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Are we taking the right approach?

(22 Posts)
FriendlyLadybird Tue 11-Nov-14 11:20:55

I played the piano to a very high standard as a child, and am very grateful to my parents for paying for the lessons and reminding me to practise when I really wanted to lounge around watching television. My DH came from an impoverished background but would have LOVED to have learned the piano.

So when we had children, it seemed natural to us to arrange for them to learn the piano. DS (12 -- very nearly 13) is very intelligent and musically talented. He has been having piano lessons for some years and has enjoyed doing well in exams. However, he has to be forced to do his practice, moans constantly, is forever telling us how much he hates it and what awful parents we are. He has an exam coming up in a week's time and he really is very unprepared for it. He'll pass alright, but will definitely not get a distinction. He may be able to pull a low merit out of the bag.

Both DH and I are utterly furious with him, especially as he is generally (at the moment) rude, dismissive, and arrogant -- only occasionally letting his early delightfulness out for a spin. DH and I have questioned ourselves as to whether we are doing the right thing in making him continue.

It would be a bit of a relief for us if he gave up, but we are sure he would regret it later -- and surely it would be a terrible thing for him to learn that he will get his way if he just makes himself unpleasant enough.

This is the only thing, really, that we ask him to do. We're lucky that he is motivated at school and he has other interests that we go out of our way to support. We stump up immediately and without question for educational trips at school and are willing to consider funding optional trips, such as one to Paris next year (even though he's been there lots of times already).

DH has suggested that we get through the next week and then sit him down, tell him how very disappointed we are at the lack of effort he's put into this exam, but point out that he will continue to learn the piano. And that some of the things that he wants to do will henceforth be conditional upon his putting the work into the piano and on cooperating within the family with good grace and a pleasant manner.

Is this reasonable? Unreasonable? Terrible or good psychology?

Scotinoz Tue 11-Nov-14 11:29:05

No idea what the right tactic is but just wanted to say my parents pushed me and my siblings into piano lessons. We all did what your son is doing around the same age, and we gave up lessons. All three of us went back to lessons in our late teens/adulthood and play to a reasonable standard now.

It wasn't that we didn't like playing as such - it was just a hassle and got in the way of other things. Glad that our parents started us off though, but I think we all enjoyed it more (and in turn worked harder) when it was something we wanted to do.

LBOCS Tue 11-Nov-14 11:48:55

FWIW, I now WISH that my DM had been stricter with me in learning an instrument. I think she was wary of projecting her love of music on to me and so when I said that I didn't want to do it, she let me give up, which I regret hugely as an adult - as does my sister (same situation). I don't think that you facilitating the things that he does want to do in return for something he's 'less fussed' about is unreasonable.

I would say, he may enjoy it more if he's playing more modern things? Or it might be a personality clash with his teacher?

The other option of course is to pick a point which would be acceptable to all parties (say, two grades hence or something) and tell him he can give up when he reaches that point. Not only would it encourage him to practice to get there, but he may find more enjoyment in greater proficiency.

debjud Tue 11-Nov-14 11:49:01

What grade is he doing? If he's given it a really good shot and has done well in the past, what about taking up another instrument instead -is there one that he's more interested in? Wouldn't cost you any more - and his piano/musicianship experience will serve him very well. As previous poster said, he might come back to piano later.

TeenAndTween Tue 11-Nov-14 12:17:53

I was made to learn the piano as a child, I didn't enjoy it.
I got to grade 2 and then was allowed to stop.

Presumably he has been learning for a few years now?

Personally I think that if at 12/13 he is clear and consistent at wanting to stop then you should let him. If he wants to come back to it later then he will.

My DD1 nagged to be allowed to learn piano, but practicing caused a lot of stress for everyone. She did well at grade 1, but didn't enjoy the process so we let her stop. She now tinkers around for fun occasionally.

I don't think that having the piano as a skill is worth the aggravation and upset. Listen to him. You will have more important things to argue about soon such as working for exams.

How would you like to be 'forced' to do a hobby for years on end? It's one thing to give something a good try, but it is meant to be fun after all.

However if he doesn't do (m)any other extra curricular activities, maybe make dropping piano conditional on taking up a different activity instead.

claraschu Tue 11-Nov-14 12:27:46

Why don't you forget about doing exams? They can be a pretty joyless way of creating a goal for a child. Kids are examined in everything these days; there is no reason to infect music with the poison of this exam system. Have you considered changing teachers if he has had the same teacher for a while (3 years with a teacher is plenty, I think). Would he enjoy learning to improvise, playing jazz or ragtime, playing in a concert, learning a piece of chamber music to play with a friend, playing in a church or nursing home?

Our 3 teenagers all play (two of them very seriously). We didn't think doing exams was particularly helpful, though they all did grade 5.

FriendlyLadybird Tue 11-Nov-14 14:20:38

Many, many thanks everyone for your replies. They have given me a lot of food for thought.

I agree about exams claraschu, but they do seem to work for him. At least, if he's not working for an exam he won't do anything at all! He quite enjoys playing duets with me, but can't really be bothered to learn them properly.

