We Never Could Afford Piano Lessons

It’s not such an odd thing for ordinary people to want to be happy. But in a world where greedy, powerful people snatch more than they need, the pursuit of happiness is something we have to be insistent about. Golden Opportunity, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Some things in life we consider inviolable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness immediately come to mind, but this is because I have a rudimentary familiarity with the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Just because the words are written on paper, and represent freedoms all people should enjoy, doesn’t mean that we will.

Which, we are beginning to see, is becoming a new reality. Or, given the depravity of mankind in all places and all seasons, perhaps always was the reality. We were just a bit too asleep to notice.

But on a more domestic level, and in many families, especially homeschooling families, and even more especially religious homeschooling families, piano lessons are an inviolable right of childhood. Now whether they contribute to the pursuit of happiness on the part of the child taking them is questionable, but it makes the parents feel better.

When our own brood of four was younger, we felt the pressure to conform, and set about securing lessons for Eldest Supreme, who was 12 at the time and by all accounts was far too old to begin learning, that is, if she were seeking a career as a concert pianist.

She wasn’t. She just, sort of, wanted to play the piano.

Mortgage-Free, First

Because we were raising a family of six on one modest income, and because our primary goal was to pay for our house as we built it so that we wouldn’t suffer a mortgage, we didn’t have a lot of expendable income for piano lessons, for one child, much less four. But we managed for a year, and Eldest Supreme practiced an hour a day and progressed quickly beyond elementary tunes to moderately difficult classical pieces (you don’t have to start at 5 to learn a skill, you know).

This is the way we framed our choice: spend our money on ensuring that we owed nobody, anything, or do what everyone else around us was doing and just spend the money, period. Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

And then, after that successful year, she and we decided that this wasn’t her passion, and that it would be best for all if we went on to something else. Children Numbers 2 and 3 weren’t remotely interested in music, and Tired of Being Youngest, though she banged about for hours on the keyboard, was, at five, too young.

The Voices That Surround Us

Ah, but according to the people who  gently apply pressure to everyone else’s lives, that five-year-old should be in lessons, and many of the very young people in the church we attended at that time did take lessons, conveniently, from the pastor’s wife. Every six weeks or so, we in the congregation heard a special, picked out on a few fingers, of a hymn — because this is pretty much all that a five-year-old can do, unless he or she is a prodigy. And that’s okay.

But Tired of Being Youngest kept slamming away at the keys, making music to her own ears, and we let her play, in both senses of the word.

As she grew older, she recognized what we all knew — that she was slamming away on the keys and making a noise that wasn’t necessarily beautiful — and decided that she wanted to do more. But she didn’t want lessons. Instead, she learned the rudiments of how to read notes from me (because I, like so many people, took lessons as a child), and she picked the brains of her friends who had taken lessons since they were five.

Autodidactic Learning

It takes some observation on our part, but children naturally gravitate toward things that interest them. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

And she scoured the Internet — tracking down free musical scores, listening to how the piece was supposed to sound, and learning more about reading music by applying what she heard to what her fingers did. She skipped the hymns and went straight for the contemporary pop music that meant something to her, and in a rapid space of time, she advanced until she began to sound like her piano-playing friends.

Now, at 17, she plays beautifully — not at the level of a concert pianist, but in all honesty, neither do most of her peers — and she has jumped from pop music to classical and back to pop — still no hymns. Her disinterest in them must be genetic.

Eldest Supreme, College Girl, and the Son and Heir found interests outside of music — weight training, woodcarving, two-dimensional visual art, interior decorating — all of which they primarily learned autodidactically, which is one of the reasons we homeschooled them. All four progeny are very good at their chosen interests, and they continue getting better.

Customize Lessons to Your Child’s Interests

This is not to say that piano lessons are bad. They’re not. They’re just not mandatory.

Not all children are interested in music, in the same way that not all people think three-dimensionally and can carve animals out of wood, or not all people create customized weight lifting schedules for themselves, based upon extensive research.

