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Top Do's and Don'ts for Parents with Children in Music Lessons

Parents can help their kids succeed at music lessons -  a good list of do's and don'ts for success and happiness

"Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers." - Socrates (469 BC - 399 BC)

Sound familiar? Apparently not a new phenomenon!

I don't envy you parents - it seems like the world's hardest job. I've been teaching for close to 18 years now and I've seen a lot of parent/child dynamics as well as worked with a lot of children throughout their developmental years. Here are a few insights I have from my perspective as a piano teacher and ways of thinking that will hopefully ease the burden and guilt of working with your child towards their music education.

First off I feel that music is very very undervalued in the current school system. It can vary by school district, but often when I ask my students I'm their only music teacher. This puts a lot of pressure on private music teachers and parents as well to help them succeed during the week.

Here are some of the common questions/comments I get from new parents:

How much practice time is needed?

Answer: some of my most successful students practice 30 minutes at day at least and if they miss a day, they add that time on to the next. The consistency is more important than the length of time, but at least with 30 minutes enough repetition and thorough care can be taken. This is a minimum amount of time and more time is definitely needed at the higher levels.

Here's another take from Billie Eilish: “We had a rule growing up that was kind of a household respected thing of just no matter what time it was, no matter how old we were, if we were creating, writing music, playing piano, playing guitar, or any instrument at all, we could stay up as long as we were doing that.” What a way to flip the script!

I feel my child isn't progressing fast enough.

To which I respond:

  • Are you helping them practice? Are they going through all the practice notes thoroughly and with enough repetition until it's easy? If not, do that and report back!

  • Piano is a really tough skill combining visual, auditory and physical coordination - it needs time to click.

  • Please note that progress isn't linear like every skill - sometimes regression can happen and that is part of the journey.

  • Give them a goal to work towards (formal or informal) and see if they can rise to the occasion. If not, stay positive and try again later when they are older and wiser.

  • Remember that there is no end date for learning the piano, just like there is no end date for learning how to speak English. It is a skill that makes you literate and that you will continue to use your whole life. There is no rush to get "there" because there is no "there."

Now for a list of "Please Don'ts":

  • Please don't compare siblings or to other children you know who are doing "better" at music, this won't help it will only cement in the child's mind that music isn't for them and that they shouldn't try as hard.

  • Please don't be negative about creative learning goals or about deep exploration of a topic. I have had parents try to steer my curriculum to places that they thought were more commercially viable (exams for example) but didn't suit the student's needs, goals, wants or ability level.

  • Please don't use piano practice as a punishment.

  • Please don't police if the practice is getting done or not, without also checking if they practiced the right things. It's possible for the student to just be playing the same thing over and over that they already know and making zero progress towards their assigned tasks.

  • Please don't tell your child that they don't have to do what is assigned because it's not relevant in your opinion. Sigh... believe it or not I do have parents like this that actively contradict me. Please trust that your teacher knows what they are doing (especially if they are a registered music teacher and have proven qualifications!) and let them lead the process.

  • Please please please don't show them exactly what to do or tell them what the notes are, or write in the letters for them - that will really hamper their ability to read on their own. Instead ask questions like - is that note high enough do you think? Or maybe try a different octave? Give them little nudges that they can then run with. Learning is done best with a measured amount of struggle - not too much and not too little, but just the right amount for growth. If you take away the struggle, you also take away the reward in some sense or at least diminish it.

  • Please don't fix all their mistakes - let them make mistakes and learn from them.

  • Please don't be the note police - the right note doesn't do us much good if it's at the wrong time. I've almost never had a parent be the rhythm police, but I would prefer it!

  • Please don't use or demonstrate a fixed mindset about either your skills ("I have no rhythm") or your child's ("She doesn't read music, she only plays by ear")

Please do:

  • Listen to them play and comment on specific things you like about their piece.

  • Stay positive always.

  • Motivate them by taking them to concerts and live music shows.

  • Play lots of music in the house.

  • Play along with them if you can!

  • Share their success with family and friends.

  • Praise them in front of others.

  • Help them stay on task and organized without it straying into nagging territory if possible.

  • Get them to lessons and performances on time.

  • Attempt to strike a healthy balance of encouraging independence and support as they get older.

  • Demonstrate a growth mindset - say the word "yet" when faced with a new challenge i.e. you can't play this piece - yet!

Music education is hugely valuable and in my opinion necessary for every child's development. Hopefully this article gives you some food for thought on helping your child succeed and be happy making music!

To learn more about my lessons and to add yourself to the wait list for a spot, follow this link


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