He's doing grade 4 now (next week! Eeek!). I am considering saying that he should complete grade 5, both practical and theory, and then we will review and reconsider. He will by then have a good enough foundation that it will be easy to change instrument or go back to the piano at a later date. I will put to him the suggestions here: change of instrument (it will be interesting to see what his singing is like after his voice has broken), change of teacher, give up altogether or maybe just a year off.

I'm still going to operate the principle that support for what he wants to do is conditional upon politeness and pleasantness though.

Many thanks again.

secretsquirrels Tue 11-Nov-14 15:08:53

Interesting question. Neither DH nor I are remotely musical, interested in music or arty in any way.
I never had music lessons. My mother claims it was because she was forced to learn piano and loathed it.
When DS1 was little we started him with piano lessons. The teacher didn't like this but, from the start, I insisted there would be no exams, I wanted him to enjoy music not to have certificates to boast about.
He loved it for a few years then suddenly became very reluctant to practice.
My view has always been that there are so many things children have to do that I will not force them to sport / music lessons. There is no joy in it and I don't enjoy being a nagging parent. So I let him drop it.
DS2 having the benefit of second child syndrome never even started music lessons, ironically I suspect he might have been good.

CoolStoryBro Tue 11-Nov-14 15:14:16

I had lessons until I rebelled at 13 as I was so bored of it. Didn't touch the piano for 18 months and then bought some sheet music of my kind of music and played endlessly after that. I still play now and am considering getting lessons again to help me progress to the next level.

SonorousBip Tue 11-Nov-14 15:31:09

Hold on here. YOU enjoyed playing the piano when you were younger. YOUR DH wished he had had the opportunity to do so. But your Ds is not you or your DH and he seems to be saying pretty clearly that he does not want to carry on the piano. Its a perfectly valid position to take. Maybe he has stoped enjoying it - maybe he never enjoyed it: he can still be a delightful and cultivated person without having Grade 5 piano

Personally, I would have a converation with him along the lines of whether he wants to give up or carry on and if so now or do another grade; whether he wants to play for fun and stop taking grades; whether he wants to try a different style or a different musical instrument. I would discuss all of the options. Look a little way down the line - the idea of forcing a nearly 14 year old or nearly 15 year old boy to play the piano is a hard one - you can insist on things like that at 8, 9 and 10 but honestly as they get older I think you have to allow them to start forming their own likes and dislikes. Tbh its actually a good opportunity to make an independent decision about how he wants to spend his time that doesn't really have much by way of downside

I would, however, also be pointing out to my ds (I have one exactly the same age!) to help him make an informed decision that the time freed up by not doing piano is therefore available for Different Enriching Activities, and does not add to the small and finite amount of time available for loafing on the sofa watching re-runs of Top Gear.

He may actually choose to carry on with the piano - which is a win:win situation as he has made a positive decision. and if he does not, its not exactly like his skills will just disappear overnight.

Theas18 Tue 11-Nov-14 15:42:20

Get thee over to extracurricular activities! For more advice, loasds of experience there.

My 2p...

What does your DS get out of playing the piano? Does he enjoy it, like the lessons etc.

Exams aren't compulsory, nor is strict classical repertoire.

Ditch the exams. If he can be persuaded he should learn to play for pleasure, and that might mean swapping teachers if they aren't on board with this ( some are VERY exam orientated, IME the very best don't give a monkeys! they know they don't have to "prove" they are good teachers by having the grades listed etc that pupils have taken).

How about some jazz and learning how to improvise?

Musical theatre numbers if that's interesting. Even cover versions of the Beatles or learning the chord sequences to be in a rock band!

My kids do a lot of music. The best lessons they have are "therapy" for a bad day and they come out smiling. The piano ones aren't but they know that is a skill to support the main instrument. We rarely force them to practice and they get by on much less than they should but I'm not too worried as I still see it as worthwhile and can spare the ££.

Your DS is a good kid, from what you've said . really this is where the battles lie and most other things are OK /good. Don't alienate him over this. In the end it's his choice.

Please don't tell him how " disappointed you are" that's so destroying . Spin doctor it along the lines of " you really seem to hate practising, can we discuss it..... what do you want to do about/with your piano at the moment?" etc etc

I assume this isn't his only extracurricular activity?

Northernparent68 Tue 11-Nov-14 17:05:55

Is it worth the Agro ? Why not let him drop it, he does nt enjoy it and as some one else has said he is different to you and your husband

oddsocksmostly Tue 11-Nov-14 19:41:14

If only we had a crystal ball! I was interested in your statement that you played to a high standard as a child. I wasn't clear whether you play now?
I am wondering whether you play for pleasure now, and whether your son sees you have fun with your own playing.
My own experience as a parent (as a non musical person I hasten to add ) is that my DS had piano and flute lessons as a child,then stopped at his choice when he started at secondary school. He then started playing guitar at 14, which was an instrument he could share with his father, and also was quite 'cool' to his peers. He came back to piano when he was 15.

ValenciaOrange Tue 11-Nov-14 19:52:40

I think you should let him stop. I don't think piano playing is worth the argument. You say your husband would have loved to learn. Why not use the money you save on your son's lessons for your husband to take it up now.

