Learning to play the piano is not for the faint of heart! Talk to anyone who has made it to an advanced level and you will hear about years of practicing and performing, the good, the bad and the ugly!
After over 20 years of teaching the piano, I have concluded that every child needs the help of a parent or a trusted adult.
As I think back to all the kids I’ve taught over the years (and there are many!), I can’t remember one child who progressed over a long period of time without parental support.
Every Child Needs This
When it comes to taking piano lessons, every child needs someone to walk with them, hold them accountable to practice, and bring encouragement when it is needed.
While learning takes years, it is an investment well made. This is especially true for students who are now adults and find joy in using the talent they have developed.
The goal of this post is to give you as a parent practical things you can do to help your kids as they learn to play the piano.
1. Oversee your child’s weekly lessons and daily practice.
I realize this is obvious to most people. However, I have had students whose parents had little or even no involvement in their lessons.
To oversee means to supervise. Parents who successfully do this know what is happening on a daily basis with their child’s piano learning. No matter your son or daughter’s level of playing, they need you to make sure that they are getting the most from the teaching.
Understanding the Assignment
After their weekly lesson, take a minute to ask your child what their assignment is and make sure both of you understand it. If for some reason it seems foggy to you, contact your teacher to get clarification.
You would be surprised how many times a student misunderstood what I said or wrote in their practice journal and practiced something the wrong way all week. Unlearning the bad habit or wrong notes can take twice as long to fix.
For my students, I always write their assignments in their piano journal which can be found in their folder on OneDrive. Every teacher has their own system for this.
Regular practice is an important part of a student’s learning. A few weeks back, I wrote a post called 4 Proven Strategies That Will Transform Your Practicing in 2018. In it, I shared the scientific evidence that shows that it’s better to practice more frequently for lesser amounts of time than to practice less frequently for longer amounts of time. Remember cramming in college?
Students need to set aside time to practice a minimum of 5 times per week. The length of that practice time depends on their age and level.
According to a study in the Harvard Business Review done by academic Emily Heaphy and consultant Marcial Losada, people need 6 positive comments to overcome every negative one. So, what does that mean for our kids? They need constant encouragement!
For many reasons, music is a very personal expression. It’s easy for anyone who plays an instrument to let self-doubt get the best of them. For years, I’ve intentionally told kids and adults that my comments about their playing are not meant to be about them as a person.
We have to be so careful to make sure that our kids don’t make playing the piano their identity. It’s up to us as parents to guide them with words of wisdom and encouragement.
2. Resist the temptation to hold your kids to a standard of perfection.
We’ve all said it as parents. “When I was your age, I walked 5 miles each way to school with no coat in the dead of January uphill both ways.” Somehow we forget that we were much like our kids are today.
We procrastinated. We tried to get by with the least amount of practice possible. We complained that it was all too hard.
For whatever reason, some of us have suppressed those memories and choose only to recall the good things we did.
Holding your child to an ultra-high standard only leads to unreasonable and even impossible expectations. Instead of motivating our kids, we remove any bit of joy they have left and eventually crush them.
As parents, we must be careful not to live vicariously through our children. We have to remember that they are unique and it’s our job as their parents to guide them as they find their purpose and calling in life.
3. Brag about how well your kids are doing with piano to others and make sure they can hear you!
Yes. You read that correctly! I said to brag about them. You don’t have to be afraid that they are going to get a big head. Instead of a big head, they will feel empowered and see that what they are learning is valuable.
How do I know this? I’ve experienced it first hand. I have had two people do this for me throughout my life. Neither one is my parent! One was my first boss right out of college and the other is my mother-in-law.
Yes. My mother-in-law! In fact, I see my mother-in-law modeling this same behavior with her grandkids as well!
There’s an old proverb that says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Whether you realize it or not, your thoughts are influenced by what others say about you. Make sure your kids hear you talking positively about them.
4. Ensure that they continue with lessons during the summer.
My dad used to say, “If you don’t practice one day, you know it. If you don’t practice two days, the other musicians know it. And if you don’t practice for 3 days, EVERYONE knows it!”
As parents, sometimes we assume that taking a 2-3 month break means that our kids can pick up in September where they left off in June. Unfortunately, that’s not how it usually works out.
When kids are not playing the piano regularly, they are not staying the same. Actually, they are regressing. Sometimes it takes a month or two to get them back to where they left off.
Allowing them to continue lessons during the summer saves a lot of frustration for kids, parents, and teachers.
5. Give your child a chance to perform their music for you sometime before their next lesson.
Doing this accomplishes two things. The first thing it does is give you an open door to provide feedback. Remember, six positive comments for every negative one.
When it comes to pleasing people, you are the number one person they want to satisfy. If you show them that you are pleased with their progress, it won’t matter what anyone else says to them. You are their biggest advocate.
The second thing it does is give them someone to play for besides their teacher. Music was never meant to stay in a “test” environment. Instead, it was made to share with others around you. The more opportunities to do this the better!
As you can see, parents have a significant part to play when it comes to their children learning to play the piano. I want to encourage you to use these five tools with your son or daughter.
While a younger child may not be able to see it now, someday they will look back and thank you for all that you did to keep them playing the piano.
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