Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: He refuses to learn to play the piano

This reader can't find a way to get her son interested in learning a musical instrument

Share

Dear Virginia,

I am a single parent and I’m trying to teach my son to play the piano. The problem is that he just won’t practice. My own music teacher was a very angry woman, and I’m trying not to lose my temper with my son, but it’s getting difficult. He’s seven years old and he’s musical, that’s clear, but although he’s good at other subjects at school, when it comes to piano he just refuses to work at it. I’ve tried rewards, punishments, bribes, praise – nothing seems to work. How can I get him to do it? It’s only quarter of an hour a day.

Yours sincerely,

Sonia

Virginia says...

I tried to help my son learn the piano when he was small, with dire results. I got angry, he dug his heels in, and we got absolutely nowhere. And with the benefit of hindsight, I think you’re asking too much of yourself, trying to be a mother and father and now teacher to your son as well.

Anyway, children want their parents to be parents, not teachers. And it’s extremely difficult, if you’re in that parental relationship, not to let the emotional stresses of your home life overflow into the teaching relationship. There’s a gender element here, too. Were you your son’s father I think it would be easier, because – though I know this is a huge generalisation – fathers tend to be associated with risk-taking and danger. Dad will often let a child climb a tree higher than a mother – and so even piano-playing, if it’s taught by a father to a son, can be seen as a pursuit more blokeish that something peddled by Mum.  

The piano isn’t something you can be punished or cajoled to enjoy. And most talented young musicians find they’re drawn to it naturally. Once my son discovered the ukulele, I had practically to drag it out of his hands of a night-time, rather than compel him to work at it for a prescribed time every day.

Remember, too, that the piano can be an incredibly difficult instrument to learn,  and it may be that your son just can’t really cope with it at the moment. Of course at pinch he could be forced to learn but will he ever enjoy it in the future? Not if he associates it with dread and boredom. And having, as a child, been taught by a monstrous musical maestro and reached Grade Six, I myself rarely can bear go near a piano now.

I’d develop your son’s musical sensibilities by taking him to a variety of musical events – and not just classical ones. Drop in on  performances anywhere, from folk to flamenco, jazz to musicals. And if he does pick an instrument that suits him, find him a teacher who doesn’t believe in reading music at first. Music can often best be taught as a series of chords and sounds, with their own logic, not limited by staves and semi-quavers.

Incidentally, having eschewed the piano (to my disappointment) my own son did finally end up as a full-time musician. But no thanks, I’m afraid, to my crass and  bumbling efforts to push him.

 

Readers say...

Don’t force him

When I was six I adamantly refused to practise violin.  Yet now at the age of 19 I’m studying at Trinity Laban on the jazz course. Why not simply foster his musicality sans instrument. Take him to concerts, introduce him to different genres, allow him to develop his own taste. By encouraging a passion for music, his actual will to play and practise it will become apparent. There’s no point in pressuring him (too much). That’s unnecessary stress for yourself and him.

George Winstone, London

Give him time

More than 30 years ago my son of seven was introduced to the piano and soon was doing quite well. But after two years begged to give it up. Although disappointed, we let him and a year after that he came home from school one day begging to learn the oboe. Within two years he had passed Grade 7 with a distinction. He is now a professional woodwind teacher. Let your son give up the piano if he’s not enjoying it. The musicality will find a more pleasurable outlet.

Joe Daggers, By email
 

Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My 67-year-old father, a widower, is besotted with a 25-year-old Chinese girl. He’s lent her a lot of money, and is talking of marrying her. My brother and I don’t trust her and we looked her up on the internet and found she’s been in prison for fraud. But when we told my father he said he knew about that but she’d promised she’d turned over a new leaf. Is there anything we can do? My brother has a special-needs child and is worried that when my dad dies, his money – which is considerable – will go to this scheming girl and not to us.

Yours sincerely,

Jane

 

What would you advise Jane to do?

Email your dilemmas and comments to  dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Anyone whose  advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published  will receive a £25 voucher  from the wine website  Fine Wine Sellers  (finewine.sellers.co.uk)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook  

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot