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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bob Geldof  

Ebola is a political AND a medical disease

Paul Vallely
 

I've tried reason, but my cat is pig-ignorant

Dom Joly
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin