Parent support in piano class

The need for parent support

Parent support for piano practise with young piano students is a huge issue. With teachers, because they know the likelihood of any student actually progressing beyond the beginner level depends on this. Even the musically talented student.

For piano parents it’s time and commitment and something more for them to add to their already busy schedules.

As I write this post, I’ve been teaching the piano for roughly 15 years. During all of these years, I’ve had less than a handful of students who practised without parent support.

Learning the piano is very challenging for children of any age and my experience has been that the child who sticks almost always is the child who has parent support.

Taking the ‘lonely’ out of piano practise

For most children the biggest issue during the first couple of years is getting into a routine and making practise a part of their daily lives. The piano can be a lonely instrument and children who don’t have company often don’t practise. Children need a parent around – initially to remind them to read the homework book and practise accordingly, to listen and  mostly so they have company. 

Children who have opportunities to perform and belong to schools or communities where music is encouraged tend to be more motivated. As are children who have friends who play an instrument. Participation in group classes or concerts arranged by the piano teacher is important as this provides performance opportunities and helps students make ‘piano friends.’

That hardworking child who practises WRONG

If you’re a parent with a child who loves practising the piano, who practises daily and keeps getting poor feedback, then this paragraph is for you. It’s quite possible, that you can’t understand why – because you hear playing that sounds good to you, you can see how sincere your child is and how much effort your child puts in.

Taking a look at the homework book, will tell you a lot. You will find :

  1. Homework assignments not done
  2. Section practise requested by the teacher is not done
  3. Your child ‘plays’ taking very long to work on something, when all was needed is to use the practise techniques outlined by the teacher and spend less effort achieving the same result.

Children who enjoy practise often get so lost doing practise homework they enjoy, they forget to read the homework book. They practise what they like and what they remember and simply forget the rest.

Learning 'how to practise' is important for progress. This is the 
area in which beginner & intermediate level piano students of any age
pay poor attention.

For parents who need a class where children work without support..

If you are a piano parent  with a student who does not practise regularly (and by practise, I mean doing the homework that the piano teacher has assigned) and this goes on for sometime, it’s worth looking at the kind of class you’ve enrolled your child in.

Piano teachers generally ask these students to take a break from piano class and enrol again when they’re ready to practise, because a ‘regular piano class’  simply does not work with erratic practise.

What your child needs is a different kind of class, with more frequency – maybe 2/3 classes a week. A class which is mostly a  ‘practise’ class, where there’s a lot of repetition. New topics need to be introduced very slowly, so that erratic practise works. It helps if one of these is a group class which includes music activities and work on rhythm. Piano playing will progress at a slow comfortable pace and your child will find it easy to cope.

Parent support for ‘regular piano class’

The term ‘regular piano class’ is how I describe class that teaches piano playing techniques, reading written music, how music theory goes into playing, the chord approach to piano playing & how to practise.

This is a lot to do in a 1 or 1&1/2 hour weekly class, and daily practise and completing homework assignments is essential. This almost always needs some level of parent support and involvement.

It’s not forever, as children grow up habituated to regular practise – with the resources to organise their practise, and use practise techniques to make their practise more effective. This usually happens between the ages of 14 to 16, depending on the personality of the student and the kind of goals the student has chosen to work towards.

To all you piano parents who are making the time to support your child, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Children gradually learn independence until they finally take responsibility for their own goals.

15 easy steps to a really effective piano class

 

  1. Arrive at class on time. Leave home budgeting time for traffic jams and other delays, so you walk in relaxed. You will learn better.
  2. Take all your books to class – that includes your homework book & theory book. Check you’ve not left your books on the piano keyboard at home before you leave for class.
  3. Practise.
  4. Carry your reading glasses/spectacles with you.
  5. Attend class or remember to reschedule if you need to miss. Else you will not get a make-up class.
  6. Leave a little extra time in your daily schedule so there’s time when you need flex or  just want to relax a little in between. Practise needs to be done with a relaxed frame of mind to be really effective.
  7. Practise – don’t just play. Practise daily.
  8. Play games or enroll in a sports class for exercise. Getting enough physical activity improves focus.
  9. Pack all your books up after class and make sure you take them home.
  10. Read your homework  book when you practise and follow your teacher’s instructions.
  11. Set a practise schedule with a choice of 2 or 3 practise slots, so you can change your practise time to suit your moods
  12. PRACTISE
  13. Play for your family, and participate in student concerts whenever you get an opportunity.
  14. Play a little to relax even on busy days.
  15. Did I say practise daily? Yes, that’s the most important thing to do.
Prraaacctise!

😀

 

This class called ‘Piano class’

‘Piano class here in Navi Mumbai encompasses a wide variety of different kinds of classes, and teachers who actually teach the piano have to deal with a lot of misconceptions.

What a piano is

Many parents think that the toy keyboard is a piano. They think a Casio is an instrument – kind of like the way people refer to a  Xerox machine instead of a photocopying machine. ‘Casio’ is used to refer to keyboards of any brand, digital pianos and acoustic pianos (the big Casio). So, piano class is a very wide term, that encompasses all of these classes, which have different levels of difficulty and commitment.

