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My 3-Year-Old, Musical Genius

Photograph by Getty Images

It all started at the piano. One afternoon, my 3-year-old sat down and began to play. He loved hitting the keys, seeing what sounds came out if he went this way or that. I would take videos of him tinkering — it was all just too cute.

But then, amidst the banging and crashing, he played a little tune. “Just a fluke,” I thought to myself. But then he did it again. And again. I took a video. My son knows how to play the piano! He was just like those self-taught virtuosos you heard about.

My son is a musical prodigy.

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I took more videos and texted his nursery school teacher. “Is he interested in music class?” I asked. His teacher told me that yes, he was interested, but no, he was no more interested in music than any of the other 3-year-olds.

“What does she know?” I thought. I got the name of the music teacher, ready to get lessons started.

My 5-year-old meandered into the room. When he saw I was taking videos, he got into the action. He made up a song to the tune my 3-year-old was playing.

TWO musical prodigies in the family.

I could hardly believe it. Visions of the Jonas Brothers floated in my mind. Sold-out stadiums. A million-dollar record deal.

“Do you boys want to start a rock band?” I asked.

My 3-year-old sat down at the piano, and I got ready for the magic to happen.

“YES!” they both called out, and continued the concert. I frantically took videos. I was documenting history. I was sure of it.

Later that night, I told my husband about the impromptu jam session and showed him the videos.

“Cute,” he said.

“Cute?” I asked with disgust. “Would you call Mozart cute? Beethoven?”

“I think he’s just banging the keys to have fun,” my husband said, studying the video.

“I think he’s a musical genius.”

My husband laughed out loud. When he saw my reaction, he tried to stifle his laughter. He murmured something like, "Yeah, sure, musical genius." But there was no mistaking it: He was making fun of me.

“When they make the biography of our sons’s lives,” I thought to myself, “They had better show that I was the supportive parent and he was the one who laughed.”

The next day, I made plans for a music lesson. The instructor told me that 3 was a bit early to start, but I explained to him that my 3-year-old was already making melodies. I even had a video. Did he want to see the video?

He did not.

That Saturday, the music teacher arrived. I brushed my hair and made sure the kids were ready. My 3-year-old sat down at the piano, and I got ready for the magic to happen.

Bang! Crash! Zing.

There was no magic. There was no beautiful melody. Gone was the tune I’d heard the week before. In its place, my son was hitting the keys randomly. Hard.

“Sweetheart,” I coached, “play the song you did for me the other day.”

My son smiled back at me. He shook his head and began. Here we go, I thought. I’m ready for our lives to change. No more days filled with work and laundry. From here on out, it would be 100-foot yachts and caviar, all the way.

Bang! Crash! Zing.

I shook my head and smiled, trying to comprehend what he was telling me.

He looked up at me, big blue eyes shining and smiled. “Good?” he asked.

“Great,” I said.

I turned to the music teacher. “I have a video. Would you like to see the video?”

“You know,” he said, “3-year-olds really just love to hit the keys to hear the sounds that come out. He’s a little young to get started. I think for now we can just encourage him to explore and then re-visit the idea of lessons when he’s around 5.”

“But I have a video.”

“He probably just randomly found a melody,” the music teacher explained, “and then was able to replicate that over and over for you.”

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I shook my head and smiled, trying to comprehend what he was telling me. My 3-year-old was not a musical genius. He was not a prodigy. There would be no sold-out stadium tour, no record deal. No yacht. No caviar.

“I understand,” I said. And then I took out my phone and showed him the video.

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