‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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’
I have just 2 piano students in Bandra, 2 hours away from where I live and I needed a break from the long commute for a little while. I was on leave in April and taught just 2 in-studio classes (alternate weeks) there in the month of May.
It was holiday time, and one of my students, a 9 year old boy, was home with lots of time to practise. So we did a ‘Video class’ in April, and we tried a couple of ‘Skype Lessons’ in May.
I’ve always been very hesitant about anything other than ‘in-studio’ classes, because the medium restricts the teacher’s ability to demonstrate playing technique and correct the student when there’s wrong technique, posture, etc. Playing duets, which students really enjoy, can be a problem if there’s a time lag. Introducing off the bench activities require a little bit of effort and innovation – it’s something I really need to work on. We had connectivity issues at one class that took a few minutes of class time at the first class, but the second class went fine.
After teaching two skype classes, I still see that it’s not the same as teaching in-studio. However, there are some benefits to online teaching that I overlooked. They’re benefits that in-studio teaching does not have, and they’re huge!
Skype teaching needs a slightly different skill set to in-studio teaching. It’s a new medium for me, so I really need to work on how to improve my ability to demonstrate and teach playing technique through this medium. I also need to work more on introducing the fun element to online teaching, as it needs different kinds of games and challenges, to what I do in-studio.
I still like teaching in-studio, and will continue to teach that way. However, I’m excited about online teaching, as a supplement to regular in-studio classes. The benefits made me interested enough that I’m working on trying to learn new skills to improve my online teaching skills.
There’s a quick and easy way to judge whether a student is doing well in piano class. And that is whether the student can learn new easy pieces independently from the very first.
Young beginner students who understand and learn, generally start coming to class within a month or two, having learned an new easy piece on their own. Students with learning difficulties, poor exposure to education or discipline issues take longer. However, even with these students, there will be visible signs of comprehension and a slow growth in learning independence over time.
An inability to learn independently is nothing to do with lack of musical talent, as many parents think. The vast majority of students (even those that parents think have no talent,) develop musicality, when they get the following :
Rather than lack of talent, an inability to learn independently would suggest either that the teaching approach is not working, or that the student does not get the kind of support he/she needs at home, that is necessary for daily piano practise and theory homework.
At this age, learning 1,2,3 of the above mostly correct with a new piece and trying to do the balance would indicate comprehension, interest and growing independence.
Piano class does not just teach a students to play. It strives to go beyond that and teach students how to teach themselves – to understand, learn how to practise, and then learn pieces independently, trying to get as much done, without the teacher’s help.
This frees class time, so that the piano teacher can move on, from just teaching the basics, to the teaching the student to understand the finer aspects of excellence in playing, and to gradually learning higher level music.
So, I’m asking all my students this very important question…
The piano teacher points to a note and asks the student to name it. The student answers correct, if you consider that he/she is looking at a note somewhere else, and answering. And it’s the same with written instructions like ‘Name the first note at the top left of the page.’
The teacher needs to ask this child to point out the note he/she is talking about, and will then see that her student knows everything but is just not paying attention, so is looking in the wrong place and answering. There’s a lot more kids like this in recent years.
This student had difficulty paying attention from the very first class and it took the teacher a few classes to figure out the problem. He/she needed very patient teaching, lots of questions, asked in different ways, so it got his/her attention.
Practise at home needed parent support and a daily home routine was very essential, and things improved. The student was doing very well, both at school and at piano class, until a month of busy, when the daily home routine fell into disarray.
One might say that this student has some symptoms of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), only that there’s nothing wrong with this child. Apart from the fact that he/she needs the amount of parent time, play time, plus a routine and structure to the day, that most children of my generation had on a regular basis, because it was the way things were done then.
ADD and ADHD are real, and both teachers and parents need to be aware, to catch it. But when all it takes to get these kids to be super attentive, is a regular dose of old style parenting, my feeling is that not ADD, but a lifestyle issue.
Many teachers and parents can make the mistake of thinking it’s a discipline problem, and may try to change the child’s behaviour by scolding, lecturing, shouting and punishing. A piano teacher often gets parents, who have already reached that point at which this is starting to happen at home.
And this does not work. It beats the child up inside, because this child is usually very sweet, cooperative and willing to try, if someone takes the time to look deep enough. It’s important that the piano teacher is patient, and gives the student time to open up, and then figure out how to get the student to move forward.
These students are talented, bright and interested, and often so enthusiastic about playing that they come to class with a brain working on overtime with lots of different ideas. Starting piano class listening to music made a big big difference, and helped these kids focus better.
Many of my young students are the first in their families to learn to play the piano and don’t have exposure to music at home. And that is a part of the problem with focus in piano class, and I think, a way forward. Because listening to music is a wonderful way to deal with moods and emotion and is very therapeutic.
It’s pretty simple to make listening to music a part of a child’s daily routine, and help parents with 2 important tasks that most parents struggle with –
Children also need to be able to play music on their own, and it’s worth investing in a reasonably priced music system.
Today’s busy lifestyle and lack of family time puts kids under pressure. There are many working parents, who manage to find a balance, but there are a lot who don’t. A lot more children as compared to earlier, are being brought up by maids, while their parents are away at work. It’s putting pressure on children and it’s something we need to think about.
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“You teach the piano? That’s wonderful! What do you do with the rest of your time?”
Many piano teachers hear variations of this. From friends, relatives and even parents of new students, who think piano teaching happens just at class time. They see the joy that a teacher feels when students do well, and don’t seem to see what goes into helping a student get there.
New piano parents often understand what the profession is about only after their child joins piano class and they see the piano teacher helping their child with practise, learning, & discipline issues that crop up from time to time. When they to see how piano class and the teaching method has had a positive effect on their child’s personality.
