What I’ve Learned from My Daughter’s Piano Lessons
I recently read a quote that said, “When I was first married, I had no children and many theories on the proper way to rear children. Now, I have many children and no theories on how to rear them!” I think I have a little understanding of how this parent felt.
I understand that God’s Word is the ultimate authority and guidebook for us as we seek to rear children for God’s glory. With His help and leading, we can and should train up our children in the way they should go. However, the longer I am a parent, the more I learn that I have so much more to learn in this area.
I never realized that piano lessons for my first-grade daughter would teach me so much about being a parent.
For the Christmas of 2008, my wife and I gave each of our children one “main” present, along with a few smaller things. We gave our oldest daughter, Ashlyn, who was five at the time, an electric piano. That same Christmas, her Nana gave her some piano lesson books and a commitment to teach her how to play the piano through a weekly piano lesson.
Now, let me explain something about my daughter, Ashlyn. We have often thought that we should have named her Rylyn because her brain works a LOT like her Daddy’s does. That can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the situation! Because of this fact, it usually works best if I work with her when she is seeking to learn something new. I understand how she comprehends things, and I can usually help her to understand a new concept.
So, it became my responsibility to practice with her on a nightly basis as she worked to develop her budding musical knowledge and skills. It is hard enough to teach a five year old how to play the piano. It becomes much harder when you have no musical training aside from church choir practice and a few semesters of song leading classes in Bible college!
So, the journey began. In the past 18 months, we have had fun, we have laughed, we have had tears, we have had victories, we have had frustrations, we have had successes, and we have had failures. Through it all, I have learned a lot about my daughter, myself, and the difference between legato and staccato.
I would like to share a few life lessons I learned as we were practicing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and other beginner piano student songs:
1. I’ve learned it is a challenge to remain consistent, but it is imperative.
Life is busy! It is hard to carve out time to practice the piano on a regular basis, but that is the only way to improve. If you or your family is ever going to make substantial improvements in any area of life, it is going to take a commitment of time and dedication. There is no substitute for hard work!
2. I’ve learned that children learn differently than adults.
I must continually remind myself that every child learns at a different pace. I must remember that my daughter does not have the same foundation to build upon that I do. It is very easy for me to figure out that a half note gets two beats in a song with 4/4 timing. However, my daughter was just learning addition and subtraction when we started. Certain concepts take longer to comprehend, and I must learn to be patient and kind as new lessons are introduced.
3. I’ve learned that self-motivation is better than Dad-motivation.
The times when I “force” Ashlyn to practice are far less productive than helping her develop a desire and hunger to practice on her own. The goal in parenting is to bring our children to a point where they choose to do what is right without external motivation.
4. I’ve learned that positive reinforcement is much better than negative.
This is especially true relating to music. Music is an expression of the heart, and it cannot be played as it should be if there is physical or emotional stress or tension.
There were times when a negative punishment would be associated if Ashlyn did not practice consistently or learn a new song in time for her next lesson. We saw some growth and results when this was the motivation. However, a few months ago, my wife made up a sticker chart that involved a reward of taking Ashlyn for frozen yogurt when she earned a certain number of stickers. It has been amazing to watch as she has gone into her room on her own nearly every day for a month to practice. She has enjoyed it more, we have enjoyed it more, and the results have been far better!
5. I’ve learned that our children can do much more than we think they can – challenge them!
I have been shocked at how quickly Ashlyn has picked up basic theory, notes, finger placements, timing, and other musical concepts. Basic note recognition has become second nature to her. It did not take long at all for her to surpass my musical knowledge and ability as it related to piano playing. God has given children an amazing capacity to learn. Challenge them to learn skills, memorize Scripture, learn songs, and improve in other areas of interest. You will be surprised at what they can do when given the opportunity!
6. I’ve learned that it is good to apologize.
During one of our more frustrating practices, I ended the session with an apology to Ashlyn. My flawed teaching technique had brought her to tears, and I felt badly for how I had handled the situation. The next week, she told her Nana, “My Daddy apologized. He said he was being too hard on me and that he would work on it from now on.” I had forgotten about it, but she had not. I’m glad that I let her know I had not treated her in the right way. Hopefully, my example will teach her the proper way to treat others.
7. I’ve learned that working together to overcome a challenge is good for your relationship.
There have been certain songs that, after one frustrating time through, Ashlyn has declared, “I can’t play this! It is too hard. I can’t do it!” I will tell her, “Yes, you can. We just need to work at it.” Then, a day or two later, when she has learned the song, it is so rewarding to see the joy on her face as she realizes she has expanded her abilities and conquered a seemingly impossible obstacle. Very often, I will tell her how proud of her I am and remind her that she didn’t think she could do it, but I knew she could all along. I give her a big hug and there is a strengthening of our relationship because we worked together to help her achieve something in her life. These little victories give her courage when we come to the next “impossible” song; and, hopefully, she is learning to apply these traits of diligence and perseverance in other areas of her life.
8. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn!
About music. About raising little girls. And about just about everything else. Life is a wonderful journey, and we should all constantly be seeking to grow in grace.
Obviously, I already knew some of these lessons in my mind, but they were driven home in a very tangible way as I worked with my precious girl. These past 18 months of piano lessons have taught me a lot about myself and my wonderful daughter. I guess it was I who received the bigger gift that Christmas Day when I gave my daughter a piano. It is my prayer that the Thompson family will continue to learn and grow, and that our lives will be a pleasing sound in God’s symphony.