When Amelie first started piano she was keen as a knife, loved her young male Russian teacher and whizzed through the first book in a couple of months. Then came the part where you have to use both hands at the same time. Suddenly it didn’t come so easily, it was deemed “too difficult” and there were tears and tantrums.
Not wanting to kill her love of music or potential talent (her great grandmother was a concert pianist and I did my grades up to eight- then again her father also struggles to use both hands) – I frequently and calmly offered her the opt out clause – “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to” – of course silently praying she would not take me up on it.
She didn’t opt out, but the sulks continued. After a few months I started to get annoyed at the waste of paying for lessons when she was only practising the day before, for a few minutes. So I decided Tiger Mummy had a point after all. Her kids may have hated her and may or may not be permanently damaged by her campaign of terror – but no-one is denying they are good musicians. So, I started insisting on practice and got cross when she whinged she didn’t want to or it was too difficult and when she didn’t bother to concentrate. This time round, I threatened that if she didn’t practise I would let her four year old brother have her lessons.
The effect was similar – more sulking and being temperamental – but still no desire – on her part- to stop her lessons.
Then a couple of weeks ago I asked her to practice, before she was allowed to watch TV for just 10 minutes. As with the teeth brushing I said I would put the timer on. She accepted this. There was a little bit of moaning and crying it was hard and she wouldn’t do it – but no comment about whether she should practise.
At 10 minutes the pinger pinged – and she stopped and was allowed to watch TV. I told her I thought doing just 10 minutes every day was better than one long practice because she could remember the notes more easily and so made better progress. And so we have stuck to the system. Ten minutes seems manageable and she is much more confident because she is able to build on the practice from the day before.
A few days ago she voluntarily continued to practise after the timer went off as she wanted to finish the piece – it was so much better than past pieces she’s had for homework I couldn’t help clapping ( which yes I have tried before to encourage her, but this time she really deserved it!) and she beamed and beamed not I think at the praise but at her genuine deight at having mastered several notes played together. Of course I could be wrong but I feel like we have turned a corner. And yesterday and today she has gone to the piano and played “War Drums” through without being asked.
Nevertheless, I will continue with the timer because I think it’s a useful discipline and she trusts the method and likes the routine of it. Of course it may not work for everyone – but I think smaller bite sized pieces of anything tricky whether piano practice or an assignment are more attractive and less daunting – and once a child is engaged they are likely to enjoy it.
If you give it a try – or already have similar tips that allow us to avoid unleashing the tiger within - do let me know.