You have longer fingers, so you play better than me,” said my son as he dumped his Casio MA-150 keyboard, his eyes clouding.
In no time, my fingers (deliberately) faltered and the notes emanating from my Yamaha-413 electronic keyboard went haywire, nudging the smile back on his tear-stained face.
Tuned in: Music lessons can be tough on the parent.
This is turning into somewhat routine play at home these days as my six-year-old and I progress in music lessons that we began together three months ago.
Having given up guitar lessons around 15 years ago (primarily owing to impatience), I decided to learn the keyboard to show my child that it takes time and practice to master a new skill. Besides, I was tired of buying toy pianos and guitars. No, my son isn’t a prodigy but for some reason he likes to have a variety of musical instruments and plays indiscriminately till they run out of their intended life. Moreover, the desire to return to playing an instrument had been lurking for a long time, ever since I read that writer-lyricist Gulzar had gone for sitar classes very late in life, when his daughter began formal music lessons.
Sending my son to music school for hour-long lessons once a week was ruled out, first because of the distance, and later because the boy declared he didn’t want to go to yet another school to return with more homework! So be it.
I began hunting for a music teacher and this year, before the summer holidays started, I lucked out—I found a pastor who taught music to about 150 children around Bangalore. He agreed to come home to teach the mother-son duo for an hour every Saturday morning.
My hunch was that if I didn’t know what my child ought to learn, I wouldn’t be able to ensure that he was practising right—and I was proved right. Even though my son is growing, his attention span is not. After 5-7 minutes of practice, he cleverly tries to play a song from the songbook recorded in the keyboard and deftly moves his fingers to fool his father, who is for now happy at the sight of his son reading the music notes which, he admits, look “illegible to him”.
Invariably, it’s my feigned policing that stops all tomfoolery. And I know it’s going to get tougher as we move on and begin practising to the beat, measure, rhythm and more.
I wonder how parents, particularly mothers, manage overseeing what their children are learning if they don’t know something about music themselves.
“It’s difficult,” says the pastor, “especially in the case of boys who are more distracted than girls.” Obviously, he is happy that I “am doing half his work” by getting my son to practise regularly. But I have to be careful—while I resort to gimmicks to keep him at it, I try not to turn all of it either into a punishment or a competition.
For instance, when my son didn’t practise for two days recently, I told him: “If you don’t want to learn the instrument, let’s sell it back to the shop.” Less than 36 hours later, I heard him telling his father: “Mamma doesn’t have time to practise, let’s sell her keyboard.” Indeed, I hadn’t played a note in two days.
Often when his rigour flags, I come up with tales—sometimes true, sometimes half-baked—of how people who have learnt music have done wonderfully well in life. In one such instance, I picked up a book lying around, Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman (the title amuses him), and told him who the legendary Nobel Prize-winning physicist Feynman was (loosely explaining what Nobel means), and how he charmed everyone with his bongo.
But the mother in me couldn’t help saying: “You can also be like Feynman (pronounced ‘fine man’)”. Pat came the reply: “But how can I be a fine man, I am only a kid.”
Amused (and secretly embarrassed), I nodded: “Yes, you can’t,” and plugged in our keyboards. After all, he is learning for the sake of music, not to enhance the study of language, math or social science!
For piano classes, call:
• Bangalore: William Joseph International Academy for Performing Arts organizes weekly one-on-one piano sessions, Rs1,500 per month*. Call 09844119956
• Chennai: KM Music Conservatory organizes piano sessions. For fee and schedule details, call 044-43444786.
• New Delhi: Madhur Mantra organizes a weekly piano class (three students per class) with an instructor, Rs400 per session*. Call Stuti Chandhok at 09811447919.
• Kolkata: Calcutta School of Music organizes weekly one-on-one piano sessions, Rs630 per month*. Call 033-24615375.
*registration fee extra