To get a real world perspective on this subject, I interviewedDr. Ruth Pitts, a very well respected and revered professor of piano in her community. She recently received the Piper Award for lifetime achievement in music education.
The interview was conducted in writing and is presented as edited for form only.
Please read carefully what she says. Also, be sure to read thelast partof the interview as you will beamazed at what you learn about her.
You are a piano teacher and have been for most of your career. What would you say are the most important things kids get from learning to play an instrument and the piano specifically. Why do you think music is such a powerful medium? Important things children derive from learning to play the piano: a. Children develop the discipline of practicing to make something better-so important for everything they will ever do! b. Children develop eye-hand coordination as well as coordination of shoulder, hand and finger muscles. c. Children learn to express their feelings within the context of a work of art. d. Although there is still some concern about the validity of the tests, it seems to be the case that the study of music does enhance a child's I.Q. and consequently other studies as well.
If you were counseling new parents, what would you tell them about music for their children? Is it important for children just to hear music or, is it important for them to play an instrument? I think music is an essential part of a child's development. It helps them to become living souls; the knowledge and skills they gain provide an area of enjoyment for the remainder of their lives.
What advantage does piano have over other instruments (if any that you see)? What instrument would you suggest for most children? Piano is the basis for all of the instruments. Certainly any instrument study is better than none, but the piano requires learning both clefs and coordination of both hands (and ultimately feet as well); hence once they have learned the piano, they can transfer this knowledge to any other instrument.
What are the things that music provides that other media (reading, art, TV, computers, etc.) does not? It is important that they hear, of course, but learning to produce music themselves is so very important. (see above).
What age group do you teach? I teach 5-year olds through 12th grade at home and college students at our local community college.
What are your goals for your students when they are 10 and under? To learn to read music; to perform artistically enough to give themselves pleasure; to develop a love for music; and to be able to play well enough to get some praise for their accomplishments.
Is there a particular age at which you recommend that children begin learning music or a musical instrument? I normally suggest at least 2nd grade (when children have learned to read a little and have learned the importance of staying with the same things for 20-30 minutes) unless the parents have a little background in music and have time to spend with them in their practice at home.
Are there certain habits that music cultivates? Are there certain habits that children have to cultivate to learn music? Their dedication and willingness to spend the hours it takes to learn it well. Also their ability to listen to themselves to see if they are really making beautiful music and not just playing notes, and then critique themselves and make it better! Listening skills; the ability to focus; the ability to critique themselves and the ability to accept criticism as well as praise.
How hard is it to learn an instrument? Does it get harder or easier with age? Not hard, but it does seem a little harder for older adults, particularly if they have never had any exposure to it as a child.
What role do parents have in music education? What role would you like to see them play? It is especially important for a very young child to have much help from parents. Older children may not need the constant help, but they still need support and nurturing. It is very important for the parents to set aside a regular practice time just as they set a time for homework, sports, church, etc.
You have a physical impairment that most people would consider completely disabling as far as playing an instrument. What are the things that you want people to know about your commitment to piano despite your impairment? I have never really considered myself handicapped. My parents thought I probably couldn't learn to play the piano. (Both of them were very musical. Dad, who was a Baptist minister, had a lovely tenor voice and had been in a traveling college quartet. Mother was offered a scholarship to Julliard in piano and was the organist at the church.) However, at the end of the 3rd grade my teacher called to tell them how much they had enjoyed my performances on the piano every Friday at their talent shows. My parents then found a teacher and a piano, and no questions were asked or exceptions made. I have never known real problems. Of course there are a few things I can't play (big chords, etc.), but I am usually able to figure things out so that most people would not know that I have a disability unless they watch me play. I was playing for Sunday School and church after I had taken lessons about a year. I never had special training, just good old regular teaching!
How has your impairment influenced your decisions for a career? The only influence was in a round-about way. I had wanted to go to Africa as a medical missionary, but when I came to Baylor and started corresponding with the Foreign Mission Board, I found that they did not send handicapped people (of course at that time there would have been no one to fix my brace or artificial limb), and I was very sad! My friends and teachers all began to tell me that I really should look at a career in music because I was quite good at it. Then I became so involved in music courses, choir, etc. at Baylor that I didn't have time for anything else. The next thing I knew Dean Sternberg called me into his office and asked if he could recommend me for aNational Defense Education Act scholarship for a Ph.D. in music at Peabody. I said that would be fine, although I had never considered getting a doctorate, and I felt sure that I wouldn't get it. The rest is history. I love piano and all kinds of music, and I love working with people.
How did your impairment influence your children? I don't think my disability ever affected my children much. The only thing I ever remember hearing from Billy was when a child asked him why his mother hadonly 2 fingers on one hand and 3 on the other, he responded that it was so she could teach piano to other children that had only 2 fingers on one hand and 3 on the other! Of course I have never had that opportunity! Both of my boys play beautifully. Bill, of course, has little time for it as a cardiologist, but he loves being able to sit down and play when the opportunity is there. Jimmy is a concert pianist and teaches piano at SFA University.