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

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Would you fork out to spend time on Sting's Tuscan estate?  

Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

John Walsh
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?