Our daughter is 8 and in third grade at our neighborhood school. She is also a reluctant piano player. Here is a regular interaction in our home:
Me: Guess what time it is?
Daughter: Nooooo! (A door slams)
Me: Come on, honey. Time to practice piano. It won’t take long.
Daughter: Noooo! I don’t want to play piano anymore.
My husband and I are pushing her to continue. We bought the piano after all – a 1970s Kimball resurrected from a basement and retooled to fill a void in our home we didn’t even know was there. I believe music is one of the essential ingredients to human happiness. Learning music stimulates your brain. Playing music well infuses one with joy. We found a kind (and very inexpensive) teacher. What’s not to like? I haven’t even gotten into how music helps kids with math. (I know it’s true but that hasn’t proved to be an effective selling point with my daughter).
Still, I have to wonder if we’re making a mistake by making her continue playing an instrument she claims to dislike. Or, is she simply too young? She does practice – the bare minimum, anyway. Occasionally, she’ll astonish us and play a song more than once. But, generally speaking, practice time involves lots of grunts, grimaces and banging of keys when she hits wrong notes.
Mom, I’m getting a recorder!
Enter the recorder. She was so excited to report that she and her classmates were going to receive recorders to play in music class. She picked out a blue one and proudly brought it home. All was well until she tried to play it. The thing kept squeaking. Soon she is being tested to see if she is worthy of becoming a “white belt” recorder player, whatever that means.
We’re facing the same struggles getting her to practice this shiny new wind instrument.
My main goal is to spark enough of a love of music that she’ll play an instrument once fifth grade rolls around. That’s when I started playing clarinet. I played all through school. And I was good. When I look back on my schooling, being in band – both wind ensemble and marching band – were the areas where I achieved the most and developed a healthy sense of self-confidence. Somehow, I overcame my numerous urges to quit. I’ve tried to impart to my daughter how amazing it is to create music with a group of people. She tells me how the fifth grade band sounds practicing at her school. “They sound terrible,” she says, making squawking sounds.
Tips needed for a conflicted parent
So, is this a case of a parent pushing a kid to live out the parent’s dream? Or the case of a mom knowing what’s sure to be a life-enriching experience? (Read EdNews Parent expert Laura Barr’s insightful post on how to support your child’s academic success without putting undue pressure on them and kindling their love of learning). How can I do a better job making piano or recorder or whatever instrument she chooses be something magical and beautiful that she can learn to unlock? How can I inspire her to pick an instrument at all? She must be sensing my secret plans for her because last night she said: “Do I have to play an instrument in fifth grade?”
I know I’m not the only parent out there experiencing daily spats over practicing an instrument. But here’s the deal: a kid who can lock into music – whether it’s blasting a horn, playing a flute or pounding on a drum – and create something beautiful with her peers I believe is more apt to succeed in school in general. (Read more tips on how to parent a well-balanced elementary school-aged child).
I haven’t given up all hope. After some tears and screams and squeaks the other day, our daughter tried the recorder one last time before bed. The three notes in “Hot Cross Buns” emerged like smooth-sailing arrows headed straight for their tonal targets. I may just become the mother of a “white belt” recorder player after all.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.