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Hoffman Academy Blog

Piano Sibling Rivalry


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.

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6 Comments

  1. Hand-drawn avatar
    Tarah

    I love this! Such good life advice for “parenting” and “adulting” as well! Looking forward to beginning the program with my kiddos (and maybe even myself)!

  2. Hand-drawn avatar
    Karen

    Thank you. This was a very insightful post and I appreciated your honesty. I came away with truth for my own life, as I often fall into the comparison trap. Keep writing!

  3. Hand-drawn avatar
    Rie Shibata

    Thank you for offering very important tips for teaching the piano. I’m a Japanese piano teacher live in Japan. Since I have the same experience at my music school,
    I totally agree to your comments. To tell the truth, not only my piano students but also their parents tend to focus on comparisons especially before piano concerts. I should set up some ground rules at my class. And now I remember the words of Shinichi Suzuki, whom I met almost 35 years ago: “Every child has great talents to express himself (herself) through music”.

  4. Hand-drawn avatar
    Sharlene

    I, too, appreciate this! I have several students who are siblings and thankfully, rivalry hasn’t significantly posed as a problem. I think without me laying rules for each family, it seems the parents already follow a “no comparing” policy and that’s a blessing.

    What I admire about this post is your openness in sharing about your own experiences and how you felt. Thank you!

  5. Hand-drawn avatar
    Farrah

    Appreciated this blog . . my sons are less than 2yrs apart and it was a good reminder for me. I am so thankful for your site/lessons. My boys are enjoying learning to play!