I can see it… On this lovely snow day, children everywhere flocking to their beloved pianos – overjoyed by the surprise hours they suddenly have to practice on this cold, winter day; their faces beaming in delight as they pull out their lesson binders and carefully read over their assignments for the week to ensure they haven’t missed anything…
Oh wait. Was I just dreaming out loud?
On a serious note, I do hope everyone stays safe today. No need to venture out unless absolutely necessary. I’m actually not quite sure what the fuss is about, but maybe it’s more the ice and less about snow volume. But today’s surprise snow day did get me wondering how many students will choose to put in a little extra practice time!
I posted some thoughts a couple months ago about how parents can create a more welcoming practice environment. Today’s post addresses a very common concern amongst parents of piano (or any instrument, really) students: if I’m a non-musical parent, how can I help my student with instrument practice? After all, we can’t all be musicians raising musician children!
The fact is, you can help in probably more ways than you realize. Here are 7 ways a non-musical parent can help with piano practice, from the wonderful folks at TeachPianoToday.com:
1. Your children will need help – Up until about age 11, children need hands-on help with home practice. And even though you yourself may not read music or play the piano, your assistance is still very much needed! Parental help can take the form of reading lesson notes, organizing practice time wisely, providing encouragement through difficult sections or situations, and seeking out answers for “I’m stuck on this” problems. Asking a young child to be in charge of something as important as piano practice is often asking too much. Your help at home will make a substantial difference in your children’s progress.
2. Your children need you to establish a routine – I cannot emphasize this enough: piano practice that happens every single day is by far the most effective practice structure. 30 minutes three times a week is just 90 minutes. 20 minutes seven days a week is 140 minutes. The total difference is 43 hours of missed practice per year if your children are only at the piano three times a week!
Short, focused and regular visits to the piano help your children retain and understand what they are learning while making the most of generally short attention spans. If practice is enjoyable, rather than arduous, your children will naturally (and unknowingly!) increase the time they spend on the bench… eventually reaching that 30 minute mark.
Setting a regular time of day when piano practice happens “no matter what” will ensure a daily practice routine is easy for your children to maintain.
3. Your children needs lots of encouragement – Learning to read music and play the piano can be difficult; it can be discouraging… it can feel overwhelming. Your children (no matter what their age) need loads of encouragement. Learning the piano is not a “fix it and forget it” endeavor that you have allowed your children to undertake.
And not just verbal encouragement. You can show your children that you value their efforts by attending their recitals with enthusiasm, inviting friends and family to listen to your them play, and taking the time to sit and listen to them practice with your undivided attention.
4. Your children need a home instrument that is enjoyable to play – Much of the pleasure from playing the piano comes from one’s ability to emote feeling, nuance and expression through music. Even young beginners will experience great satisfaction from making beautiful sounds…. so choose an instrument that gives them the best opportunity to make beautiful sounds. Guidance from your children’s teacher will help you find an affordable piano (don’t worry, there are many great and affordable options) that will give your children the tool they need to truly experience piano lessons. An investment in a good instrument protects the investment you are making in your children’s musical education.
5. Your children need a positive practice environment – Aside from providing encouragement, your children need you to create a positive practice atmosphere. Help your children avoid “cramming” the day before lessons. Stick to your daily routine to avoid weeks of forgotten practice (which lead to feelings of inadequacy on the part of your children). Music is joyful… and so practicing music should be as well. This is, fortunately, something that you are able to create easily with a commitment to regular practice.
6. Your children need you to communicate with their teacher – Working as a parent/child/teacher triangle is the optimal way to ensure progress and success in piano lessons. Be sure to communicate often with your children’s piano teacher. Check in on how lessons are progressing, ask for help if something is difficult for your children at home, let your teacher know when practice weeks have gone extremely well (or not so well). Working as a team means your children are supported equally on all sides at all times.
7. THE PLEASURE OF BEING A PIANO PARENT…
Learning to play music is a life-changing experience. And, as a parent, the process is a thrill to watch. Being a major part of this accomplishment is incredibly rewarding! The profound pleasure of being a “piano parent” far outweighs the required extra efforts; and this is, by far, the most important thing that piano teachers want parents to know about piano practice.
So as we start this new year, maybe choose a couple of these ideas to roll into your family’s daily routine, and let me know how it goes. In the meantime, stay warm everyone!!