If you’re reading this, you are probably the parent of a young pianist. Congratulations! You’ve invested in an experience that will enrich your child’s life for years to come. That’s the good news. But, as we all know, learning the piano is not all plain sailing. There’s a steep hill to climb, and there will be times when your child needs some motivation and guidance to keep going. This is where choosing the right teacher is crucial.
But as a parent, you also have a pivotal role to play in all of this, and it doesn’t need to take up much of your time. There are many small things that you can do to accelerate your child’s progress. In this article, we’re going to talk about what you can do at home to ensure that your child’s piano practice sessions are efficient, enjoyable and beneficial. These are the 4 main points we’ll be discussing below:
- Taking an active interest
- Structuring time at the piano
- Allowing creativity
- Creating a reward system
An Active Interest in Music
As parents, we all know that children tend to take things more seriously if their parents do. And let’s face it: learning the piano is hard. Your approval and interest are vitally important factors in your child’s willingness to persevere. Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to become a music aficionado or force yourself to develop a taste for a certain type of music. It just means that you should take an active interest. You can show this by doing things like:
Know what piece your child is working on.
Play music in the home.
Listen when your child wants to show you something, and give honest feedback. Sincere criticism is more valuable than bland, generic approval.
Let your child explain things to you. Explaining concepts that they have learned can really accelerate learning and absorption. Ask questions and engage. when you’re done.
Next comes practice time itself. This is where you can make a huge impact without having to do much at all. Simply help your child to structure this time, to maximize its usefulness. Perhaps there are only 20 minutes a day to squeeze in between homework and dinner: so be it. If you set it up the right way, this might actually be enough.
A typical practice session should begin with a warm-up (either a scale or a drill). After this, move on to a piece of music or a performance project. Encourage your child to select a portion of it, rather than just running from beginning to end. You can help to identify the best section to work on, by asking the teacher, or recognizing which part of the piece is weak. The bulk of practice time should focus on slowly putting this section together and repeating it a few times until it’s easier. Finally, finish up with some fun. This is the part of the session where your child can play the piece from beginning to end, or release tension by playing something else entirely. Don’t be afraid of creativity (more on this shortly). So to sum up, here’s an outline of a high-impact practice session that you can sneak in at the end of a busy day:
- 7 minutes warm-up (scale, or finger drill)
- 10 minutes targeted practice (this takes discipline)
- 3 minutes of improvisation/expression
The next practice session can be identical if necessary. For example, if the part of a piece that you selected yesterday is still not solid, there’s no harm in giving it another session. Over time, this habit of solving small problems will trigger a kind of cascade. Your child will begin to be able to play a piece from beginning to end, with freedom and independence, without that all-too-familiar feeling of suspense when a difficult part approaches. In other words, he or she will actually start to make music, which leads us to the next point:
Room for Creativity
I’ll explain this one with an anecdote. I once had a young pupil who had had a year of lessons. He was a reserved, anxious little boy with very evident musical ability. After our third lesson, he finished his piece with a little flourish at the end, which was not in the music. He immediately apologized. When I asked him to do it again, he lit up. It turned out that he was adding an arpeggio, in the right key, at the end of the piece. This showed remarkable sensitivity and awareness. But his previous teacher had discouraged him from doing this kind of thing, and it had taken him some time to pluck up the courage to try it in our lesson.
Needless to say, I encouraged him to continue, and we compared different ideas for adding flourishes to the music. By inviting a child to play with the written text – after all, we play music, we don’t just read it – you can really open doors that would otherwise remain shut. This is why it’s a great idea to end every practice session with some inventive play. Even noise – which it may be, at the beginning – can be valuable here. You can try out some simple open-ended prompts:
- Make a happy/sad/scary sound
- Play something that sounds like a bird
- What does thunder sound like?
You can even try and join in yourself. If you do, you’ll quickly find how absorbing this can be. Sadly, “child’s play” is pushed out of the music classroom. The irony is that the music classroom is exactly where child’s play belongs.
Piano practice can find its way into whatever system you have for rewarding good behaviour in your home. A reward chart, a cookie jar, or any other way of recognizing achievement can give your budding pianist that little nudge to keep going. It can also be a great way to enforce good practice habits; simply playing the piano isn’t enough. To get the reward, you can ask to hear some structured, focused practice, as we outlined earlier. This isn’t very different to checking a child’s regular homework or checking up on school grades. Even better, music becomes its own reward. So, in many cases, parents find that a reward scheme can fall away once these habits are in place.
Learning how to practice right is essential to success. Thankfully, it’s quite straightforward. It’s all about breaking down complex tasks into smaller ones. Then, you need some discipline to see it through to the end. These are valuable life lessons in themselves, and they are some of the many things that a musical education can give your child. At Global House of Music we have seen the power of an engaged, active parent. If you’re already working with one of our teachers, you will know that they are always ready to give feedback and guidance on the subject of practice routines. Be sure to subscribe below so that you can receive many posts like this one.