Did I make a mistake teaching piano to my three sons?

Confession #1

Just weeks after we brought son #1 home from the hospital, I threw out the book What to Expect the First Year. Our baby wasn’t following the routine that most babies do: eating every 4 hours on the dot, sleeping through the night and napping each morning and afternoon. The book made me feel frustrated and guilty for not doing things the “right way” and made me feel insecure about my parenting skills.

Food for thought: Did you know parenting became a verb just back in the 1970’s? Before then, the word “parent” identified a relationship and not a full-time job!

Confession #2

I flunked out of most play groups with other moms and their kids and even MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers.) I just didn’t know how to contribute to the typical chatter and petty gossip. These groups tended to make me feel insecure about my parenting style. I always felt like I was “doing it all wrong.”

Confession #3

Although I hoped all three boys would take piano lessons from another teacher other than me none of them wanted to. Saying that they were strong-willed children is an understatement. My husband and I had to choose our “battles” carefully. Lessons were held whenever I could fit them in, usually while I was folding the laundry. All of them practiced the most right before a recital and always seemed to give stand out performances despite the lack of time and energy I put towards their lessons.

Confession #4

I could have never survived parenting without my husband. He and I were (still are) a team. He’d leave for work at 6am, come home at 3pm and I’d hand over the boys to him. He was the taxi driver, the grocery shopper and the chef while I taught lessons.

There ya have it! If you had any illusions that I was a super mom, I wasn’t and I’m still not.

Why the confessions now? I’m old enough and so are the boys, to look back at things and say without a doubt:

Each son has found music to be a part of them. They can’t seem to shrug it. Perhaps I didn’t do everything as a I should have as a parent and a piano teacher but, I have a favorite saying:

“Never should on yourself.”

It is my hope that reading my confessions above and the current status report on each young man will encourage you as a parent and/or a piano teacher. Maybe things look much different for you? Perhaps your children flourish under your teaching or with another teacher. Congratulations! Regardless, you really have no idea what impact you have on a child until they “grow into themselves.”

Chase (Charles Stanley Eli)

Chase married Brittany in 2016 (best decision he ever made!) She plays flute and is a pre-school teacher at Denver Christian Schools.

Chase is two and a half years into his Ph.D. in Applied Math at the University of Colorado-Denver.

Chase took piano lessons from me through 8th grade and then sports became his “thing.” One of his favorite pieces was “Toccata” by Bastien.

By request, he taught a fellow football teammate the chords for “Apologize” by One Republic for the Mr. Crusader high school talent show. Chase taught himself with a combination of print music and iTunes and performed “Great Balls of Fire” for the same event. I believe he was runner-up.

During college, he taught himself guitar with YouTube videos.

With Brittany’s encouragement, he currently sings in the church choir with her.

Carter (Carter Julian)

After graduating from Palm Beach Atlantic University, Carter chose to remain in Florida and pursue his dream of working with aquariums and sea life. He’s the one I blogged about this past fall as he endured hurricane Irma. His apartment sustained little damage but, he was busy at his work place, restoring the Loggerhead Marine life Center back to normalcy after the storm.

Carter recently purchased a keyboard from Craig’s list so that he can jam at his apartment. He regularly plays bass guitar for a local church’s worship team. He rarely uses print music and seems to play chord-based improvisations in a stream-of-consciousness mode that is quite something to listen to (if I do say so myself!) He also can read from the grand staff.

I worked hard to get Carter to read music in grade school. It did not come intuitively for him. Little did I know how his ear would trump his eyes. Boy, would I have done things differently now!

In high school, he and I worked through “Moonlight Sonata” by his request and he played the first movement for his entire school student body from memory. According to those who were there, he knocked their socks off with his focus and musicality.

Unlike his older and younger brothers, playing sports was not his thing but, he became known as a piano player in his small school. Here’s a video featuring “Ian Sparks” produced by his senior class. Their video took first prize in the homecoming festivities. This was filmed at our house but I had NO idea what they were up to and take no responsibility. 🙂

Levi (Levi Elliot)

Levi followed in his bros’ foot steps and took piano from his mom as well. As the third child, he didn’t get the same attention as the other two but, he still fared well at the keys. Soccer was a favorite sport from Kindergarten through high school so piano took second fiddle. I “agreed” to this because he played percussion in the school band through his senior year.

