Tag Archives: The Well-Trained Mind

Music Lessons Again — This Time, It’s Personal

When I first began homeschooling, my husband bought me the book The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise. For a few years, I tried to follow many of the recommendations outlined in the book before I realized that’s what they were: recommendations. I then used it more as a springboard as I planned the new school year. One thing I did appreciate, though, was the authors’ view of music study. Every child, they say, should have two years of piano lessons as part of their education. I agreed, thinking this would help build self-discipline, self-esteem, and an understanding and appreciation of music.

This didn’t quite happen with my daughter Lillie, though. As I’ve written before, she’s struggled with the lessons and practicing, not because she couldn’t do it, but because she didn’t want to put forth the effort. In order to have a good practice week, I would have to sit down with her every time she practiced and make sure she did it — as she fussed and whined and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about (I don’t play the piano, but I did study music from middle school through college). I was unsure if I should let her quit or make it stick with it until I saw some positive changes in her attitude. I let her quit at the end of the school year.

Then, this summer, a new opportunity came along. Both of my girls were given the chance to take violin lessons from my sister-in-law who moved nearby. Lillie was very excited — and I was surprised. It would be a year’s commitment, I told her, but she agreed. We started the lessons three weeks ago.

Because they are beginners, I’ve been sitting in on the girls’ lessons and helping them as they practice. The first week of practice went well. When we began the second week of practice, though, Lillie began complaining the chin rest was uncomfortable. She spent much of the practice time fussing about it, but when we went for the next lesson, she didn’t mention it to my sister-in-law at all.

This week of practice has brought out more of Lillie’s woes: the chin rest was still uncomfortable, her fingers couldn’t reach the right strings, she was tired of standing, and on and on. I finally asked her why she didn’t tell her aunt about all these problems; after all, her aunt was the one who would know what to do about them. “It never happens at her house,” Lillie told me.

Exasperated, I finally laid down the law. “No more grumbling in this house,” I told her. “If you have a problem with your violin, you can’t tell me anymore. You have to tell your aunt.” Suddenly, the complaining stopped.

I know Lillie wants to please her aunt; after all, she’s not just a music teacher Lillie sees once a week, but she’s the aunt who lives close by and has a pool in her backyard and invites us over for cookouts and looks through Lillie’s whole collection of silly bands. I’m sure that this time, Lillie will learn a lot more than music notes. 🙂

Photo by earl53

Piano Lessons

keysWhen my oldest son John (now 13) was small, my husband purchased the book The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. Although John was just starting his schooling years, I read through the book, and I really liked what I read. Since then, I’ve implemented some of the ideas the authors suggest. One of those ideas was to have every child complete at least two years of piano study.

We’ve done this with several goals in mind. One is that they learn to read music and understand what it means to play an instrument. Research shows that learning music  often helps students do better with math, so that was another benefit. I also wanted them to learn the self-discipline that would be required for practicing.

So far, three of my children have taken piano lessons. Here’s how it’s gone:

John started when he was only five, took a couple of years off, then started again. He does well with it, and though at times he wants to quit, I tell him he’s too far along to quit now. So, he’ll probably be working at it until he graduates.

Cassie took lessons for two years, then wanted to quit. There was a lot of sibling competition going on,  as she often compared herself to her brother who was both older and more experienced. She has since taken up the flute and is doing well with it. She now even wants to add piano back in again.

Lillie was very enthusiastic at first, but her enthusiasm quickly waned as she, too, began comparing herself to John. She has wanted to quit for quite some time, but I told her she had to finish two years. She did, though they were not a good two years of practice — more often that not she would try to get out of playing, and instead of learning self-discipline, she experienced Mom’s discipline. So, I added on one more year, hoping to end her piano career on a higher note (no pun intended).

Then…I talked with my older brother, an accomplished musician. And he gave me more to think about…

Every child, he said, should learn to play the piano. Of all the instruments, it’s the one that people who don’t make music a career tend to continue playing on into adulthood. It’s a skill you can always use, no matter what your occupation. You can play it at church, for holiday gatherings, for family sing-a-longs. You can play as your children dance around the room, or you can play for a friend’s wedding.

Besides, he continued, you never hear anyone say, “I wish I hadn’t learned to play the piano,” but you often hear people say, “I wish I had stuck with it.”

So now, I’m rethinking their piano lessons. Perhaps Lillie will have to continue on with them and keep practicing. And when she complains, I’ll tell her she can blame it on her uncle.