The exam focus

Parents who don’t know much about piano playing can be very keen on piano examinations, as it helps them assess their child’s progress. Trinity College London is a huge name here, so piano exams get focus. Unfortunately, this means that parents and students often only pay attention to piano practise when an exam is looming, or when an exam piece is being done. There are many parents who are thrilled with their child learning just 4 pieces a year, as long as the exam results are good.

Piano students often have little or no opportunities to perform & they need to be flexible and able to adjust to playing on a keyboard to participate in local events. I was really thrilled to discover the ‘Music Liberation Union (MLU)’.  MLU consists of a group of individuals who are passionate about music & have been promoting music in Navi Mumbai. They provide musicians and students a platform to perform as well as discuss music, & they welcome music from different genres. You can find them on Facebook.

Talent does not need hard work

Parents who have seen pianists playing think it’s easy, because the pianist makes it seem so. They also seem to associate the term ‘easy’ with talent, and think that piano teaching is easy because the teacher has talent. My experience has been, that parents undervalue the job of a piano teacher until they actually witness piano class in action. This prompted me to write a post ‘What do piano teachers DO?

My piano parents, who understand and are committed to supporting piano practise at home,  are sometimes taken aback by the level of thinking & maturity required of their child, and the challenges of learning the piano. Having parents sit-in on piano class when they can, makes them want to provide more support to home practise.

Work hard and you’ll succeed

A parent whose child plays the piano a lot daily, feels justified in expecting excellent feedback from piano teachers, and can get very angry when this does not happen, because the child is ‘playing’ but is not ‘practising’. It’s a very common cause of parent-teacher discord, and I’ve learned to explain my assessments, and what practise is. So parents & children have some say in the standards by which they want to be assessed.

Sometimes, an appreciation of hard work for it’s own sake, can make parents expect long practise hours and feel their child is not doing enough. When in actuality, the student, with shorter practise sessions & breaks in between, is taking care to follow homework instructions, and is actually doing very very well.

A lack of understanding about what piano class is, and the level of difficulty of the subject, often is a barrier to learning, so parents and students need to have expectations of piano class that match their commitment.

Teaching the piano to beginners is much more challenging today, because a lot of children don’t get enough exercise and play needed for their development. And this is resulting in a lot more kids who can’t sit still ( as compared to other kids of their age), as well as issues with hand coordination.

Building a rapport with parents and students, and helping them understand what goes on leads to really fast progress in the long run. Here’s a related post ‘Parent education during piano class’

 

 

 

Month 6 of “My Personal Sightreading Challenge”

April 2015 was the start of My Personal Sightreading Challenge.

It got me practising regularly. There were days I would play for just 5 minutes and then, there were days that I would get involved and stay there for much much longer. I also started to do a little bit of section practise in rotation – so I would work on a different section every few days.

I got over-enthusiastic after reading a post by Wendy Stevens, on “The 30 Piece Challenge” and got started on more than one piece at a time. My goals were still fairly small – just to learn the pieces, and record them as soon as I could play them from beginning to end. Click here if you’d like to hear my pieces at 6 months.

I started to hope that I could keep all my pieces going through the year, and get them done well enough to meet “The 30 piece Challenge”

Related articles :

The impact of 100 minutes of practise

How would our husband’s feel….?

I realise that we women of today are really quite reserved. We simply don’t know how to express our love for our husbands.

I’ve come to this realisation after I heard Violetta express her love for Alfredo in one of my favourite scenes from La Traviata. Here’s a performance of it – “Amami Alfredo”

The last time many of us women spoke with such feeling to our families, was probably the time we had had enough – and decided that clothes left on the floor would be ‘left’ there. We would not put them in the wash and we would mop the floor around them, until assorted members of our family came to their senses and put them in their proper place – in the washing machine or the dirty clothes basket!

And I wonder, do we need to listen to Violetta and learn?

How would our husband’s feel, if after all these year of being married, we wives declared our love for them with such passion. Would they be thrilled, or would they rush us off to the nearest doctor, thinking we had a severe stomach ache…..??

Recording piano playing in class to motivate children

Students not practising… parent’s who don’t really know what they do at home… children who miss scheduled concerts and therefore lack the motivation to practise….

I’ve been recording my students at class, uploading it in my drive and sending a link to the parent.

I use the audio recorder on my phone. The sound quality’s not great but it’s quick and easy to upload, as compared to my phone camera.

  • With young beginners, it’s optional – so they can choose when they want to be recorded
  • With students who are doing exams, I’ll be recording very small sections of homework, after letting them try it out once, before recording them
  • With older students, who are now more responsible for practise – I’m giving them short assignments, which they have to prepare for a recording

The response has been positive, with parents who’ve taken the time to listen to the recordings. Overall, it’s helped motivate students as they love being recorded.

It’s helped especially with teens who don’t practise regularly and are too old for their parents to take the responsibility of getting practise done.

