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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Clean energy should be our mission to the moon

Martin Rees
Angela Merkel and David Cameron say goodbye in the Bundeskanzleramt after their meeting in Berlin, Germany, 29 May 2015  

The complacency of Europhiles could lose them the referendum

Steve Richards
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral