By: Hellene Hiner
A Sad Little Story With a Happy Ending.
Work that is worth millions, but pays peanuts.
Imagine this: you are an English teacher in a pre-school. A producer of a mega-show approaches you and makes an offer. He says: 'If you take a one or two year-old toddler and teach this fella to recite Shakespeare's sonnet #55 in a couple of months to be filmed for our show, our company will reward you with 2 million dollars!'
What would be your plan?
First of all, you would try to select the most talented toddler that you could find. You would try to find a toddler that already has learned how to speak coherently enough to be understood. This special little toddler has to have listening and concentration skills and be willing to repeat everything you say, perhaps with the help of a few sweet bribes.
Second, you would start with drills, you would continue with drills and you would never give up on drills. You would drill the poem word-by-word, day-by-day and week-by-week repeating and repeating and repeating again, rewarding each success. We teach parrots to speak the same way. There is no other way to make a young toddler drool, excuse me, to recite Shakespeare for a silly television show no matter how much they pay! Toddlers, you see, are not motivated by money.
Believe it or not, this is exactly what a piano teacher has to deal with every day when teaching beginners of any age. Sadly, piano teachers are not getting paid millions for the job. (Obviously they are not motivated by money either!) The teacher must find different tricks and be very creative in convincing your child (the one with limited coordination, who can't focus and can't recognize notes by ear properly, remember?) to play piano and to enjoy doing it.
In addition, the piano teacher has to be an aid and an assistant at your helpless child's side, a babysitter and a nurse too. He or she knows and understands what your child is going through, feels your child's pain and tries to sweeten the pill with as much personal sugar and encouragement possible. Otherwise you and the child wouldn't be happy and motivated to continue lessons.
You think, that I am exaggerating? Ok. Today you are about to drop your child at piano lesson and about to vanish – to run some errands. Can you stop running and attend the class for a change? Try to absorb what is going on during the piano hour. In a traditional piano lesson, you will see that most of the lesson will be spent by the teacher trying to help your child to see piano keys and music notes with theory explanations and pointing. Your child will try his best to see them but will still be off track any way.
In order to help your child to follow the track of music notes, the piano teacher will point at every note with a pen or pencil or with a cute little pointer (the most down to earth individuals use also a finger, too!) They won't read the music piece in the same way that they read stories. Most likely they will deal with 'one bar at a time' if they have just started a piece. They will work very hard and by 'work' I mean 'work' - labor with a lot of theory explanations and many, many drills. The student will eventually memorize the piece, because hard work always pays off. Well, almost… sometimes!
Do you know what is the most common health problem among piano teachers? You may think that they would have hand or finger pain of some sort and you would be absolutely wrong! Most piano teachers suffer from back pain. They have back pain because they bend over your child for most of the lesson with a pointer in their hand.
In order to develop new skill any beginner makes a great number of mistakes. A piano teacher is rather like a punching bag for a beginners' music success…. the student throws a lot of bad punches (or hit’s the wrong keys). Being a professional with a sophisticated music ear, the piano teacher has to put up with a lot of false notes and rhythmical errors. He will try his best to explain things to avoid this torture. But to know HOW to do it and to DO it, is not the same thing.
Did you ever ask yourself: why do elementary schools kids take tests on reading, but in piano classes they mostly perform recitals? The simple truth about why reading tests are not common in most piano classes is that the majority of piano students simply can't read a music score fluently! They artistically recite instead.