Some students have also started recording small sections of piano class. Here‘s a post from Frances Wilson’s piano studio on recording piano class

My Personal Sightreading Challenge – 5 minutes and 20 days a month

Making the time in my daily schedule and committing to learn new pieces had always been a struggle. So, in April 2015, I decided to make a change. I started small, with just 5 minutes a day, 20 days a month spent on sight reading a new piece.

My first piece was a Bach 2 part invention – just a few bars on day 1,  and I kept adding 1 or 2 more bars each day. I started out recording the results each day, so I could see progress, however small, and feel a little motivated to continue.

I also decided that I would record that first rough run-through of each piece, the first time I could play it completely, upload it, and post a link online.

My goals were small – to learn one piece a month and keep in touch with the pieces I had learned earlier.

Related articles :

Month 6 of “My Personal Sightreading Challenge”

The impact of 100 minutes of practise

 

Why is my child’s progress so slow?

It’s your child’s practise routine – or really, lack of it…..It often takes parents anything from 3 months to a year to realise that their young child needs help with practise – to schedule practise, and schedule the child’s daily routine, so that it’s not overly crowded with too many activities.

Practise for the beginner level student could be anything from 5 minutes to 15 minutes a day, depending on the child’s age, and it builds up very gradually over the years.

The piano class progresses at a pace the child can cope with. It is important that the teacher does not exceed this pace, because young children get very disheartened and often want to give up the piano when they cannot cope.

It’s important that parents make the time to be present in class, when the teacher sets goals or targets for students. Because children often want to reach goals their daily routine, their learning style and practise schedule does not support.

Please read Why young students give up the piano and Coping with the overscheduled child in piano class

Coping with the over-scheduled child in piano class

This is the child who never has a week-day at home after school… who does not get enough unstructured play time, that is necessary, for a child of his/her age.

This child has lot of hobby classes, and yet, never spends time on any hobby just for fun, only when there’s homework. This child is learning to just do what is required for each hobby class, and does not explore ideas of his/her own.

This is a child does not read at home – who goes for a reading class….who does not just put music on and dance madly, like we did – he goes for dance class…who cannot just stay home and draw for the pleasure of it – she goes to art class.This child, cannot just explore one hobby class at a time, until one of them fits…..he has to do them all – from age 5 onwards.

This child may grow to be an 8 year old, who has difficulty answering a question, if it differs from what he/she is thinking about….. often does not listen to what is being asked….. memorises very quickly and does everything by rote.

I can see what’s happening, because I’m sometimes struggling to help children learn. I talk to parents, and find, that they’re quite comfortable with their child’s hectic schedule, until things start to go wrong….until both the piano teacher and the child’s school teacher have the same problem – because the child – who has absolutely no learning disabilities, is still having difficulty learning!

My talking – about choosing 1 hobby (even if it means stopping piano class) and 1 sport activity to focus on, often falls on deaf ears, and I now know how it goes.

So, I’m doing what I can to change how I teach, writing progress reports in the homework book, with the occasional email, and finally, when I reach a point where all efforts have failed, I’m talking to parents because their child’s reaching a point where I can’t actually go on teaching…where, if I don’t let the student go, I’m at the risk of losing both my patience and my temper… And evidently, this is what was needed…..a wake up call!! An article worth a read : The truth about piano lessons

Why the IIT approach to piano practise holds back piano students..

Does your approach to scheduling piano practise stop your child from learning?

This term “IIT approach” was coined by one of my piano parents, and I thought it was perfect, as it represents the attitude of the average India parent, with regards to studies. “Work hard, with the exam as a clear goal”

Here’s what it is :

  1. One single large block of practise time – even though it’s too long for the child to focus.

2. This slot is sandwiched between other activities, with few, or no breaks

3. The day of piano class is the same – filled with activities and other appointments, before or after piano class.

What these parents do, is bother about practise only when there’s an exam. When the exam’s over, they’re done, until the next exam work starts. In order for these students to do well, there has to be a constant barrage of little tests and evaluations, which are reflected in a quarterly review of the student. If a piano teacher gives in, piano class is no different from the academic system, which is already putting pressure on students.

The student gets quite stressed before exams and performances, and learns very little repertoire. Sight reading is poor and scales & technique is done, just at the end, to get marks, and is quickly forgotten. The student learns erratic practise habits, which hinder long term piano learning. And piano practise is not fun, but hard work.
These students often learn just 3 exam pieces a year, plus 1 or 2 other pieces!

 

How practise should be

As against this, other beginner level students play daily, and split their practise time into 2 or 3 shorter slots. These students have  leisure time and time to play. They slowly start going to the piano on their own without reminders, just to relax, and try out new pieces, outside of their practise homework.

The day of piano class is kept free of activity, so these students get time to relax after piano class, and therefore retain more of what is taught.

They start to play and practise a lot because it’s how they relax and  have fun. Because learning something new is not a ‘pressure’ for them but a ‘challenge’ which they enjoy. And this is why they’re able to continue to learn the piano, even as the level of difficulty increases, and studies get heavier.