Teaching Piano to Your Own Child
The first question you may ask yourself is: “Should I do this or not?” It’s not an easy one to answer. In my case, I didn’t even bother asking the question at all. When I taught my elder son, it wasn’t a case of: “Does he actually want to learn piano? … Would he be better off with another teacher? … Would I find it too difficult to be patient with my own child?” It was just that I needed someone (ideally a child) to ‘experiment’ on … and he was ‘the chosen one’.
So, looking back, and knowing what I know now – would I still have ‘chosen’ him? Probably … although I certainly don’t think it’s always been the ‘ideal’ situation – and I could probably list just as many ‘cons’ as ‘pros’.
On the positive side, and from a purely selfish point of view, having your own child to ‘test out’ your piano-teaching techniques is extremely handy. You can change your mind about so many things – such as which books to use or how much practice work to set – without confusing or annoying fee-paying customers and their parents.
Even if you’re not using your child to ‘experiment’ on, and you’re already an established teacher with confidence in your own methods, there are still plenty of advantages to teaching your offspring yourself rather than looking elsewhere.
Firstly, of course, the money you will save from not paying another teacher can never be underestimated – nor the convenience of having the lessons in your own home and at a time which suits your family. You can participate in your child’s practice sessions and – as you will obviously know the piece he’s playing, having taught it to him – you can instantly ensure that he corrects wrong notes or rhythms long before they become habit-forming … bearing in mind that after a week rather than a day’s practice a mistake becomes far harder to reverse.
Another advantage is that by teaching your child yourself, you have only yourself to blame. If, on the other hand, you send your child to another teacher, that teacher is unlikely to have the same methods as you and you’re likely to find yourself becoming critical in areas where you differ. This could easily lead to confusion for your child if you were to start trying to intervene using your own methods.
Perhaps the most significant ‘pro’ in teaching your own child is the enormous sense of pride and satisfaction you feel when he succeeds (… and even more so on the very rare occasion when he thanks you for it!)
In an ideal world, full of ideal piano teachers with their ideal children, you would use exactly the same approach when teaching your own child as you would when teaching anyone else … and your child would respond in exactly the same way to you as he would to a piano teacher who didn’t happen to be his mother or father.
So, in this ideal world, lessons would be scheduled at a regular time, your child would enter the room dressed appropriately, speak to you respectfully (assuming he is a reasonably well- behaved child who speaks respectfully to other teachers) and you would show as much interest in him and as much patience and tolerance towards him as you would with any of your other pupils. You would never interfere in his practices and he would never ask for your help outside the regular lesson time.
This is, of course, possible – but quite hard to achieve unless you both possess sufficient acting skills or powers of make-believe to pretend you don’t have that very close – yet often difficult – relationship of parent and child.
A more likely situation if you teach your own offspring is that the temptation to mess about with lesson times (to fit in with household chores etc.) will be far too great; for convenience sake, your child may end up doing the lesson in his pyjamas and the respect and tolerance you show for each other is unlikely to ever match that between pupils and teachers who are not closely related.
Your child may enter the room with a grumpy expression on his face, tell you he’s too tired to concentrate (which, if true, is something he wouldn’t necessarily mention to another teacher) and immediately display a sense of ‘attitude’. You, in return, will forget to ask him how his day or week has been (as you feel you know the answer already) and will respond to his attitude by speaking firmly and without the friendly smile which your paying customers receive.
You will also find it extremely difficult not to interfere with your child’s practices (unless you are fortunate in having a large enough house where you can’t actually hear them) and he may find it hard not to ask you where he’s going wrong (in a scale, for example) when you’ve told him to try working it out himself.
Of course a lot depends on your own personality and that of your child. My own two children are very different. One is extremely strong-willed, determined and opinionated. He works exceptionally hard and achieves very good results but he finds it hard to accept criticism (certainly from me!) and – for this reason – some of his piano lessons have ‘fallen apart’ – culminating in raised voices, tempers flaring and one or the other of us leaving the room.
Harder To Be Patient
Obviously that’s a far from ideal situation for both pupil and teacher and it is also not conducive to a happy family atmosphere – I must admit there have been times when we’ve allowed a petty argument (“I did play a C sharp!”… “ no, you didn’t!” … “I did!” etc.) to continue and develop outside the piano lesson environment. I also admit that it’s often my fault as much as his: for some reason I find it far harder to be patient with my own children than with others and tend to give a lot more criticism and a lot less praise.
Lessons with my other child have been slightly easier – due to his more laid-back personality. He is quick to admit his mistakes and less likely to bear a grudge when my patience breaks down. In his case, there have been considerably fewer mother-son differences during the lesson – although I have felt the need to interfere a lot more in his practises – mainly because if I hadn’t started setting a minimum time for them it would have been once through a piece and ‘dunnit!’.
Another ‘downside’ to teaching your own child is the huge sense of responsibility and anxiousness you feel – particularly before exams or public performances. Between them, my sons have taken 16 piano grades and I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep before any of them. I sense the nervousness of other parents in the examination waiting room but envy them for not having the added pressure that I’m experiencing.
However, I’m glad to say that, for me, the sense of having ‘double the stress, nerves and worry’ is balanced by ‘double the pride, happiness and relief’ when the exam results come out.
So, yes – if the pair of you can suffer and survive the inevitable clashes – teaching your own child to play the piano is probably something you should do.