Mandatory Music Lessons?

mandatory-music-lessonsI’m trying to decide whether my 10-year-old son should take piano lessons or not. Let me start by saying that when I was a young teenager, my parents forced me to take piano lessons for two years. Two years of misery. Two years of doing something I was not good at, over and over again, willing my fingers to hit the right notes but failing. Pounding the notes louder and louder ’til I got in trouble. I hated those two years of mandatory music lessons. I’ve never played the piano since. Why would I? I was never any good at it.

But did I learn anything from it? Perhaps perseverance. But that can be learned in other ways. Did I learn how to harmonize? Yes. But maybe I learned that in the boarding school choir. Did I learn to read notes in case it was an emergency and I needed to play the piano? Sort of. Not really. And what exactly is an emergency? Ever since I was a teenager, I wanted to be a missionary, and I envisioned myself in some rural village, married to a preacher who needed me to play the piano. But in what fantasy world would there be a piano in the middle of a poor rural village? And why couldn’t we sing a cappella? Voices with no instruments sound beautiful to me, more worshipful.

So would I ever be in a situation where it was mandatory to play an instrument? Now that I have entered middle age, I can confidently say no. The vast majority of the population never takes instrument lessons, and they’re not less smart. I don’t know why we as homeschool parents feel that if every single student of ours doesn’t take instrument lessons, they will end up being worse for it. What if they ended up using that same amount of time doing something they were good at, that would allow them to earn a scholarship to college? Or maybe they would just have a nicer life, not having something they despised in it.

Years ago when my oldest son was only six years old, I found a book that promised to teach you to play the piano in one afternoon. I used that to teach my children piano lessons. I had a small toy piano that was wooden. I got some cardboard and glued black felt to it. With chalk, I marked the music bars. I sprayed it with hair spray to keep it in place. Then I nailed it to the wall above the tiny piano. I made cream-colored felt notes, and I would place them in different places and ask my children which note it was. They learned to read notes. They learned the major chords. It took one month. I hated teaching it. It was the first time I hated teaching my kids. It was because my oldest son would throw a fit because he didn’t get the notes right the first time. He would scream and be frustrated and hit the piano. I was exhausted.

Yes, I see this situation as poetic irony, but I’ll move on.

My second son was only five years old, but he played the notes confidently the first time, with no instruction. It was such a joy to teach him music. My third son was three. He played the notes over and over until he got them right. He never got frustrated.

My second son, who was a natural, always had an affinity to playing the guitar. He would intently watch the worship leader’s fingers as he played the guitar. Finally after praying about it for years, we finally had enough money to buy him a guitar when he turned eight. We’ve paid for music lessons, and they’ve been worth it. He’s advancing quickly. He can tell if his guitar is out of tune. (I can’t.) He’s a natural. I don’t mind throwing my money at something that God obviously gave him as a gift.

Okay, now comes the story of my oldest son. His mind is incredible. He’s going to be a mechanical engineer. He is an artist, too. He has a mathematical mind. He likes talking philosophically. But at church he sings loudly, completely off key. He has no pitch, and you remember how those simple piano lessons were like pulling teeth. I hesitate to give this boy piano lessons. Money is tight. Why waste the money and produce misery?

Another thing to keep in mind is that I prayed years ago that whenever God wanted me to pay for piano lessons for my oldest son, that God would give us a piano for free. Then I would know. I was so confident that this would never happen that I felt relieved that I didn’t have to think about it any more.

Until this Christmas, that is. Our in-laws got us an electronic keyboard. I panicked briefly, looked up at God, and asked him if that counted as a piano? I still don’t have my answer. To complicate matters, my oldest son thinks he wants to take piano lessons. I know that learning piano is supposed to be good for your mind, but so are a lot of other activities that might be more productive. Please comment below and tell me your opinion as to what I should do. I just feel that the decision needs to be made now, because when my son is in high school, he will have way more subjects to study, possible apprenticeships, part time jobs, and other interesting things. In my mind, it’s now or never.

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11 Responses to “Mandatory Music Lessons?”

  1. My experience was much like yours: two years of piano–hated every minute of it. 🙂 The last time my dad said he was going to spank me was over not practicing. All that said, if I had a good opportunity for my kids to learn, I’d make them do it!

  2. Anna-Marie says:

    Look into Pianimals http://www.pianimals.com/ I love their program. My kids ages 6 and 9 are learning to play pretty much on their own and loving it!!. I don’t play a note but this is a program I can teach. It is simply laid out and the kids learn real songs to play. It is very reasonable in cost and you can down load a few samples. I can’t say enough good things about this program. I often catch my kids playing the keyboard outside of practice time.

  3. Tamsin says:

    Hi Susan

    I think you have your answer when you listen to your heart! You have a free keyboard and your son has expressed interest in learning. He may never be as accomplished as your 2nd son, but that does not have to be the objective. Maybe it will just be an outlet for him. Maybe it will be something that will bond the brothers. You never know what outcome will be achieved by him learning, if that is his desire.

    • Susan says:

      If he could learn it on his own just for fun, that would be one thing. But most piano teachers want at least a one-year commitment. I don’t want to have to stand there to make sure he practices. I don’t think he understands that learning an instrument takes work. It will not be easy, and he is under the delusion that it will be easy. I would love it if he could just learn it on his own without my shoveling money out the window and fighting with him to practice.

  4. Kimberly says:

    I believe every child deserves a musical education 🙂 Why not commit to 1-2 years of piano lessons, and then let him choose if he wants to continue piano or move on to another instrument. It’s fairly easy to learn another instrument after the piano – piano is a great starter instrument. You could look into the “Music For Young Children” program – it’s a fantastic, full program. It takes place in groups with parental participation. I know, you’re probably groaning, but once my husband started attending with my daughter, he finally understood notes AND started to be able to carry a tune after all these years! If you don’t want to look into MYC, make sure you choose a teacher who teaches sight reading, ear training, and theory in addition to just play the piano so he’s getting a good musical education. And make sure to check that said teacher believes in letting the child choose some music he likes, and not “just Classical” 🙂

    • Susan says:

      The time commitment is the problem. When you have committed to something that is hard for a year or two, you have to clock in the drudgery of it every day until the ordeal is over with. Practicing is hard work. For me it seemed like a prison sentence that I couldn’t get out of.

      I love your idea of having the kids play music that they like on the instrument. I think that would be an effective way to motivate kids to learn a piece of music.

  5. Susan says:

    Here is a great article that someone sent me that is pro music lessons: http://musicalresources.blogspot.com/2011/07/truth-about-piano-lessons.html?m=1

  6. eowyn says:

    Oh gosh this was so long ago but I want to leave a comment any way. I’d just make a deal with your son. If he wants to learn he can have lessons but practicing is his responsibility. you could say I will remind you to do it then I’ll walk away. If you do it or not is your choice. Promise you won’t hound him or discipline him. It’s his. God has answered your prayer and it seems you don’t like the answer so are avoiding it? Tone death people who got frustrated as toddlers deserve to be given a 2nd chance surely. Maybe he can handle not being perfect first time now? Maybe God has some lessons to teach through this experience that has nothing to do with how well he plays at the end of it? Just my thoughts. Eowyn

    • Susan says:

      My son could definitely learn a lot through practicing piano. For parents who have no money, it’s difficult to shell out the money if the kid doesn’t have a supernatural determination to do a lot of tedious hard work to get to the fun part. That’s my only hesitation, even to this day.

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