Philosophy

An Open Letter to Parents of Piano Students

by Tim Topham

 

Dear Piano Parents,

Thanks for taking a moment out of your busy day to read this letter.

Its purpose is simple: to help you and your child get the most out of the investment you’ve made in music lessons and to set the stage for your child to develop a lifelong passion for their instrument.

There is a widening gulf emerging in all areas of education between traditional, assessment-based models of teaching involving examinations and rankings, and the need for our students to engage in creative, exploratory learning that will set them up for a future we can’t yet envision.

I continue to be saddened by the number of kids who I see quitting lessons prematurely and never touching their instrument again due to well-intentioned, but often misguided, pressure and advice from parents.

As a piano teacher, I find that just about every adult I meet, who learnt piano as a child but gave up in their teens, expresses sadness that they never continued lessons.

By drawing on my own experience and those of the teachers with whom I work every day around the world in my community, blog and podcast, I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to your child.

You’re committing a huge amount of time and money to this part of your child’s education. Wouldn’t it be a shame if it were wasted?

 

The Importance of Music Education

 

Before we go any further, let me first congratulate you on enrolling your child in piano lessons. It’s one of the best things that you can do for their growth and development in all areas of their life.

Music education not only provides an artistic outlet for your child, but research demonstrates learning a musical instrument helps students in other areas of study including memory, self-discipline, motivation and even literacy.

Learning a musical instrument changes the brain for the better.

“Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance. The study found that kids who take music lessons ‘have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious’.” – Music lessons were the best thing your parents ever did for you, according to science.

You’ve started on the path to helping your child enjoy an involvement in music. Now let me help you give your child the best chance of developing a lifelong relationship with music making.

 

The Cost of Lessons

 

Enrolling in music lessons is a huge commitment – in time, energy and money.

Let’s start with time. You may well need to take your child to and from lessons and concerts. Depending on your child’s teacher, you may be involved in lessons so that you can support your child during practice. You’ll commit time to attending recitals, concerts and all sorts of performances.

You’ll need to help your child find time in their schedule to practise. Sometimes, you’ll need to pester your child to practise. You’ll need lots of energy to keep them motivated as they embark on an activity that involves considerable but delayed gratification.

You’ll tear your hair out and get frustrated when they don’t practise. You’ll nag. You may need to wake them up early so they can practise before school and sometimes their practice might wake you up early on a Sunday morning.

And then there’s the financial cost. I know that many of you have made significant financial sacrifices in order to give your child this experience.

Firstly, there’s the instrument you need to purchase or rent – who knew how expensive a decent piano could be? And what about the lessons themselves? For the most part, music lessons aren’t cheap and, like anything else, the more you pay, the more qualified and experienced your teacher will be. Music lesson costs per year can easily run into the thousands of dollars for a child.

But don’t let this put you off; the benefits your child will gain from music lessons will far outweigh all the costs, as long as we keep a few things in mind.

How to get the most out of your piano lessons
compiled by Dr Denise Stanley
 
· Provide a piano/keyboard at home that is encouraging to play. The instrument should have all working 88 keys and a sustain pedal.
 
· Make sure you are seated at the proper height. This should be where elbows are level with the keyboard surface. Piano playing takes place from the arms.
 
· Make sure the piano/keyboard is easily accessible. If possible, having the piano open and in a spot that the student walks by every day can be a good reminder. If not, at least make sure the piano is clear from non-piano related items, and is well-lit.
 
· Keep piano books (and a pencil) close to the piano, or better yet, on the piano and open to a song to be practiced. This visual reminder can help.
 
Parents should get involved…
 
· The more involved and interested parents can be, the more it will positively affect learning. A few moments of interaction on your part could go a long way each week!
 
· It’s important to practice a little bit every day, instead of once or twice for a longer period time to ‘cram’ before the lesson. The brain’s retention drops significantly if a new concept or piece of music isn’t reviewed within 24 hours of introducing it. The more frequent our brain reviews something, the more likely it is to retain important information.
 
· Tie piano practice to something else that already happens every day, such as coming home from school or (even better) before or after dinner. By saying “After dinner is over, it’s practice time,” anchors the new habit (practicing) to an already established routine, making it easier to remember and easier to follow through. Alternatively set a timer/alarm for the same time every day to be “practice time.”
 
· Practicing a musical instrument is extremely high discipline and we need to make mistakes in order to improve. It builds character. Be honest about mistakes, but praise the effort. Mistakes need to be made but aim at improving them.
 
· Ask to demonstrate what they’re learning and how they’re practicing it. Ask them to teach you a few notes of what they’re learning. This gives their confidence a boost and furthers their understanding of the music. Knowing that you’re interested and monitoring their progress can really motivate students to practice piano. They want to make you proud!
 
· Be an appreciative audience. Criticism is very difficult for a young artist to endure when they are learning. Beginner piano lessons should be associated with the positive aspects of achievement. Happy memories create lifelong playing of a beloved instrument.
 
· Make practicing fun – perhaps chart their progress and motivate with a rewards system.
 
· It’s no secret that when we’re told to do something, we don’t always want to do it. During the course of a day, there are several different people (parents, teachers, older siblings, coaches) telling kids what to do. Add music to that list and it’s no wonder motivation seems to dwindle! Combat this problem by putting your child in control. Let your child determine the practice schedule, that way he or she will be more likely to stick to it.
 
· Motivating music students can be aided by using a music practice app or music education app. There are some excellent music practice apps available. These give the student support during practice sessions, including keeping track of how long they’ve practiced and even rating their performance. There are games that will motivate students to practice piano as well as strengthen note reading and rhythm skills.
 
· Show your child that playing a musical instrument is a special privilege and an opportunity that isn’t necessarily available to everyone. Teach your child to appreciate music and all it has to offer. Help him discover that music can enhance his life. This also includes helping your child develop a love for music. Take him to concerts or shows, play music at home, and help him discover what he likes.
 
· You’ve invested the money in an instrument and lessons, and you want your child to make the most of it. If your son or daughter wants to be good, he or she needs to practice!
 
· Your child is more likely to practice music if he or she feels connected to the process. Help your son or daughter develop an interest and curiosity for music. To help your child stay engaged, become a part of the process. Whatever you can do to get involved is likely to increase interest and motivation.
 
· Motivating music students takes patience and understanding. If they’ve gone to their instrument and done something toward their pianistic skills, the goal is achieved.