In some families, when more than one child is studying the piano, a sense of rivalry can develop. Sometimes a younger sibling feels discouraged because they aren’t learning as fast as an older sibling. Sometimes it’s the younger sibling who progresses faster than an older sibling, which can be a big challenge for the older sibling.
So how do you help with that?
Number one, set some ground rules for the family. Always speak positively about others. Don’t emphasize comparisons, or better yet, don’t compare at all! Talk about accomplishments in the framework of each child’s own personal progress and not in reference to another child’s progress.
Emphasize hard work the most. Hard work and consistent practice should be praised highly. Praise that more than how fast a child is learning songs.
The Pitfall of Comparison
At the core of this issue is a human tendency to base our success on how well we do in comparison to others. When I was ten years old, my dad held me back a year in little league baseball so that he could coach both me and my little brother on the same 8-9 year old team. That year I was the superstar of baseball. I was hitting home runs. The pitchers were intentionally walking me, even with the bases loaded. It was great. Then the next year I went up to the next league and I ended up playing outfield. I was not a star player any more. In the year that I was the best player in the league I thought I was really good, and it was really fun. The next year, when I was less than average, I didn’t feel very good, and I actually quit at the end of that season.
Unfortunately, the same can happen with piano if kids start comparing themselves to others. Piano should be fun because piano is fun, not because you’re the best. Being the best has nothing to do with it. We want kids to learn to focus on their own enjoyment and progress.
What Really Counts
Fast forward a few years. I was one of the best pianists in my high school. I was the rock star of piano, accompanying the high school choir and taking lessons from a professional concert pianist. But then I graduated and went to college at Brigham Young University, which has a very competitive music program, and I felt like I was one of the worst. It was hard for me not compare myself to the other music students. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a music major at all. I had to realize that other people being really amazing didn’t make me less. Other people’s success did not change my success. I decided that I loved piano, and because of that I wanted to become a music teacher.
And that’s what I’m still doing today.
It doesn’t matter who is best. It matters what you love.