Yes, there are some amazing piano teachers out there. And yes, many piano students are thriving.
But on the whole, the system is broken.
Each year, countless 5-6 year olds start piano lessons. While most of them do indeed benefit from the study of piano, the great majority of them stop playing between the ages of 11-15. For some, this is understandable. Maybe they never liked piano. Maybe they want a change of pace, or they’ve become interested in another instrument or activity.
But in all my years as a piano teacher and parent, I’ve never heard an adult say they’re glad they stopped taking lessons. Most wish that music were still an active part of their lives, especially if they have children of their own. They sense that something is missing in their lives.
What’s going on here? Why do so many young people quit piano when they approach their teen years?
- When a child is very young, their parents sign them up for many different activities, to expose them to lots of things and provide a well-rounded education for them. The kids don’t have a choice. They have to go along with it, and this is good.
- This continues during the middle school years, when the child starts discovering her own passions. The parents want to encourage these interests and at the same time don’t feel the need to make all the decisions regarding their kids’ activities.
So if the pre-teen isn’t interested in piano anymore, the lessons stop and they usually never touch the instrument again.
Many of these students, however, would love to experience piano as a vibrant part of their lives, but they don’t know how. Traditionally, there is a big gap between their piano pieces and the music they listen to with their friends. And they see their peers happily strumming guitar chords and wonder why they never learned to do that on piano. (Some do, of course, but the vast majority miss out on this.)
The situation is changing a little, though. Artists like The Piano Guys and making videos that blend classical music with pop in ways that excite piano students of all ages, and bridge the gap between the piano and modern culture as a whole. Some piano teachers are teaching chords and improvisation to even their youngest students at the same time the classics are learned. (This is, in fact, how Bach and Mozart taught!)
Each day I see young teens sit down and segue from Bach to Taylor Swift effortlessly and with joy, delightfully playing the music they love, regardless of genre. I’m hopeful that this trend will continue, so that today’s young generation will live active musical lives and eventually share their love of piano with their kids firsthand. There’s something wonderful about having a piano in the living room!
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