lucie-leon-at-the-piano-1892 Berthe Morisot made a child cry. I am not proud of this.

When I visited last Christmas, Alice, now 15, was playing the piano and about to take grade 3. Since then, she gave up. Possibly she started a wee bit old: by 15, I was playing pieces which interested me, and my obsessive nature kept me on scales and fiddling with a bar until I got it: I spent a week getting the first four bars of the Maple Leaf Rag, aged about 15.

Her sister Olivia, now 7, has started, and is playing tunes with both hands, but not both hands together. I thought the way to interact over the piano was to let her explore it, and ask me for any help she wanted. Her mother told her to play it: she has not been playing over Christmas.

I asked her if she enjoyed playing the piano. “Yes”, she lied. I am almost certain of that. She sounded completely insincere. It was the wrong question. Does she want to play the piano? If so, she might be willing to work at it.

Jacob Maris, girl at the pianoOf course I would like a child mad keen to play the piano, with a clear idea of how to improve at it, natural talent, and a desire to explore my expertise to help her on- but I want to inspire the child, get her interested, and give her some ideas to bring her on a bit.

She needs to count on the notes and count on the stave to work out the first note of a piece she has played before.  I had a trick for H, which was done with me: my parents hold out thumb and fingers horizontally as if on a stave, and indicate a position for the child to name the note. The point is that rather than spending half an hour on the piano, or even ten minutes, which can be tiring and boring, you can do this for half a minute and give the child praise.

When she looks at the score and sees that there is a B♭, next time she sees a B she still plays B♮. I can sympathise with this: it is the kind of mistake I can imagine myself making. And- playing B♮ she hears it is wrong, checks the score and gets it right. This gives me hope. I want to make it easier for her to correct her mistakes.

How I brought a tear to her eye: I explained that a minim, a quaver and a crotchet- the one with the hole, the one with the tail, and the one with neither- last different times, and when she played the piece again with each note the same length, the third time I ejaculated “No!” I suppose I was pushing her to learn something when she found the rest of it difficult enough.

Unfortunately, that evening, they were still tired after their hogmanay party, and I could not enthuse her family to play that game with their hands.

7 thoughts on “Inspiration

  1. I always wanted to learn the piano, but it never interested my parents so I never got the lessons. We rented a holiday cottage once, and I spent ages happily playing what I could manage of Für Elise. We don’t have space for a piano so I guess it will never happen. The other one I wanted to learn was a sax. But it always seemed a bit too noisy in a residential area. I got as far as buying a book (still have it, so that may yet happen). As children we are so sensitive to criticism (and as adults we aren’t?) so I can feel for her.


    • I don’t think she wants to. It does not help that H has a cheap piano with a heavy action, and at home she has an electronic keyboard, not even a digital piano. I think it could be made easier for her, but I am not sure how. OTOH, watching her cooking, which her sister and mother both love, she is involved and inspired.

      A digital piano is relatively light and portable, and has a good sound. I have a digital piano. It is also much cheaper than acoustic, and you can play it with headphones if you have thin walls and sensitive neighbours.


  2. She may have had a tear in her eye but she will remember the clues – that’s the beauty of young people who are like sponges when it comes to storing away information and processing it later 😀


    • I think she is finding it really hard. I also think she could be brought to know the names of the keys and the lines in the staves so she could identify them without thinking- as I do- with a random half minute several times a day. I am frustrated because I think she will give up, and not enjoy the effort, and the effort could be made less.

      I also feel that when learning something new one takes it a bit at a time, and my demand that she got the timing right when she is having difficulty with other things and perhaps concentrating on them just gets in the way.


      • Of course you’re right – being able to concentrate on new things in learning, to focus, opens the way to understanding an remembering … to achieve a skill each step needs to be mastered and I see that which you tried to point out to her are important components of the whole skill … she may not give up, and if she does it will be the result of her conscious or unconscious “preferences” … one can only point out the important aspects of a skill and it’s up to the learner to build them in if motivation lives on… timing in music is just so important, you’re right in “insisting” on it … it’s a major ingredient, isn’t it…


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