FriendlyLadybird Wed 12-Nov-14 09:45:33

Thanks for the further comments. I had more of a talk with DS last night. The thing is that it's not really about the piano. If he really hated it all and wasn't remotely musical I would have no hesitation in letting him stop. But he does enjoy it, once he's learnt the pieces. He plays pieces he knows all the time -- in school, on pianos in National Trust properties etc. What he HATES with a passion is knuckling down and learning pieces properly and taking instruction. He's never had to work particularly hard at school, so this is the only area of life in which he's so far being stretched.
I have asked him very seriously if he wants to give up, and when it comes to the point he says no. And he does like exams. He actively enjoys doing them (though he may not the one coming up as he isn't very prepared) and he certainly enjoys getting high marks and nice comments from the examiner (again, something he may not get so much of this time).

Theas18 Wed 12-Nov-14 10:50:46


I can so identify with that! playing the piano in NT properties etc but not wanting to practice LOL

If it isn't financial stress back off on the pressure after the exam and see how he goes.

Travelledtheworld Wed 12-Nov-14 13:36:08

I agree that playing an instrument is a fantastic life skill and to be encouraged. But for all sorts of reasons many teenagers hate practicing and do want to give up.

I also think you should consider changing instrument and taking a break from exams for a while. Unless he wants to teach, or do Music at University he doesn't really need to go all the way to grade 8.

The piano is not a particularly cool instrument for a young teenager. It's also a solitary instrument. Would he like to learn trumpet, clarinet/ saxophone ? Something he can play in a group, go busking, and have fun with ?

Is he thinking about doing music GCSE at school ? It's one of the more difficult GCSE' s IMO and involves both playing and composition.
You only have to be around grade 3 standard for this.

At the same age my brother asked to stop piano lessons with the elderly lady who taught me and had taught my Mum. So my parents found him a very cool music student at the local university who taught him Jazz and Improvisation which was far more fun.

Sorry to say this, but if he is doing Grade 4 at almost 13 he is not especially talented, just a good player. Sons friend was grade 8 on Violin at 13 and this year has gone to specialist music school and into National Youth Orchestra. He is really talented and his love for the instrument shows in everything he does.

Claybury Wed 12-Nov-14 16:22:42

If it's his only 'hobby" I would try to get him to continue while remembering children do go through different developmental stages and won't always be committed at every age. Maybe keep the pressure off for a while, ensure he does enough to keep some progress and you never know he may be more enthusiastic when he's 14 or 16. At the end of the day though you can't do the practice for them.
I made DS have lessons in his instrument until he was 16 - I decided 16 was old enough to know his mind.

Dd is a singer and I have pretty much forced her to persist with piano at times. I know she will need it as singing is her passion and if I had let her give up years ago she would have really regretted it. For her ( and she sounds like your DS) the discipline doesn't come easy, but a switch to a new teacher who teaches Jazz and has a different approach has helped bit.
I know it is a tricky one for parents - if my DC's didn't do music my life would be easier because it does take a lot of commitment / nagging etc. You have to decide if it is worth it. Not many kids will just practice and 'playing for pleasure' is not really a concept I get as not all practice is 'pleasurable'.

FriendlyLadybird Wed 12-Nov-14 19:45:35

Thanks again everyone. It's not his only hobby as he also fences and does a lot of drama, but I tend to keep the drama to holiday courses as there is provision for it at school. Some musical training can come in useful in drama, of course.
He certainly doesn't want to do music GCSE or pursue music as a career (and I would discourage the latter anyway) so I wasn't putting him forward as especially talented, just talented enough to make it worthwhile continuing!
The absolute irony is that we have a house full of cool guitars and DH could teach him that and/or improvisation in any style at the drop of a hat ... but DS is not interested AT ALL.
(And DD is LONGING to start the piano. She's trying to teach herself already, and is naturally a lot more cooperative than her brother so I think we'll have a comparatively easy ride with her!)

Heyho111 Thu 13-Nov-14 22:32:54

I feel there is enough they have to do eg studying. Extra activities should be fun and wanted to be done. Let him choose. If he regrets it when he's older he can start to play again. Several of my friends have learnt to play in their 40s. Just because he is good at it foes not mean they enjoy it. What will his memory of playing the piano be. Nagging and boredom or being able to play music he enjoys when he wants to.

mrsminiverscharlady Fri 14-Nov-14 00:31:15

Maybe I'm a harsh mum, but we have an agreement that ds must practice (properly) 5 days out of 7. No nagging or reminders (mostly) but if it doesn't happen then he contributes 50% towards the cost of that week's lesson as we consider it to have been wasted. He's free to give up at any time but must pay for outstanding lessons.

I do not want arguments over practice and I think it's helpful for him to realise that as we've made a financial commitment to it, he has a responsibility to keep his side of the bargain.

Greenrememberedhills Fri 14-Nov-14 11:32:50

I think that it's better to back off and put them in charge at this stage. The purpose of learning is surely so that it can be a source in enjoyment in life.

We allowed our son to stop, despite it not being our preference for him, and now he plays for fun and relaxation.

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