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Mixing Music and Motivation
a article

Many of us "took piano" as kids. Notice how few of us still play. We may enjoy listening to music, but were so turned off and intimidated by the lessons and hours of forced practice, that the moment we could cajole or refuse our way out of this dreaded activity we stopped --except for the few of us who went on to become musicians.

Traditional piano lessons take music-appreciating kids and teach them three-note ditties that have nothing to do with the music they love to hear. Restless seven year olds are asked to hold their fingers "just so," and play endless scales. It's like teaching kids to read from basal texts instead of well-written children's literature. In the name of skill-teaching we numb instead of motivate.

Just as we were despairing of ever meeting an inspiring piano teacher, we met Dennis Anderson who has developed an innovative approach to teaching that seems almost magical. Talk about motivation -- Dennis encourages his students to select the pieces they want to know and then helps them learn those pieces, all the while developing their skills without their even realizing it.

Yet for all its apparent spontaneity, Dennis' approach to teaching is thoughtfully structured and quite systematic. Over many years he has compiled and developed a huge and ever-growing collection of sheet music that combines every imaginable style and skill. Furthermore, he doesn't believe in traditional practice, but says that once a kid has learned enough to get involved in the music he will want to play on his own to develop a sense of mastery over a piece. Amazingly, it works.

In his first year studying with Dennis, eight-year-old Alex never played a note outside of a lesson. By the second year he couldn't be pried away from the piano. The dialogue went "Dinner's getting cold, you need to stop playing for now.." "Just five more minutes, pleeease."

Benjamin and his younger brother Matthew compose and copyright their own songs. Each lesson is a collaboration and Dennis serves as a knowledgeable guide who respects his students' opinions and tastes. His students develop a life-long love of playing music. And while some of them do become professional musicians, the others still keep playing and developing on their own. Music becomes an integral part of their lives.

copyright 2000, Dr. Istar Schwager.
All Rights Reserved.
Reprint with Permission Only.

Read CreativeParents Interview with Dennis Anderson

What do you think of Dennis' approach to teaching piano?
Have we been unfair to more traditional teachers?
What's been your experience with music and music lessons? Please write and tell us.

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