Levi returned home for Christmas after his first semester at Chapman University and showed us a video of a dance he worked on with many other fraternity members and a sister sorority. Their team won first prize. He continues to dance (hip-hop style) every year for this contest–apparently it’s a big deal on campus–while he gets his degree in Business Finance. He no longer plays organized soccer so during down times at school he, does homework, hangs with friends and finds a piano to play.

Below is a video of him playing through his quite eclectic “playlist.” He learned each piece through a combination of online sheet music, YouTube videos and playing by ear.

Levi’s Playlist from Leila J Viss on Vimeo.

Thoughts on parenting

The boys have “schooled” me on iTunes, Spotify, trending bands and much more. In addition, they’ve taught me that when a seed is planted, it will grow and flourish in its own way and in its own time.

In all honesty, I thought I would be a carpenter-model parent and piano teacher where I, along with my husband, would carefully map a course for each son which they would follow as directed. Over the years, my husband and I have discovered that the act of “parenting” is really more like gardening.

Being a parent

  • Depends on the personality of the child
  • Is all about guiding in a solid direction with freedom to grow
  • Requires feeding, watering and plenty of nurturing
  • Calls for flexibility due to environmental factors outside of our control
  • Takes support of a village
  • Won’t go as planned
  • Results in continuous patience and humility
  • Keeps us on our knees.

I learned about these two types of parenting (carpenter and gardener), in a Hidden Brain podcast called  The Carpenter Vs The Gardner: Two Models of Modern Parenting. I highly recommend it to anyone who is teaching and/or parenting children!

Answer to my opening question

Did I make a mistake teaching my own sons? Taking time to let this podcast sink in and looking back over the years, my answer is “no.” I did what I could and what I knew. The three boys showed us early on that a carpenter approach was not going to work for them. Allowing them to direct their own path and choose their own piano teacher with our care and supervision worked out OK.

Music and the arts will be an important part of our sons’ lives. They are avid fans (and critics!) of music, movies and the latest Netflix series. More importantly, they’ve each found a career path that interests them and they still find time to make music.

Could I have taught them better? YES! I think I could have been a better gardener as a teacher back then. I tended to their eyes much more than their ears. Thank goodness they all developed good ear skills despite me.

That’s why I post the blog. If you do teach your own children, grandchildren or anybody’s children, take into consideration their strengths, their learning styles, plan to be flexible and let them flourish where they are planted.

What about you?

What’s your story as a parent and a music teacher?

What are you learning and observing as you raise your own children?

What are you learning as you teach other people’s children?

How can you discover and tend to the needs of each child?

Please share! I’m sure you will be an encouragement to those who are teaching or “parenting” budding musicians.

-Leila

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Leila Viss

Creative Pianist, Piano Teacher, Organist, Blogger and Author of The iPad Piano Studio

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Confession #3! That is my life! My kids always play(ed) at my recitals & I held my breath because I never knew what was going to happen.
    I tried teaching my oldest, who got all of her musical skills from her Dad — not many! She is now on the worship team singing, but not clapping in rhythm! My 2nd oldest didn’t care for piano, but was/is a songbird. She knows enough piano/grand staff to read the melody lines of vocal pieces. My son (who is 12) is my musician! He plays a lot by ear (HOW can he do that??). He also plays the cajon for worship team & is learning the guitar. I found this semester, after one family needed a time change, that if I scheduled his lesson between other students, we actually have a lesson! No more trying to listen/instruct while making supper or folding laundry!
    I considered finding other teachers for my children, but know that those moments spent one-on-one at the piano, experiencing their successes are precious & can never be repeated.

    • Good for you, Carla that you schedule in your son between other students. Thanks for sharing your story and in addition for sharing your reality. It’s not always what you expect. Love your descriptions of your kiddos, too! 🙂