Tackling big problems in little steps

February 10, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

It was just three measures of music, but it seemed like a gap that could not be bridged by my little girl's fingers.

"That part is too hard, Mommy. I'll never be able to do this," she said.

As I turned and looked at her, I saw frustration written all over her face, but I saw something more in her eyes. There I sensed a plea for help.

Usually, when a child says, "I can't," she really means, "I can't without your help."

Like most parents who pay for their children to have private music lessons, I make sure my children regularly practice their instruments. They're required to do so not only to ensure a return on the investment but also to develop discipline. Practice can be a good stress reliever, and, for those wanting to be good musicians, practice is key.

Above all else, practice helps a child develop a love for music that probably will stay with him the rest of his life.


Just commanding them to practice isn't enough. That's the equivalent of telling a child, "Go do your homework," without ever checking to see if the child understands the work.

As my daughter was voicing her frustrations Saturday, I could see the stack of papers to grade on my kitchen table. The laundry room was piled high, and the sink was full of dishes.

I turned my back on the mess, walked over to the piano bench and sat down beside her. With my limited musical knowledge, I attempted to help her, one note at a time.

"Whenever something seems really difficult to me, I try to break it down into little parts and attempt to tackle those things one part at a time," I told her. "Let's see if we can do that with this piece of music."

We looked at those measures one at a time and played a musical version of peekaboo.

I let her look at the four beats in the first measure and play them three times each while looking at the music. Then I picked up the music, held it out of sight and asked her to play the notes three times.

After she mastered the first measure, I noticed that the tension was slowly leaving her body. She was much more relaxed as we worked on the second measure in the same way.

By the time she had worked on the third measure and put them all together, a smile danced at her lips and confidence shined in her eyes.

When she started playing the beginning of the song, I wondered if her fingers would come to a halt at those three measures. They didn't.

She was now able to play the entire piece of music without stopping.

I'm not sure if I helped her technically at all, but she was more confident at the end of the piano practice. That's equally important. If a child doesn't have assurance, he or she won't be able to perform well. Plus, it's more fun to play when you're prepared.

Just as I was finishing up with her, my son hopped up on the piano bench to practice his song. After one time through, his eyes flashed in my direction with that same imploring look.

I took my place beside him as well and tried to help him work through the rough spots. As I was doing so, I saw my old pocket music dictionary resting on top of the piano. That's going to come in handy as the kids get further along in music lessons, I thought.

I'm relearning information in every other area of my life. Why not music, too? That's one thing about having kids. If you missed something while you were going through school, you get a second chance while you help your kids learn it for the first time.

At least, that's the way it's supposed to happen.

There are pleading eyes depending on that.

Lisa Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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