After some time, the same parents have gotten to know their child’s piano teacher and can see what goes into piano teaching and have another question.
“Just how do you get the time to fit all the things you do into your busy teaching day ?“
Parents often think that piano teaching is just a 1 hour class once a week for the teacher.
Here’s a print from a brochure I keep handy, for parents of all new students to read….It helps parents see that the piano teaching is a ‘profession’ as well as a vocation for the teacher – as opposed to being a ‘hobby’ for the teacher…..and therefore, contributes to better teacher-parent relationships.
Your fees pay for :
Teacher’s please feel free to use this – either as is, or with modifications that you think necessary.. here’s the link that made me realise the importance of educating parents about fees Where does my tuition go
Here’s a list of 7 questions that come up over the course of piano teaching. I’m addressing these answer’s specifically to the parents of my new beginner students.
1) Does my teaching approach suit the parent and child? Do the parent, student and teacher have the same goals?
Parents and students goals change over time, so these are questions I constantly asks myself. Because the teaching styles of different teachers are different, and there may come a time when the student needs a change.
I keep parents involved with what’s happening in piano class through comments in the homework book, emails and phone calls where necessary. When children give trouble or go through difficult phases relating to learning, I rely a lot on parent support, and this helps both me and the student, as it has a very very positive impact on learning.
Parents of young children who don’t wish to be involved in piano class and want their child’s learning to happen without any involvement at home, definitely need a teacher with a different approach.
2) How quick does the class progress?
This depends entirely on whether your child practises regularly or not. Children who practise get taught something new, and children who don’t practise, mostly revise work they’ve forgotten.
3) Should I correct my child’s practise mistakes?
The answer to this is a big big NO. Your child needs, from the first, to listen and correct his/her own mistakes. You may however help, by asking questions to make your child listen and think. For example :
“Did you play correct? Can you play it again, it sounds so good!” Your 5 year old child might say it was correct, even when it was wrong, but will play a second time and will automatically be paying more attention – is more likely to hear a mistake, and stop and correct it. Teacher’s correct mistakes and explain in class, so your child will learn to hear mistakes fairly quickly.
This approach eventually leads to really good – and independent learning.
4) What do I do when my child practises regularly, with great enthusiasm and committment, but practises WRONG?
Here’s when you need to talk to me – preferable on the phone, so your child can’t hear, and we can talk about what needs to be done to remedy this. I write instructions in the homework book, which you can help your young child read and follow, and will take up any special learning issues your child has.
5) Why do we need targets or goals?
Parents pay a fee in expectation that their child will learn, and the teacher spends valuable time on a student with the same hope. Setting targets helps the parent, student and teacher work towards a common end. The purpose of the target is not to put pressure on the student, and I say this very very emphatically!
Rather, it is to ensure that progress in piano class happens with absolutely no pressure, so the young student thinks of piano playing as a fun and relaxing thing to do.
6) Why does the parent need to be ‘around’ to implement practise. Can’t they just tell their child to ‘go practise’ or ‘get practise done’?
The piano is a very lonely instrument, unlike the violin or guitar, where students have more opportunities to play in groups. Young children whose parents implement practise by saying ‘play for me’ because -’ I love to hear you’ or ‘I find listening to you fun or relaxing’ usually have children who grow to love the routine of piano practise.
They develop a routine, because their parents taught them this, by being around every day. It surprises me, that even working mother’s are able to make time to do this..until I realise, it’s not just because they enjoy their child playing, though that’s a part of it.
More, it’s because they realise there’s long term value to their child’s musical development, and are willing to put in the regular effort that is necessary to help their child learn.
7) My child gets some things well and struggle with some others
Piano playing is a lot of learning. It takes time to work on a piece and get it right. Sometimes, children work very hard and it still takes time. If the homework book shows that 50% of your child’s work is good – your child is doing well.
As the level of difficulty increases, the pieces get harder, and your child grows up, results take more time. This is when your child and I the teacher, need your help – to reinforce the idea that even good students struggle.
In fact, the life of a pianist is a constant effort to be better – because learning never ends. What your child is now learning, is enjoy learning. To be confident in the face of a struggle – the struggle to learn. To be mature in the face of adversity, and to keep trying, even when things get tough. It is very true, that piano students learn skills in piano class that help them get through life.
A warm welcome to all my new students and their parents – to the joy and the challenge of learning to play the piano.
“Does the goal of the parent and the piano student match with the skill set of the piano teacher?”
Obviously, every piano student wants to learn to play the piano. That aside, piano class involves teaching a lot of non-piano related stuff, that help a student grow into a pianist.
Piano pieces are taught in a way that teach a child all of above, and a little time is spent, on any learning or discipline needs (that disrupt piano class) specific to the student. This helps the young student enjoy the challenge of learning to play the piano.
So, Piano Parent’s I’m asking you to think of your goal and what you want out of piano class. Because we need to all work together.
Because for me and other teacher’s like me, ‘Teaching students to learn music on their own’ as against ‘Teaching them to play music’ is a very real goal of piano class.
‘Parents thinking a child can practise alone, is a major reason why children stop piano study’ .. i quote here, from a blog by the Vahl Piano Studio.
The blog makes an interesting point, that students give up, because they can’t progress.. because they don’t practise enough to learn something new every time..
That when parents assume their children will practise on their own, it mostly just leads to a child quitting.
That children need help in scheduling practise and in keeping to the schedule. They also need to be reminded to practise all the homework given, because left to themselves, they often forget to do quite a bit. That it is the parents who help their child, who, i quote ‘cultivate a student who is committed for the long term.’
The blog is worth a read and explains how parents can help their child. I won’t repeat what’s written, simply because its written so well – here it is for you to read ‘Why students stop piano study