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By Marianne Mills

The Modern Piano Student

Piano lessons: the quintessential, after-school activity in which nearly every child that has ever inhabited the earth has been forced at one time or another to participate. Students are taught their scales, techniques, classical repertoire pieces, and many other valuable tools to prepare for their musical careers. However, only a limited few achieve greatness in the concert hall. This has been the pattern for countless years. Dating back to the era of composers such as Bach, Clementi, Mozart, and Beethoven, students have studied the works of the masters, and perfected their skills at the piano. In spite of that traditional trend, the modern piano student is a shadow of the former student. Of course, the students hoping to achieve greatness adhere to traditional instruction, but in the case of “little Johnny and little Suzy,” traditional instruction is unacceptable. To be fair, this shift in the music culture is not to be put solely on the student. There are many factors involved. 1. The Modern Parent: One of the most altering factors to the modern piano student is the modern parent. In olden times, parents forced their children to practice, practice, practice! Focus on music or focus on sports or art or whatever suits your fancy, but focus on something. Usually one or two activities maximum were acceptable. Parents of previous years also did not embrace the idea that “little Johnny just didn’t want to practice today.” No, practicing was like a daily chore, to be done along side of dishes and making the bed. The modern parent would hear of no such thing. If “little Johnny” doesn’t want to practice, “little Johnny” doesn’t have to practice. The child is now the adult. Tragically, music study suffers due to this parental shift in society. Arguably, quite a bit suffers from this parental shift, however, that is an entirely different topic. What negatively results from this attitude is the modern piano student: a student that is mediocre in their musical field, with no desire to exert effort, and with an attitude pattern that will carry on into nearly every other area of life. On the flip side, results can also be the modern piano student: a student that takes charge of their creativity, pursues the style of music of their choice, and thoroughly enjoys the fruits of their labor. Unfortunately, this flip side is not often the case. 2. The Modern Schedule: At this point, fairness must once again rule. It is not entirely the modern parent’s fault that their child does not achieve the skill of making music. The modern student is forced to participate in nearly every club, every after school program, and every sport known to man. One cannot find a student in today’s school system that is not participating in lacrosse, basketball, gymnastic, cheer, piano, voice, band, and chorus. All at the same time. Practically in the same semester. There are 7 days in the week, and the students are participating in 20 activities. Something is bound to fall by the wayside. They are pushed to be impressive. They are asked to be involved to be popular and receive accolades for future schooling. While this is all fine and good, it does not leave much room for the student to perfect any one talent. The modern piano student does not have 8 hours in the day to practice or even 10 minutes. Once again, there are exceptions, but those exceptions are dwindling rapidly. 3. The Modern Music World: Looking a step further, the modern student has not been given the opportunity to know the classics of the traditional trend in piano instruction. The modern student walks into the first lesson saying, “I would like to learn Adele’s ‘Hello'” or “Can you teach me to play something I know or that my friends know?” There has been such a dramatic shift in music tastes from this decade. The modern music class (if there is one) instructs on the music of the “Black Eyed Peas” over the music from Beethoven. The modern piano student, when asked, can name every band member from “One Direction,” but has no idea of the existence of Mozart. 4. Modern Technology: Finally, in the modern world, technology has played a grand role in steering the modern piano student from traditional instruction. Children in general are so used to playing video games and iPads that they are unable to sit still for more than 5 minutes, looking at a book. Our culture is on fast forward. Technology rules life, therefore, technology has had to make its way into the modern piano classroom. With iPad music education games and Yamaha Clavinova pianos, the modern piano teacher is forced to practically run a circus-show to keep the student on the piano bench for 30 minutes. Is the modern piano student a failure then if all of these factors are changing life as we know it? No. Not at all. In general, people are afraid of change. Change is frightening, however, change is also necessary. It is important that piano teachers evolve to keep up with this change. As parents, it is urged that modern piano teachers are found to introduce children to the magical world of music in new and exciting ways. The quickest way to ruin a potential musician is to fit them into a traditional mold without regard to their uniqueness and tastes. If classical and traditional is the direction they would like to pursue, then so be it. Regardless, it is important not to ignore the new methods and technological advancements in the modern piano student. Of course, there are pros and cons to every generation. It is important that we as musicians adapt and learn to cope with these pros and cons.

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