I was a private piano teacher for 15 years, and in that time I saw a lot of kids whose parents were real assets to their learning experience; but I also saw many students who had parents that actually hindered their learning. So for those of you whose children are taking piano lessons, I offer this list of Do's and Don't's to help your children maximize their learning potential.
1. Do find out as much as you can about the piano teacher before you sign up your child. Get references if necessary. Don't assume that a teacher with a degree in piano pedagogy is automatically a great teacher. On the other hand, a great piano teacher may or may not have any formal music training.
2. Do consider personality when choosing a piano teacher. The most qualified and experienced teachers may have the worst personalities, and if the teacher can't relate to your child, the process of learning may be adversely affected, regardless of the teacher's qualifications. Find a teacher who relates well to both you and your child.
3. Do take your child to his scheduled lesson, even if he hasn't practiced. If your child is embarrassed to attend because he hasn't practiced, then use that as motivation to do better the next week. A good teacher won't belittle a student for not practicing on occasion, but that same teacher should also be able to stress the importance of practicing without being to lenient or overbearing.
4. Do learn the basics of music reading along with your child if you don't know how to read music already. Encourage your child to teach you what he learned that day. If you know even just the basics, you'll be much better equipped to help your child when he practices at home.
5. Do listen in on the lesson if it's permissible with the teacher (and if your child can still function adequately with you in the room). If listening in is not possible, talk to the teacher following the lesson to get a rundown of what is expected that week.
6. Do set aside a specific, regular time when your child should practice. Provide a time when there is little distraction.
7. Do allow your child to practice in five or ten minute segments if necessary. Short, focused periods of practice can be very beneficial. Don't feel that you have to carve out an entire 3o-minute period for practice, especially since many families don't have that much uninterrupted free time. Even intense practice during commercial breaks can help!
8. Do realize that if your child can perform a piece perfectly at home, but he only plays it at 80 or 90% perfection during the lesson, your child is not a failure, so please don't scold him for his "poor performance." Good teachers understand that most children are nervous during their lessons and they can usually tell if mistakes are due to nerves or not practicing. Making mistakes during lessons is normal, especially with beginners, and playing well under stress is something that is learned over time.
9. Do make your child refer to his assignment book throughout the week. I have far too many students who don't even glance at their assignment book and they end up neglecting important parts of their assignment.
10. Do call the teacher if your child doesn't understand a particular assignment during the week. Especially if it's just a problem with reading the teacher's handwriting, don't waste an entire week of practice just because you child doesn't understand what he's supposed to be doing.
11. Don't force your child to practice for a certain number of minutes each day. Yes, students need to practice regularly, but the emphasis should be on quality practice and not quantity practice. I've seen far too many students who "practice" religiously for 30 minutes every day but don't improve a single bit from week to week; those students are worried more about "doing the time" than actually improving. Have your child verbalize exactly what his goal is at each practice session, and then make sure he has gotten closer to that goal before he quits practicing for the day.
12. Don't interject comments during the piano lesson unless the teacher asks you to contribute. I've had parents sit in on lessons and practically browbeat their children when they make a mistake, telling them things like "Come on, you had that down perfect at home!" Please save your comments until after the lesson is over. And if your comments aren't encouraging to your child's progress, perhaps consider refraining from saying anything at all. Please.
13. Don't force your child to take piano lessons just because you always wanted to learn to the play the piano but never had the opportunity. Yes, the ability to play the piano is an excellent skill to possess, but if your child is extremely unwilling, please don't force them to take lessons for years on end. Your child may end up refusing to learn any instrument at all because of his negative experience with piano.
These do not guarantee any a good piano lesson or session but if the parent becomes a helper and not a hinderer the sessions can become more enjoyable for teacher, student and parent.
Good stuff! All three of mine are taking lessons. W & M have been taking since they were in preschool, but B has only started last year. Over Christmas we moved the keyboard to B's room, but I have seen much improvement now that it's back in the den.
I do try to to listen to them pratice to see what they are doing – but it's hard to keep up with three!!
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OUCH! I was rocking along, ready to hire you, until number 13! As the only child of 4 that never learned to play, I always regretted it and would have loved for one of my 3 to have wanted to learn. Now that I only have one left at home, I feel the urge to push him towards the piano. I bought him a keyboard when he was 4! If he does learn to play an instrument, it will most likely be the drums, as that is where he seems most interested. Great tips and love the pic of Joely! She's adorable.
Thank you for posting this. Both of my children are learning piano. This is my daughter's 4th year and my son's first.
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Dan the Music Master says
That's a very comprehensive list and a pretty good guideline.
I'm so happy one of my girls takes piano, has passion for it and does really well. We do set a timer for her practice time at home because if we don't she will quickly play through one song and be done. By setting the timer she knows she needs to keep practicing the piece until the timer goes off, so she ends up running through the pieces several times. Her teacher ended up suggesting it and to have her practice right after breakfast so it doesn't get pushed to the end of the day when everyone is cranky/tired. I think if it works for one child it may not work for another. In our case the timer definitely helps but I like your suggestion about breaking it up in shorter bursts. At this point we do 20-minutes for an 8-year-old in her second year of piano. I may break it up to 5-10 min at a time and see how she likes it.
We definitely don't browbeat, thankfully, and hubby takes her to every lesson, sitting in the next room where he can see her and listen. She can mess up and I'd still give her a standing ovation. She taught herself to play many pieces by ear alone (no book) and she can read sheet music better than English. Can ya tell I'm proud?! LOL! I'm taking a few of your suggestions to heart and will continue to encourage her love for piano.