Forced to take piano lessons: One mom's apologetics
Photo: Elliott Billings / CC BY 2.0

At a recent concert, singer Calee Reed told a funny story about being forced to take piano lessons as a child (as was her mother before her) and mused, “What is this about Mormon women forcing their children to play the piano?” As a Mormon woman currently forcing her children to play the piano who was also previously a child being forced to play piano by a Mormon woman, I can answer this pressing question. It’s a vital life skill. Do your children know how to read? Do you force them to do their math homework? Have they had swim lessons?

Most moms who are forcing their children to take piano lessons are not selling their children into indentured servitude of piano pedagogy (though I do allow for the possibility of those rare Dragon Mothers of Piano). Most piano students don’t grow up to be professional pianists, but they do get all of the benefits of learning a musical instrument, such as increased proficiency in math and increased personal discipline. For Mormon children specifically, though, there are even more reasons for moms to choose this hill to die on.

Forced to take piano lessons
A list of the benefits of piano lessons found on the wall of the Ivory Arts Music Studio.

Mormons sing a lot. At minimum, there are the five basic hymns on Sunday, but it isn’t unusual for any meeting to start with song. Kids who were forced to take piano lessons have some vague clue about what the lines and dots on the paper mean and are more likely to actually sing, which increases the spirit of the whole meeting (not just for them, personally). Also, an LDS (Mormon) ward is entirely run by volunteers. There are no paid organists or pianists as you find in other churches. This fact is sometimes painfully obvious, and it becomes even more painful when Mormon kids aren’t forced to take piano lessons.

Also, one reason I’m grateful I was forced to take piano lessons is because it gives me an opportunity to serve. No awkward silence when they ask if anyone can play the piano because … I can! My brother, who was not forced to take piano lessons (well, not forced for very long, anyhow), found out how useful that skill is on his mission and learned a couple of hymns. The poor people of Taiwan sang the same three hymns for two years because he wasn’t forced to take piano lessons (don’t ask me why in two years he didn’t learn any other hymns).

Children who were forced to take piano lessons can also eventually learn to play the organ (a skill in even shorter supply these days). I once moved into a ward and found they had not had a ward member who could play the organ for two years. They spent those two years praying for an organist to move into the ward but probably could have spent those years better in training one of their pianists to play the organ. My feeling is that any competent pianist can easily train to be a ward organist. Maybe moms who are forcing their children to take piano lessons should force themselves to take organ lessons for all the reasons they are dragging their kids to piano lessons.

And while we are talking about being compelled, what about practice? Some moms will tell you to let your child sink or swim on his or her own. They maintain that the kid will learn for him or herself the downside of not practicing (in the School of Hard Knocks). False. Here’s what they learn: “It’s not a big deal to waste mom’s money and time, and if I have a tiny bit of innate talent, I can blow off studying and ‘wing it’ through life.” You’re already forcing them to take piano lessons. Don’t choke on the follow up. Force them to practice (every day if you can stand the weeping). Stay strong, fellow moms. Your child will thank you (and rise up and call you blessed and all that good stuff).

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