Has anyone else ever set absolute zero practice? I found myself doing that today. It is extremely rare for my pupils not to practise. However one little boy who has just gone into the first year of secondary education has been flagging and two weeks in a row said he hadn't had time to practise. I had already realized this child was going to have difficulties at school this year and had lightened the load. This evening it was obvious that he hadn't touched the piano all week. - despite the fact that last week we calculated that he need only do ten minutes twice or three times and that would cover his exercise, piece and theory.
So we got down to having a discussion about this and he said he didn't much like playing the piano, that his mother wanted him to but that the main reason for his reticence was that he took ages every evening to do his school homework and couldn't cope with piano either before or after that. I have known this family for many years and have taught five of them. Mother was once a good pianist herself but father thinks music is unimportant. Mother struggles to interest the children and says it's important for them to have an artistic activity. An older sister plays nicely, a younger sister is on the way to playing quite nicely and one older brother has now moved on to higher education elsewhere but still plays for pleasure. Another older brother has given up as he has been sent to boarding school and can't cope with extras on account of ill health. Father doesn't think much of music and would rather they did "tough" things (he's a military man). Their financial situation is tight.
The pupil concerned, in my opinion, actually does like music more than he thinks at the moment. Until now he has seemed keen and has enjoyed his pieces and as he finds learning difficult in general this was a plus for his self esteem.. He has never done an exam because of the financial difficulties but he is around Grade 1 standard. We had a long discussion on how he is coping (or rather not coping) with the demands of the various subjects he has at school. I came to the conclusion that piano practice was the straw that breaks the camel's back and that if I insisted he would become stressed and end up hating music. So in the end we came to an agreement. He won't do any practice at home for the moment. We will simply spend the half an hour lesson doing musical activities together until such a time as he finds he can practice again - or perhaps he will practice a bit during school holidays. Now this means there isn't going to be much progress and I am going to have to find a variety of things we can do to keep his music ticking over. I wouldn't do this with every pupil but I just have a feeling that this boy will miss out on one of the few things he is good at if I let him go now. I admit I also put in a bit of bribery as when he said the English teacher at school goes too fast for him, I offered to give him a hand with that too.
So next week it will be legitimate for him to arrive having done no practice. I suppose I shall have to swear him to secrecy as I have three other boys in his class at school and I don't want an epidemic! However those boys are all coping quite well.