Whether I’m meeting with a family new to piano lessons, I always stress with families that a RELATIONAL approach to piano is key to a student’s success. Parents who are involved in their child’s piano practice will see results and have a more pleasant experience.
The students whose parents are involved in their learning AND overseeing their child’s piano practice are the students who progress well. Because of this, they are more confident and — most importantly — enjoy what they are doing.
So what exactly does this look like? Does it mean you hover during your child’s piano practice? Does it mean you fix every mistake for her?
Let’s talk first about your role in “setting the stage” for your child’s piano practice.
Create the time for piano practice.
Don’t expect that your child is going to say, “Hey, mom! It’s time to practice piano! Let’s do this!” (If your child is saying that, kudos to you and enjoy this anomaly while it lasts.)
Piano practice is kind of like homework. It’s necessary to progress and move forward, but it’s not always something kids are jumping with joy to do. Children often enjoy the results of the finished work (i.e. the good grade or the finished science project), but not always the process. Make sure you aren’t overscheduling your child’s after-school hours so that piano practice becomes “one more thing” to squeeze into a hectic evening. Build consistent practice time into your schedule.
Create the space for practice.
Minimize distractions so that your child doesn’t feel as though he is missing out on all the cool stuff happening in the house. If Big Brother is watching his favorite television show loudly in the next room over, suddenly piano practice becomes less appealing. A quiet space in a main living area so that your child is still part of the family, but also able to focus, is ideal. Read more about creating a piano practice space here.
So you’ve set the stage. Let’s discuss the practice itself!
Structure your child’s practice in a way that allows him to progress, feel successful and enjoy the time as much as possible
DO NOT SET A TIMER (I talk more about why in this post.) Focus on breaking down his piano “homework” into short, achievable chunks. Let him pick a song to play at the end of practice so that he feels in control and knows he has something to look forward to. (This can be a confidence booster if he’s working on particularly challenging repertoire!)
Keep him on task.
When my younger brother took piano lessons, he hated practicing scales and arpeggios. He was more in favor of learning music and playing it as quickly as possible. If he was left alone to practice, all he did was play his favorite pieces on repeat.
If you’re in the room with your child, you can pull him back to focus on the homework piece first, and let the “fun stuff” come as a reward at the end!
Help him correct his own mistakes without jumping in with all the answers.
If your child hits a wrong note, rather than jumping in with, “Nope – that’s a G!”, you might say something along the lines of, “Listen to that note again. Did it sound right?” Alternatively, you might try to encourage him to think through things himself: “If this note is A, which note is a step below?” (Watch this video for more information on fixing mistakes during piano practice.)
Remember that everything doesn’t need to be correct the first time through.
If you’re stopping your child and having her fix every single thing the first time she plays a piece, she’s going to be so afraid of making mistakes that she won’t want to try anything new. Remember that where there is a struggle, there’s also learning happening. Unless she is falling apart or asking for your help, try to allow her to work through the piece on her own. You might be surprised at the progress she can make when left to her own devices for a little while.
My oldest can quickly become discouraged when something doesn’t come easily. Sometimes, I’ll even take for granted that she remembers a concept that she has actually forgotten and can’t puzzle things out for herself. It’s always a difficult balance to keep her from getting too discouraged while also growing her tolerance for struggle.
I always try to gently acknowledge her feelings by saying, “I can understand why you’re upset. This part of the piece is really challenging.” My validation helps her feel re-connected to me. Then she can see me as her partner in this process.
Break things down.
In a moment of frustration, your child might feel so overwhelmed that learning a piece or a particular part of a piece seems impossible. After acknowledging her frustration, see if you can help her to break things down. This makes the music more accessible!
If my daughter is far enough from her breaking point, I might ask HER how she thinks we could break a passage down. With some coaxing, I might hear her mumble something along the lines of, “Practice hands alone.”
If your child honestly doesn’t see a way in, step in and help. You can come up with some ideas. “Just try the right hand in this measure,” or “Practice this chord change 5 times until it’s smoother.”
When you’re involved in your child’s practicing it can be tempting to jump in quickly. You might want to speed along the practice session or keep your child from deteriorating. Remember that one of the awesome things about learning a musical instrument is that your child will develop a healthy attitude towards challenge. That’s a skill that will benefit her beyond her piano practice.
To Sum Up:
- Schedule time and space to support consistent practice habits for your child.
- Don’t hover during your child’s piano practice. But do be present in the room.
- Help guide your child to fix mistakes and stay on task if needed.