Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 2, 2009

Let That Boy Boogie Woogie

Graham had his first official piano lesson today. It went great. After over a year of discussions and trying to determine if he was ready (he’s six and a half), it feels good to get under way.

This will be another interesting experiment in what I call “conscious parenting”.

The staff, the clefs, the keys and the felt hammers he likes to watch inside of our inherited baby grand — the piano’s all a bit “scientific” to him so far (that’s Sue’s word). On the other hand, he’s listening to the piano book’s play-along instructional CD as I write this, and dancing along to the music (he won’t be ready to play these songs with his fingers for a few months, but he’ll do what he can till then).

Graham has been curious about the visual aspects of music since he was at least three, if not earlier. Back then, in addition to a few small toys we’d brought to church, the Mennonite Hymnal and the staffs and black dots on the pages were a source of fascination for him. Then, starting around that same age, we played him some classical music (on radio and CD), and some jazz, and anything else where he might be able to pick out individual instruments. Also, we showed him Sue’s old saxophone, and let him plunk on my guitar a few times.

Plus the Disney Channel kids’ show Little Einsteins was a staple of his four and five-year-old tv diet. Every episode featured a historic composer like Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, and the show taught him orchestral instrument names and musical terminology like presto or largo. Even now, he likes going to sleep with the classical station (WFMT) tuned in on the radio.

And today at school in music class, they watched an animated DVD of Prokofiev’s *Peter & the Wolf* (a personal fave of mine), causing Graham to tell me on the ride to piano class, “The grandpa’s voice is the bassoon.”  Whoa… My six-year-old not only knows the word bassoon, but he knows what one sounds like. (He described it as “scratchy”. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s accurate.) We’ve come a long way from “Wheels on the Bus”, folks. I’ll be out of my depth within six months, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, but it’s clear that music matters to him.

Now comes the hard part: keeping him practicing five days a week. I don’t like being the drill sergeant, but when the blush of newness is gone, I just know he’s going to struggle with staying in a consistent practice routine. So I’ll probably be the main parent –hopefully smiling and rewarding him– to help him stay on track … especially when he hears the Playstation calling his name. Because him learning something both beautiful and useful like the piano matters alot to me, and it will matter to him as well… in about another ten years. It will take till then for him to be old enough to jam with his buddies, play the popular tunes he hears on the radio, and maybe attract a groupie or two, the girls who like those cool musician types. (hee hee)


  1. I have one son that is totally musically oriented! He plays whatever he can get his hands on instrumentally, and has started a band, and is only 15. My daughter sings! Music is very healing and a great passtime to keep kids out of trouble as they get older!

  2. Hi, I posted a link to your blog in today’s article; feel free to check it out at

    Annette vd Kamp

  3. I just found your blog because this post auto-linked to one of mine. How interesting that you mention the Mennonite Hymnal. I’ve been playing piano since I was six, and the first hymnal I played from was the red Mennonite Hymnal. 🙂

  4. Mark, it’s so cool to read about Graham’s interests and talents. I just love seeing children’s individuality manifest itself.

    Baseball starts tomorrow. Woo hoo.

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