My memories of short-lived piano lessons reeked of onions. Since we didn’t have a piano, I walked to the teacher’s house for classes and she taught as she cooked for her family.
Her method was book-based (John Thompson, Michael Aaron) and she was irritable and hit my hands with a stick when I flubbed the notes. I dropped out after first grade.
I still love music, though, even if I’ve never played like an accomplished musician. I learned basic guitar chords from Jingle, like many ’80s kids, gravitating toward new wave, grunge, metal and alternative.
My father took a two-year installment plan to pay for an electronic keyboard—with the condition that I had to learn to play “Somewhere in Time.” I spent many hours on it, playing whatever pieces were available at Tropical Hut (mostly Broadway hits I never really liked). I crudely taped letter names of the notes onto the keys and wrote under each note on the piece to decipher it.
These days, there are YouTube tutorials and hacks for anything, but I wanted my music-loving kids to learn in a proper, less traumatic way.
If you want to practice from the comfort of your home and already have a keyboard, hiring a teacher costs about P500/hour.
Two years back, I inquired at a popular music school. Hour-long piano sessions (24 lessons, twice a week) cost P15,300 (P637.50/lesson). I told the lady on the phone that I don’t think my 5-year-old Jack would last sitting still for an hour. She offered 30 minutes of piano and 30 minutes of voice lessons instead. I found that weird, and searched online for other alternatives.
I came across many videos of parents who themselves taught their kids. Then I found Mr. Hoffman (hoffmanacademy.com). He had free videos that lasted anywhere between five and 15 minutes a lesson.
It was more fun and different from how I learned as a beginner. Jack gravitated toward it, since being able to play a song (“Hot Cross Buns”) right after your first lesson boosted his confidence. Likewise, there was always a short puppet skit at the end that he looked forward to after each lesson.
We did Unit 1 without having to pay for anything. But I realized that while ear training was good, Jack will eventually have to sight-read the notes.
We stopped for a year as my daughter joined our little family, and recalibrating took some time. But we finished Unit 1, and Jack wanted to learn more.
When the Hoffman Academy announced a sale in September last year, we invested in a year’s worth of lessons and materials that included listening and backing tracks, printables, and access to music games that made learning more fun.
It cost only P635/month for a year’s unlimited access, so we could proceed at our own pace.
Mr. Hoffman is always fun, smiling, and didn’t smell of onions.
As my son’s piano partner, I admit to losing my patience with him sometimes, but I soon learned that being calm and persistent encouraged him to play better. I could gauge when he could move on to the next lesson and when we needed to practice a bit more. I ended up absorbing the lessons.
Time for practice
As we began Unit 2, the lessons got more difficult— scales are learned and songs are transposed. It became more challenging to convince Jack to make time for practice, especially with the rigors of schoolwork. We didn’t get to play every day, but we played as often as we could.
What was common with what Mr. Hoffman advised, and what the parents in the other tutorials said, is that practice should be daily, regular (at a set time, say, before dinner) and expected (nonnegotiable). It needn’t be long, just 10 minutes a day or whatever they can put in is enough.
In four months, at the end of Unit 2, Jack was encouraged to practice enough to play at a “piano party” (a less stuffy term than piano recital). His birthday was in December, so it was the perfect time to hold it in a casual, relaxed setting. We all wore black and white to go along with the piano theme, and his birthday cake was decorated with cookies-and-cream chocolate bars with Kit-Kats on top to resemble piano keys.
More important, Jack enjoyed playing nine 30-second to one-minute-long pieces he knew by heart. Because he was ear-trained first, fortified by the games, he could self-correct and would know when he played bum notes.
Angela Kwan of Parents magazine cites the following benefits of music lessons: better academic, social and physical skills; fine-tuned discipline and patience; improved self-esteem; and exposure to diverse cultures through music.
We are now at Unit 3, where it gets more serious with sight reading, counting the beats and learning technical terms, but we are moving along at a comfortable pace. And I like that Jack sometimes tinkers on the piano on his own, outside the designated practice time.
Today’s kids live in a hyper-competitive age of extra-curricular academic classes and sporting matches. To be able to purely express one’s self through music (or dance or art) is a valuable release and important emotional coping skill, taking pleasure and pride in producing something beautiful to either enjoy by one’s self or to share with the world. –CONTRIBUTED