My 10 year old daughter has been playing the piano for nearly four years and a few months ago, passed her grade 2 exam. For most of these years she enjoyed playing but getting her to practice is becoming more and more difficult. I constantly nag her and she only does as little as she can get away with. She says she wants to change to the clarinet because her best friend plays it. Should we let her?
The piano is a deceivingly complex instrument. It is easy to start with – the sound is already there and kids can play simple tunes quite quickly. However, the more one progress on the piano the more challenging it becomes. In order to be able to get to a reasonable playing standard, piano students will need many years of sitting down and practicing on their own, deciphering complex notation and mastering difficult coordination. To be able to progress well with classical training children need to have good eye-sight, be naturally good readers, and have the temperament and personality that will enable them to sit still and spend hours by themselves.
Once piano players achieve a reasonably good standard of they can accompany other musicians, or perhaps move on to play jazz or join a rock band. Playing the piano well is immensely satisfying. But it is difficult to play together with others when you are a beginner.
Orchestral instruments such as the clarinet or violin are more difficult to start with. Initial attempts on the clarinet produce ear-piercing squeaks and a violin in the hands of a beginner wails like a starving cat. But once the initial hurdles are overcome, the music is simpler. Very soon the child can join their school orchestra and find friends with similar interest. And when kids practice, they can stand and move about, so there is no need to sit still!
Choosing an instrument is a bit like choosing a partner- if all goes well it becomes a life-long relationship. No one would dream of committing to a partner at the age of six, but we do expect our kids to stick with their first choice of instrument, which may not be right for them…
Before ditching the piano it would be worthwhile to discuss the situation with the teacher. Perhaps the teacher is not right for your daughter? Maybe the material that she is expected to play is too difficult? Perhaps your daughter needs a more intuitive approach to music, based on ear training and improvisation where reading music is secondary?
In any case, I would recommend that you let your daughter try the clarinet – perhaps borrow or rent an instrument and commit for to a few terms of lessons. Before taking on the clarinet permanently, your daughter needs to feel comfortable with the it and the only way to test this is to have some time to get used to it. Choose a good teacher (who may not necessary be a great player!) and give your daughter your blessings. Her years on the piano will not be lost- she already learned to read music and has developed her coordination and sense of rhythm. Pretty soon she will be able to join an orchestra and make new like-minded friends. This will serve her well in her teenage years. And who knows, if she ends up leaving the piano she may wish to come back to it later on.