When I was seven
years old, my mother made me play piano. Not, like, "Tiger Mom"-style but, like, “you have to learn an instrument, and OH
LOOK we have a piano in our house!”-style.
I told her that I
wanted to play violin instead.
So I took violin
lessons and hated it.
clarinet is for me!” thought I.
Six months later:
It was not.
Piano, it was.
I played the piano
for seven years and absolutely HATED it. I hated practicing. I hated reading
music. I hated piano recitals and regularly froze on stage. (I get PTSD every
time I hear "Für Elise" because I once had a full on brain freeze while playing
it on a stage in front of an audience of people and ended up running down the
halls hysterical and throwing myself into the bushes in order to die there and
never be found.)
My mom let me quit
at 14, which I had been begging her for years to do. And while I will
occasionally sit down to the piano to bust out a little "Piano Man" and "Everything I Do, I Do It For You" by Bryan Adams (the last song I learned before
quitting), I regularly regret that, one, I quit the piano; two, Bryan Adams is
the only composer I can play on the piano; and three, that I didn’t learn guitar as a
So, in my early
20s, I bought a guitar and learned to play—a little bit; enough to write a few
songs and teach myself a few more. It
was good for me at the time, having a guitar and being alone in my apartment,
pretending to be Holly Golightly in the window—Moon River, flat shoes, can’t
If only I had that
in high school, I thought. My two greatest loves at the time (besides boys)
were poetry and music—and yet, I never even thought to merge the two.
Fast forward to now
and me spending the last several years trying not to FORCE music onto my son Archer,
but to, instead, NUDGE him toward it.
At age three,
Archer taught himself to play "Carmen" on the piano and we were convinced we had
some sort of prodigy on our hands. He was the same way on drums so we put him
in music class, which he hated and then started him on piano. As soon as the
lessons started, he stopped playing piano for fun, which broke my heart and
prompted me to pull him from piano lessons.
He was only four.
It was way too soon.
Two years later,
when prompted about taking piano lessons again, Archer told us he wanted to
learn drums instead. We bought a snare and started him in lessons but those
didn’t stick either.
We decided, once
again, that perhaps six was too young and agreed to revisit the conversation at
a later date. He was, after all, only six.
Fast-forward to a
year later, when after watching Archer KILL it in the school play with a solo
that he sung in perfect pitch in front of the whole school THREE TIMES, Hal and
I were like, “OH HELL NO. You are a MUSICAL SOUL! We have to do this. We have
to push him more than we have.”
So we sat Archer
down and had a talk.
About his talent.
Because, even though piano is arguably the king of all instruments and musical things, a guitar can be played anywhere, at any time, at any point in your life.
About how it
changed our lives and why I regret quitting all those years ago. That IN OUR HOUSE, you HAVE to learn an
instrument. You don’t have to play a sport; you don’t have to finish your
vegetables; you don’t even have to go to college—but you HAVE to learn an
instrument. You just have to.
And so it was.
Archer listened and
agreed. That week, Hal picked up some books and started teaching him guitar. But we soon found that Hal teaching Archer
wasn’t as ideal as hiring a REAL teacher. So that is what we did. Hal bought
Archer a real guitar and hired Archer a real teacher and he began to take
guitar lessons every Thursday after school.
After the first few
weeks of me having to remind him to practice, he began to voluntarily pick up
his guitar and bring it with him places—outside, in his sisters’ room, in the
hallway to jam a song he made up as he went, into the entranceway of the house
where he can be alone and away from his sisters and Hal and me.
I realized that it wasn’t just about learning an
instrument, but about learning guitar.
THE GUITAR IS THE ANSWER!
Because, even though
piano is arguably the king of all instruments and musical things, a guitar can
be played anywhere, at any time, at any point in your life. Archer can play
privately; he can play alone. And for a child who prefers to work alone and
write alone and be inside his head, there could not be a more ideal
Archer doesn’t need
to depend on other instruments or a band or a soundproof room to make music,
and as a parent whose role is to nurture her children’s independent spirit(s), that
Fable’s still a
little young to play, but when she turns 8 in a couple of years, we’ll start
her up, too. And Bo and Revi will take lessons, as well. If after a year of
guitar, they decide that they’d like to play something else, they can do that,
too. But I still want them to play guitar as their first instrument. Because,
in the same way the kids HAVE to learn to swim for their own physical safety, I
feel that music—specifically, music on an instrument that can be played while singing in
a small room anywhere in the world—is a safety course as well. Swimming
lessons for the spirit, if you will. Swimming lessons for the soul.
What about you? Do
you make you force/urge your kids to take music lessons? Are sports mandatory
in your household for similar reasons? I’d love to hear from you on this! Much