Breaking Up is Hard to do: Etiquette on Leaving Your Piano Teacher

This post is going to be chock full of lessons, so you might want to get your notepad and pen out and jot down a few notes for future reference. Nah. I’m just kidding. These lessons are probably the kind that only I needed to learn. You know- the ones where you feel like you missed the memo on how to behave in a certain situation?

And yes, that does seem to happen to me a lot. Shut up.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughters’ piano teacher took me aside after their lesson. Here’s the conversation (translated, ‘cause it was in French):

PT (looking very grave)- I just wanted to warn you that the upcoming recital might not go so well for _____.

Me (wide-eyed)- Why? Is there something wrong? (which was admirably calm of me since I had visions of having to to tie her to the car, drag her kicking and screaming to the piano recital, glue her butt to the piano bench and then stand over her with a ruler ready to smack her fingers if she didn’t play, all while she cried and pleaded for me to have mercy).

PT (hedging)- Well, it’s just that she’s been practicing the same piece since September and well, the stuff she knew she doesn’t know anymore and she still hasn’t played it all the way through without mistakes. She also doesn’t hear when she’s making mistakes.

Me (not knowing what to say)- Oh. [Then after a long pause] Maybe it’s time to stop lessons?

PT (looking relieved that he wasn’t the one to have to say it) shrugs- Maybe.

Thus a large two week-long discussion ensues between my husband and I. Have we gone too far in forcing them to learn piano? Shouldn’t they be liking it by now?

Because that is so not happening. I had dreams of getting them through the rough patch of learning the basics (like, you know, notes and other such essential musical ingredients) and then they would be able to play better and thus enjoy it more. They would then thank me profusely for being such a hard-ass because they realize now how great it is to be able to play.

Yeah, right. Although they didn’t dare tell me to my face, they told my husband how much they hated piano. I had a meeting with the school academic counselor who told me in passing how much my daughter hated piano. It seems that everybody and their pet rat knew that she (actually they- they both quit) hated piano.

So. What is the right thing to do? Was I right the first time, that if I made them continue would they then thank me as adults? Or would they curse me and damn the piano, never touching it again and refusing to listen to anything that had any piano in it at all? Who knows these things? I don’t know these things. Who put me in charge anyway?

Sorry about that. My temper tantrum is now over. I’ve picked myself off the floor and am ready to discuss this issue calmly again.

So we discussed this issue for a long time and then thought about what we wanted for our children. We didn’t think they were musical geniuses; we didn’t necessarily even want them to do anything with it; we just wanted them to have music in their lives. You know. For fun.

So when did it become only about getting better and not about having fun? Maybe when I decided to put them on a strict routine of practicing 30 minutes a day. They would set the alarm and practice until it went off, then proceed to leap off the bench as if it were a bed of hot coals and leave the room running.

Man, as I’m writing this, I realize I am totally to blame for their hate-on. I totally suck. How did I ever think this was the good way to go? Where did I go so wrong?

I think it was a mixture of things. It was forgetting that, no matter how many hours you put in, it won’t help if the person doesn’t like what they are doing. Passion leads to discipline and not the other way around. Duh. Second of all, (and I am not blaming him at all) the piano teacher takes piano seriously. It is natural that he expects the same seriousness from his students. I think I started forcing them to practice partly so I could look good as a parent. See? My kids are progressing! I’m not a bad mother!

Third of all (and this one is closely linked to the second reason), I realize now that perhaps it wasn’t a good fit, the piano teacher and my kids. My kids want to know how to play the songs from the Buffy musical in season 6, not Bach. They are totally hooked on the show Glee. They love to sing and dance and if he had suggested one of these songs, they might have had a totally different attitude towards it. But no. I had to be so damn linear about it. Learn to crawl before you can walk, blah, blah, blah. I had to face it: piano lessons, at least the regimented kind, were a bust.

First lesson learned.

Second lesson: the etiquette of leaving.

We come to this momentous decision a week before the recital. I phone the piano teacher on the Tuesday informing him of our decision. I was expecting him to express some false grief at losing such (cough, cough) stellar students and then say, “Oh that’s too bad, but I understand.” I expected him to expect it, after our little chitchat of the week before.

Wrong again. He was surprised, hurt and panicky at his loss of income. Apparently we were the 4th family to tell him that they would not be continuing after the concert. I then asked him if he was actually surprised and he said that he thought we would have at least continued until June. He then said that he didn’t expect my oldest to continue but my youngest had talent, and if she could just get over her laziness she could do well. I got off the phone feeling very bad and wondering whether or not I did the right thing.

Then I realized something. I had been so focused on making the decision to quit that I didn’t stop to think about the consequences for the piano teacher. My husband does contract work. He is always complaining when people book him and then cancel, or change the dates or shorten the contract without adequate compensation. And I, the hypocrite, just did the same thing to the piano teacher.

What to do? What is the etiquette in this situation? How does one gracefully break up with one’s piano teacher? After days of deliberating and wondering if I should just leave it be, I finally decided that the right thing to do would be to give him the next month’s fees for the piano lessons. The kids wouldn’t go, but at least it would be compensation for the lack of income.

Lesson #2 learned: Do unto others what you would have others do unto you. Okay. I totally stole that lesson. But this time I actually learned it.

Lesson #3? When I really, really try, I can find the right thing to do without resorting to google. I found this article only after I wrote this. Really.

So here’s the point form version for those of you who don’t have the patience to read through this long ramble:

  1. Don’t forget that you can’t make people learn things. Well you can, but they won’t like it.
  2. Don’t shaft people if you can help it.
  3. Somebody really needs to write an etiquette manual on this crap.

2 thoughts on “Breaking Up is Hard to do: Etiquette on Leaving Your Piano Teacher

  1. When I was a kid I was forced to take piano lessons, and hated it. I won't tell you how my awesome parents resolved that one, since unwanted advice is for suckers, but just wanted to say- I feel that pain.

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