have to be employed. Where then is the delight in learning music? Many say that there is no enjoyment till some level of mastery is accomplished, but does the end justify the arduous means, that might taint the entire journey (and leave a bitter aftertaste as many of my generation feel when they recall their own childhood music lessons)?
We already face this conundrum with schoolwork, so I would try to avoid adding music exams to the list of such issues to delicately balance.
The love of music is a precious lifelong gift, since it lifts the soul and animates the mind. We do wish to nurture this in our children, be it through learning a musical instrument or otherwise.
Competency in playing a musical instrument or training up the instrument of one’s voice is an added gift, both for personal joy and in the service of others. Personally, B’s dad and I see it as a gift to our Maker and to the church community, since offering this talent back in service is its best and most meaningful use!
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Note: Thanks Aureus Academy for sponsoring a term of lessons for the purpose of this review!