How to Train Your Daughter to Play Piano

Yale lawprof Amy Chua:

“Get back to the piano now,” I ordered.

“You can’t make me.”

“Oh yes, I can.”

Back at the piano, [my seven-year-old daughter] Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic….

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

I’m not going to claim to be anything approaching a perfect parent, but … YIKES! One thing not apparent from the piece: why it’s so damn important that a seven-year-old learn to play “The Little White Donkey” to begin with.

On a more general note, Chua claims that this sort of parenting explains the successes of Chinese kids. On the other hand, if I may indulge in Chua-style generalization, Jewish parents are known for their permissive parenting–I was bemused and perplexed as a child that some kids on t.v. shows called their dads “sir”–using love and guilt as motivators. And Jewish kids seem to do alright.

UPDATE: My mom really wanted me to take piano lessons as a kid. I really, really didn’t want to. Indeed, I couldn’t imagine anything more boring. She insisted. I cried. She gave in. She asked me recently whether I regret not learning to play an instrument, that perhaps she should have been more insistent. I replied not at all, and that in fact I’m eternally grateful she didn’t put me through that particular torture (not that it’s torture for all kids, but it would have been for me).