How to be a Versatile Piano Parent

So, you've decided to have your child learn the piano? Congratulations! And good choice (I may be a little biased). We've discussed some things you can do to help your child in A Parent's Guide to Piano Practice, but there is much more to being a Piano Parent than you'd think.

Effective and supportive parental involvement in instrumental learning requires parents to be versatile (ibid. p. 21)

Okay, so we need to be versatile. But what does that mean in the context of your child learning an instrument? This article had some great points that I would love to discuss.

7 Ways to be a Versatile Piano Parent

Be a good Time Manager

This is especially true if you have a younger child.
Children have little sense of time so it is up to you to be in charge of when practice takes place.
As your child gets older, let them be involved with deciding when to practice. Look at their schedule and see what would work best. Does practicing before school seem to be a better solution? After School? Should they have a 30-minute break between school and piano practice?  Once you decide on the proper location in your child's schedule for their piano practice, keep it consistent. The more steady and consistent your child's schedule is, the more likely they are to practice.

Be Enabling (but in a good way)

Is it easy for your child to practice? Is the piano located in a room where the child wants to be, or is it located in the back corner of the house? Is the room well lit? Can your child easily find their music and see their music? Is the practice room quiet and free of distractions?

As a Versatile Piano Parent, it is your job to make sure that your child has what they need in order to complete their assignments and put in quality practice time. After all, you are paying for these lessons, don't you want good results?

Enable your child to practice. Make the piano easily accessible, preferably in the main part of the house (solitary practice is no fun). Keep the piano well maintained and in tune (see our post on Piano Maintenance). Keep the music in your home well organized and easy to find. Keep all the books that your child needs to bring to lessons in one place. Make your music/piano room a room that your child WANTS to be in.

Be a Cheerleader

Practice is just that. Practice. This means that your child will NOT be playing beautifully polished pieces at home. They will be playing a few measures here, a musical phrase there, and polishing up small sections that have been hard for them. They will be working on their technique, on their counting, and will not (and should not) be playing their pieces at performance speed (see our post on The Speed of No Mistakes).

No matter what your child's practice sounds like, find something positive to say that will make them want to keep trying and keep learning. Every day find something, even if it is small, that you noticed an improvement in. 

"You've worked really hard today."
"You are getting really good at counting!"
"It sounds so much better than last week."
"You are getting better."
"Your hard work is paying off!"
"Your dynamics are improving!"

These are just a few ideas of some things you can say to encourage your child. If you need more specific phrases, talk to your child's teacher and see what they are focusing on so you can direct your comments that way.

Be Flexible

As your child gets older and advances through the world of music, your role will change. When you have a brand new piano student they need much more care, time, and attention. In fact, during these early stages, it is recommended that you sit in on your child's lessons so you know what their assignments are.

 Beginners need a lot of help and ideally, you should sit in on early lessons so that you can see and hear what the teacher does. Back at home lots of guidance from you will be needed, reading through the notes from the teacher together and giving guidance, but, whenever possible, get your child to explain what he/she has to do. As their expertise grows so should independence and the type of support required. Maybe you could ask your teenage child to teach you something they are learning?
The older your child gets, the less and less guidance they will need from you, and the more responsibility they can, and should, take upon themselves.

Be a good Communicator

To provide the best environment for your child, you will need to be an expert communicator. You will need to ensure that you are communicating with your child's teacher and that you understand your child's assignments. How will you know if they are practicing what they are supposed to if you don't know their assignments? Additionally, you will need to be able to communicate any issues relating to piano practice back to your child's piano teacher. Are you currently moving? Did you go on vacation where there wasn't a piano? Did you lose a piano book?

Life happens and piano teachers understand that. However, it is best to communicate with them before your child's next lesson so that they can adapt what they teach to what your child needs that week.

Be a Diplomat

Let's face it, there will be fights over piano practicing. It's just the way it is. However, do your best to make sure that these fights over piano practice don't actually happen at the piano. If you fight about the piano, around the piano, the piano will become associated with fights, arguments and tension. By simply moving to another room, the piano can remain either a neutral object or (hopefully), a positive object in your child's life.

Arguments at the piano should be avoided at all costs. The instrument should not become a battleground and the piano stool should remain a positive place to sit. Even just moving away from the piano to another part of the room to negotiate can make a difference.

Be Patient

Learning an instrument means learning lots of life skills – children ‘enjoy’ playing when they feel they are great at it. Being great at it takes time, focus, persistence and resilience. Support them unconditionally when the going gets tough and celebrate when they achieve the weekly targets! [A member of the Curious Piano Teachers Community]
Practice does not sound great, but that is what should be happening in your home. Songs should be played slowly, sometimes one hand at a time. You will hear mistakes and mixups and will listen to the same three measures in a row a million times while they polish it up. And, after a song is "passed off" you'll hear your child play that a million times too.

Practice should sound just like that. Practise. If you hear your child playing lots of "polished" pieces at home, chances are they are just playing their "fun" songs and not actually practicing their assignments.

Scales, chords, and technical work do NOT sound pretty. They are not meant to. They are there to teach skills that are necessary to learn pretty pieces. So, in the midst of all the practicing in your home, be patient with your child. Be positive. Learning music is hard! But, it is the most rewarding and long lasting thing you can do.


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