The role of parents in piano lessons is crucial, by encouraging their children to practise, reinforcing the teacher’s instruction, and offering support and encouragement.
The decision to start piano lessons should not be taken too lightly. Learning and playing the piano is highly enjoyable and satisfying, leading to a deep sense of personal fulfilment, but it is also hard work which requires commitment and consistent practise to progress and succeed.
Chose the right time to start piano lessons. I have noticed an increasing trend amongst parents to seek piano lessons for very young and pre-school children. While I do not have an issue with this per se, I do feel that young children should have mastered basic reading/literacy before they start piano lessons. Children who start piano lessons at a very young age or pre-primary school should, in my opinion, be encouraged to enjoy exploring the instrument and its special soundworld before formal note learning begins. There are a number of specialist learning methods for very young children, including ‘Dogs and Birds’.
Find the right teacher. Sounds obvious? Piano teaching is unregulated and I am sorry to say there are charlatans out there and people who set themselves up as piano teachers without the appropriate qualifications and/or experience. Personal recommendation is often the best way to find a good teacher. Always arrange to meet a prospective teacher, with your child, and do not be afraid to ask the teacher about their qualifications and credentials, and for references/testimonials from other students and their parents. A pass at Grade 8 is the very minimum requirement for a piano teacher. A good teacher will also have an up to date DBS check (formerly CRB check).
Establish a routine from the outset. Ensure your child attends his/her piano lessons on the right day at the right time each week. This is a basic courtesy to the teacher, but also encourages commitment and routine. Make regular attendance at piano lessons a rule, and avoid over-scheduling your child with too many extra-curricular activities. Try to organise piano lessons on a day when there are not other after-school activities (in particular sport: I have had rather too many tired (and muddy!) students come to me for lessons straight after football or hockey).
Provide the right environment for learning. A well-maintained acoustic piano or quality digital piano/keyboard with weighted keys is essential, as is an adjustable piano stool. Many piano suppliers offer rental schemes and interest-free loans. Good lighting and a quite room are essential to good practising. Provide your child with a space away from interference from the rest of the family, and distractions such as television, computer etc.
Establish a daily routine of practising. Your child’s teacher will advise about the appropriate amount of practising required and should offer guidance on productive practising techniques. Encourage your child to practise regularly: little and often is far better than a lot the night before the lesson and leads to noticeable progress. Practice not only makes perfect, it also makes permanent. Supervised practice is essential, especially for young children, and parents do not need specialist musical knowledge to help their children with their practising. Many children need a parent to read out the teacher’s notes in the practice notebook.
Do not over-correct or re-teach. Over-correcting your child and constantly highlighting errors can be highly dismotivating and is the fastest way to kill a child’s enthusiasm. Praise good playing and offer positive suggestions for dealing with errors. Allow your child to learn and discover at his or her own pace. If the teacher has made specific suggestions/requests for practising, do not overrule the teacher’s directions by re-teaching your child between lessons (this can be incredibly frustrating for the teacher: I speak from experience!).
Encourage your child to prepare properly for each lesson. Practising is the equivalent of school ‘homework’ and should be undertaken with the same degree of care and attention. Make sure your child completes the practising set out by the teacher, and encourage your child to make a note of how much practising has been done each day (most practice notebooks have space for this). Also note down any aspects which are proving problematic so that the teacher is aware and can offer appropriate guidance at the next lesson.
Show enthusiasm for your child’s progress. Promptly purchase new music and other materials as requested by the teacher, and pay tuition and exam fees on time. Encourage your child to enjoy not just the piano but music in general by buying CDs, listening to music together on the radio and via streaming services such as Spotify. Attend concerts as these can inspire and motivate your child.
Get involved. Attend workshops and student concerts whenever you’re invited. Your presence demonstrates interest and support to your child and your child’s piano teacher. Think of performance as an opportunity to share music rather than a showing off exercise. Encourage your child to take part in performance opportunities organised by the teacher, and follow the teacher’s guidance in aspects such as readiness for exams or competitions and festivals.
Talk to the teacher. Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher for progress reports, verbal or written, and to discuss your child’s progress with the teacher. Be honest with the teacher if you feel your child is being asked to do too much, or learn music which is too difficult, or not challenging enough. Respect the teacher’s methods and decisions regarding exam entry etc.
Why piano? One of the great pleasures of the piano is that it is possible to make a pleasant sound on it from the get go, which provides in instant sense of accomplishment (unlike string or wind instruments which require a greater degree of mastery before the instrument begins to sound nice). The piano repertoire is vast and varied, offering music to suit all tastes and abilities, and learning the piano provides an important foundation in the fundamentals of music, music theory and artistry.