There may be an exception or two, but here is reality for almost every parent reading this: the day will come when your child will stop playing classical music.
Why? The answer is simple really. There is little purpose in learning music that you will never use, and few people will ever have the opportunity to use classical music in real life. Likewise, there is little purpose in learning music that you will never play for others, and few pianists ever have the opportunity to play classical music for others.
Yes, there are a few symphonies left and there are a few recording artists who make a living recording classical music. But the odds are overwhelming that your child will never have the opportunity or desire to pursue a career in classical music performance.
Outside of the concert hall, where is classical music performed? At church? Parties? Not likely.
And yet, we parents line up to sign up our children for classical piano lessons. We worry about how they perform Bach and Beethoven. We obsess about contests as if contests are really going to have a significant impact on their future.
But then one day, the music stops. The child wakes up to the reality that while classical music might teach some valuable things about life, it is a dead end in itself.
I know that for many people, what I have just said seems harsh. If you feel that way, I apologize. And let me say that I love much classical music and see much value in learning it. My own children study classical music.
If you are a parent, I just want to let you know that a few adjustments can make a dramatic impact on how much music will be a part of your child’s life in the future.
Before I get to that, here is a question for you. What kind of musician do you want your child to be?
If your answer is that you want your child to be a concert classical musician, you can stop reading this post now.
But my guess is that your answer is the same answer I would give. You want your child to learn a skill that they will enjoy but also will be useful in life. In particular, you want them to have a skill that will be useful in God’s work.
The term I would use to describe this kind of musician is “functional.” A functional musician has the skills needed to play music in real life (outside of concert halls). In the context of church, a functional musician has the ability to accompany, play by ear, transpose, arrange, and sight read.
It is highly ironic that parents and teachers focus on teaching skills that are primarily for the recital hall while ignoring the skills that students need to learn in order to be functional.
Before you ask, yes, I believe that classical music can help students be more functional. Yes, there are valuable things that you learn from classical music. But if studying classical music was all you needed to become a useful pianist, there would not be so many classical pianists who cannot play hymns in their church.
All parents want the best for their children. But here is what few understand. Most of the skills needed to become functional or useful are different than what your child will learn in traditional classical music training. If your child plays Liszt better than Liszt, that does not mean he/she can function in a church environment.
Parents have been told things that are not true. For example, they have been told that classical music is complicated, and if their child can play classical music, they can play anything. That is rubbish. I know many a fine classical pianist that cannot play “Happy Birthday.”
Here is another myth. Parents have been told that playing by ear is a skill that you have to be born with. That is rubbish too. I never learned to play by ear until I was an adult, and I am hardly the first person in that category. By the way, all truly functional pianists can play by ear.
Some parents have been told that their child should focus on classical music for the early years and they can learn church music by taking a class or two in college. Rubbish again. Don’t think for one minute that a few classes in college will turn your
classically trained child into a functional pianist. It is not going to
happen. This is something that you need to start on early.
Here is my recommendation. From an early age, expose your children to teaching outside traditional classical training. Don’t replace classical music. Rather, augment it with instruction on playing by ear, arranging, improvisation, and so on.
Does that mean your child has to practice twice as much? Not really and here’s why. I would not recommend that you eliminate classical music, but if I would not discourage you from slowing down on that music in order to introduce these new skills.
And that brings me to my courses (available here). If you want your child to be a church pianist some day and he/she has had at least a few years of lessons, consider buying them. They teach a very logical and complete system that will help students learn to play church music from a theory perspective. Once your children understand how to apply theory to music, doors will be unlocked forever.
If you do buy these courses, make sure you have your child work through them slowly. If you do it right, it will take years to get through them. But when you are done, your child should be a good church pianist, probably before graduating from high school.
Better yet, he/she will have a foundation for learning and a passion for music that will last a lifetime.
If you want your child to have a career as a classical concert pianist, pursue classical music. But for the rest of us, we need to make adjustments even if it means going against common wisdom.
If you have questions or comments about this subject or about the courses, please write me or post them below. I will talk about the courses in more detail in the coming weeks.