Reflecting on priorities of family & work
It never fails. After my blog a couple of weeks ago, “I Ain’t Raising No Quitter” – my son proposes to quit the very thing I praised his diligence for – piano (no, not fencing!!) Let me set the context a little. My son has been taking piano lessons for a couple of years now and generally enjoys it. He practices by himself without us asking and has been progressing nicely – ask his grandparents – an entirely unbiased opinion. Earlier this week, with all earnestness in his voice, he came to my wife and I after practicing for about 5 minutes and states,
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I don’t know what decision I am going to make yet, but I might want to stop taking piano lessons. I’m going to keep thinking about it some more.”
We asked him a couple of questions. Do you still like playing piano? Yes. Do you still like your teacher? Yes. Then we made a simple statement to him – You’re not quitting piano. Back to the rest of our conversation in a minute.
I’ve been working with him during the last couple of months as his music has gotten harder. He and I learn piano very differently. I would stare at the music, read each note, and carefully play them together slowly, over and over again, until I could hit all of the right keys and eventually get up to the appropriate tempo. Piano by brute force. He is more of a natural. He hears something and plays it. He’s at the point of piano now, where he is playing multiple notes using both hands with flats and sharps and playing by ear is more challenging. He can still do it, but he has to hear the music multiple times and go through more trial and error.
His potential desire to quit grew with his frustration and stemmed partially from me – I would not play the song for him so he could hear it again and know how it goes. Instead, I made him pluck it out note by note as I had learned. He was getting better at reading music, but his joy of playing piano was ebbing. My daughter, on the other hand, is more like me – she plucks things out note by note until she gets it right (more so around sports – gymnastics, swimming, et. al – than music) but my son learns much differently than I did. Was I raising a quitter by forcing my own learning style on him?
Back to the conversation:
Us: Piano is getting harder, right?
Us: You have to work harder to make the songs sound good.
Us: We want you to challenge yourself to be the best you can be at this activity you love. Part of becoming really good at something is struggling with tasks that are just slightly harder than what we are capable of currently doing (In education speak, we called this the Zone of Proximal Development – ZPD). Let’s go practice together.
Me (in a private conversation with him at the piano): You have the ability to be better at piano than I ever was.
Me: Much better – because you can play by ear and you can read music. I can only do one of those. I promise to play the songs for you to help you play them by ear if you promise to practice them by reading the music for at least 5 minutes before you ask me for help.
I felt like we passed a test there as parents, further instilling a sense of persisting through that which is hard in our son that will hopefully serve him well in life. While we made the statement that he is not quitting, we backed it up with a reason why, and created a path forward for his success. It’s our hope that one day, he’ll be able to do that type of thinking himself.
It’s been several days since this incident and he has kept up his end of the bargain – and I’ve kept up mine. His piano teacher commented on how hard he must have worked this last week. He beamed with pride as he knew how right she was.