Do not allow yourself to be pressured into providing lessons for your child that do not fit their interests and are difficult for you to afford — just because everybody else is doing so. Lessons — in music, art, dance, writing, athletics — are a beautiful opportunity, but they are a precious one. Choose wisely.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I address Homeschooling on Thursdays.

Every day, there are new and exciting ways to learn the things in which we are interested. Step by Step Watercolor Success digital workshop by Steve Henderson.

If your older child (13-plus), and/ or you, are interested in art, I encourage you to look at my Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson’s, digital watercolor workshop, Step by Step Watercolor Success available at Amazon.com and through our website, Steve Henderson Fine Art.

If you, and/or your child, are interested in writing and want to quickly tackle the basic problems that plague many of us, take a look at my book, Grammar Despair: Quick, simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?”

If you, like us, live on a moderate income because you have chosen to devote your time and energy to educating your brood, consider my book, Live Happily on Less, a series of easygoing essays drawn from our own background of living well on little. We own our home — mortgage free — and the land that it sits on.

This article is linked to Frugally SustainableThriving Thursday, Thankful ThursdayLive Laugh RoweJenny MullinixWe Are That FamilyKatherine’s CornerGraced SimplicityEnchanted Homeschooling MomLiving Well Spending LessHappy and Blessed HomeChristian Mom BloggerA Peek into My ParadiseOur Heritage of HealthThe Mind to HomesteadSmall Footprint FamilyThe Jenny EvolutionLittle House in the Suburbs, Frugal Friday Fiesta

7 Responses

  1. Barbara

    Oh Carolyn, thank you for this post! How it resonates!!!

    I was the second child and the first supreme got lessons….years of lessons. I got only a couple of weeks….we moved overseas (military brat) and that was the end of it. I, however, never lost the desire to make beautiful music. Not to be a concert pianist, but to play the music I heard in my soul. It wasn’t until my own children were grown and the struggles through homeschooling and finances were over (we also were debt free and owned our own home and land) that I learned to play…..and it was without lessons also.

    I have struggled for many years, grieving that I did not give my own children music lessons, you know, along with all those other regrets of what we did not do. Our elder child did take the flute during a short stent at a private school while I was ill and she was good. Son did not take any music lessons although his awesome voice is his greatest instrument, but he taught himself to play the guitar, and he is very good. Daughter put down the flute only to take up percussion, for which she is a natural, and both classical guitar and acoustic…as well as mandolin and violin.

    I still regret not giving them music lessons to this day, and the only thing that keeps me from wringing my hands continually, is the knowledge that, like me, they desired it enough to reach out and work for it themselves. My own sister, the first supreme, who got all the lessons, has no desire to play and never touches the piano, and if she does, can only play stilted reading of the notes. I am so grateful that my parents never let me have those lessons!!!!

    Thank you for sharing and lifting some of my burden…..

    1. Barbara — let go of those regrets — Now. And never pick them up again. You are not a millionaire, and when you raised your kids you did the best by them that you could with the money you have. And they DID find a way — and who’s to say that it is not the better way? Perhaps, if you had been able to give those lessons, the teacher would have been the wrong one for them, and turned them off from their interest?

      And perhaps, in their desire to pursue music, but being unable to do so for awhile, they grew in that desire and determination so that they do what they do now, well?

      You did your best, and you loved those kids — and there is absolutely nothing to regret about that! Walk tall, and when you sit at the piano and play this week, let yourself go and absorb yourself into the beautiful, creative music that you are creating.

      The best learners are self-learners.

  2. What a beautiful story! I think music is such a gift for our kids. I’m thrilled that my second son (10 years old) has inherited my love of music. He’s been playing the violin for 2 years and has progressed very quickly. He, in turn, blesses me with his music.

    I love how your daughter is self-taught. There’s almost no limit to what a resourceful person can accomplish.

    1. Sarah — music is a beautiful gift, and those gifted with it enrich the lives of those around them.

      You are right — there is pretty much no limit to what a resourceful, and determined, person can accomplish.

      May the music flow freely and beautifully in your home, along with love.

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