“Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring – quite often the hard way”
– Pamela Dugdale
It’s a good feeling when the sibling of a current student starts lessons; it means I must be doing something right!
As the younger of two sisters, I never knew what it was like to not learn piano while my older sister was also learning. We had lessons on the same days, we practised one after the other and we worked towards exams at the same time. We played duets together, we challenged each other, we created, transposed and harmonised together and we laughed a great deal.
I realise that for her as the older sister, it was probably a different scenario. While I idolised my big sister and wanted to do whatever she did, she probably didn’t appreciate a little interloper in her arena.
As far as lessons went, our wonderful teacher, Sr Marie Therese realised how different we were in style, technique and temperament. Also, our mother requested I didn’t play too many of the same pieces as my sister, even though I was three years behind her. (When you are practicing twice a day, exam pieces soon become extremely repetitive for the poor listeners!). While our carefully-chosen early method book pieces were the same, once we moved into grade work Sister catered for our different styles. My sister usually played the intricate, technical pieces, while I played the more emotive works.
In our late teens to early adulthood, these differences became our strengths. We worked together really well because we complemented each other and didn’t suffer from competition. Even when we sang, I sang the soprano to her alto. When she moved on to singing lessons, I accompanied all her practising. The picture on the right is a famous artwork that was on the cover of a card she once gave me.
These memories hold important lessons that I bring into teaching siblings – respect and encourage their individuality, make no comparisons and ensure enough variety in materials used to save the parents’ sanity!
Sibling rivalry/competition – whether blatant or subtle – can be a problem and for this reason it is usually not advisable to start siblings at the same time. However, the following positives usually outweigh the competitive aspect:
- Both/all kids need to practise daily, so both are on similar schedules
- The siblings can share a common interest
- Older siblings can help the younger ones
- Younger siblings can be inspired by older brothers and/or sisters
- They can all have fun playing duets – even if they play different instruments
- The younger sibling has seen the work involved by watching the older child, so goes into lessons with a clearer expectation of what is required (eg they know they need to practise)
The main thing is to remember each child is different, with different abilities. I will always work with the parents to ensure this individuality is respected.
If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.