Should I make my 9 year-old quit the piano?

Asked to me on Quora

Should I make my 9 year-old quit the piano? She is gifted and says she wants to continue, but the piano is negatively affecting her mood 60-80% of the time (tantrums, name-calling). Her teacher is brilliant, but a perfectionist.

Hi Allison,

I shuddered a little at the word “perfectionist.”

Having spent my life playing and teaching piano (and building/writing the curriculum for, I’ve learned that a student’s mindset towards the instrument is the most important part of the learning process.

Your 9-year old might be incredibly gifted, but this gift will be ruined by the perfectionism of her teacher.

I don’t say that to be dramatic – perfectionism can ruin talent in any instrument because:

1.) it’s training her to see and hear the music through a mindset of fear

2.) there’s no such thing as a “perfect” performance anyway.

Rather than encouraging musical expression and showing her the joy of playing piano, she’s being scolded to fear wrong notes.

And from what you’ve described it sounds like she’s already internalizing this fear into tantrums and name-calling.

Her piano teacher may in fact be brilliant, but I would ask: are they currently performing professionally? Are they actively playing around town in ensembles or as a soloist? Are they participating in a musical community that shares music to an audience?

Or – much more likely – have they left their performance career far behind them.

The goal of learning piano is to perform. A piano teacher who fears performing whill teach your daughter how to fear performing.

Which will have lasting damaging effects.

I spent my time as teacher helping students play songs they love, and wanted to play, and watched them come alive.
Notes were corrected and suggestions given, but I lead by example through performance and musicality.

That’s what a good teacher should do always.

What you learn as a professional pianist is that no audience member cares about “perfect” but they do care if the performer is feeling anxious and fearful. It all comes through the notes.

I’d recommend finding a teacher who 1. still actively performs around town and 2. has experience not just in classical but in jazz.

Why is C major the hardest scale on the piano?

Asked to me on Quora

Because it’s the first scale everyone learns. 😉

And scales aren’t easy to play.

But C Major will become the foundation you build all of your coordination on.

And soon you’ll soon be able to play in new keys – F Major, Bb Major all the way up to Gb/F# Major.

And as your scale practice increases your confidence and poise, your fingers will start to move on auto pilot, easier and faster.

And by the time you return to C Major – that smooth landscape of no sharps or flats – your fingers will just fly.

So I guess the beauty and irony of C Major is that it is both technically the hardest scale to learn, but the easiest scale to play.

Is it worth it to learn playing the piano if you don’t plan to get good at it?

Someone asked me the above question on Quora.
My response:

Should you learn how to walk even though you’ll never be a marathoner? 🙂

Music is a part of life for everyone, whether or not they choose it as a career.

Don’t deny yourself the joy of being able to play and perform your favorite songs on the piano, just because you might not make it on a marquee.

I make a living playing piano, but even within this field there’s no one metric for “good”. Some pianists specialize in classical, jazz, production, composition, etc.. and the creative options are endless – it’s about what you enjoy.

Even if you only learn how to play the melody from your favorite tune, that is of value to yourself and other people. But more importantly… it is of HUGE value to your brain.

Learning how to play piano is like bootcamp for your brain. It gives you a mental advantage over others, as it strengthens your synapses like crazy.

All ways of thinking – creative, logical, critical – get improved by learning piano.

Here are some more details about how piano increases your mental health: 4 Ways Learning Piano Benefits Your Brain

Music is a gift, and you deserve to share in it.

All the best,