What is the Parents Role During Their Childs Piano Lessons?

What is the Parents Role During Their Childs Piano Lessons?

Piano Parent

In order for a piano student to successfully navigate their way through their first several years of piano lessons it is necessary for everyone involved to work together as a team. This team usually consists of the teacher, parent and student. As with any team, each team member has a vital role to play, if the team is to end up being successful. This is very easy to say, but in the real world we all know that it can sometimes be hard work for a team to effectively gel together. ' You only need to watch an episode of “The Apprentice” or “The Celebrity Apprentice” to see how quickly teams can break down and end up losing. Teams lose not because the individual players within the team are weak, they may be very strong - teams lose because each member of the team is either unable or unwilling to play the role they have been assigned within the team. This can happen too in piano lessons. The piano student can lose out if each member of the team fails to adhere to their assigned role. The teacher, student and parents all have a role to play and if any one of these team members is unhappy, unwilling or unable to play their part in the team then everyone in the team ends up losing and unfortunately this ends up affecting the student most of all. <img src="images/blog/piano-lessons-cartoon-strip-1.png Piano Lessons Comic Strip" />

The role of each team member

Having said this, it would be helpful if we could define the role that each member of our team must play in order for piano lessons to be successful in the long term.

  • The teacher should take the lead role</li><li>The parent should take a supportive role
  • The student should spend some time each day doing what their teacher has assigned them to do and try their best to achieve the goals their teacher sets for them each week.

Before lessons begin

The parent’s role begins before lessons start. It is the parent’s role to find the best teacher possible for their child. Parents should make sure they have researched the qualifications, ability and experience of the teacher they choose to guide their child in their studies. The selection of your child’s music teacher is more important than the selection of their hairdresser or dentist. Your child’s music teacher is someone they will see on a weekly basis for a period of many years. Your child’s piano teacher could have a substantial influence on their development as they grow older and is often in a position to be much more influential than any of their regular school teachers due to the fact that piano lessons may be taken over a period of many years. The internet is a great way to learn about a number of teachers before drawing up a short list. Take the time to read the information on their website and their blog, if they have one. The teacher’s role before lessons begin is to make every effort to provide potential students with as much information as possible before students begin a course of piano lessons including details of their studio policy. Most good teachers offer a free lesson where potential students may get to know more about them and the way they work. All good teachers will have a cancellation and makeup lesson policy. If you do not know what this policy is before taking lessons it is always a good idea to ask. Don’t assume that you will be able to cancel lessons at the last minute and automatically be offered a makeup lesson if you have not first discussed this with your teacher or reviewed the teacher’s studio policy. Also, if you have expectations that the teacher will forego the terms and conditions set out in the studio policy under certain circumstances this too should be discussed with the teacher before lessons begin. If a studio policy states that 24 hours’ notice is required to cancel a lesson and your expectation is that the teacher will make an exception for you because of illness, weather, family issues or any other reason, you may be disappointed when the teacher does not allow the exception.

You need to trust your teacher

Parents need to put their full trust and faith in their teacher’s ability to educate their child. This is essential if parents are to feel comfortable following their teacher’s advice, which may sometimes appear counter-intuitive and the reasons for doing certain things in certain ways may not always be obvious or easy to understand, especially in the early stages of learning the instrument. It is very easy for parents to misinterpret the teachers approach to teaching the piano based on a small snapshot of their experience with the teacher and parents should not expect to understand how the work their child is currently being assigned fits into the wider picture of the child’s long term musical education. This is a skill that can take many years to master. Unless the parent has been through this process themselves, by studying an instrument with a teacher for a period of 10 years or more, they are very unlikely to fully appreciate the necessity for doing things in the way they are done. Parents generally do not know how the current work the child is doing fits into the larger picture of musical development and this is another reason that parents need to play a supportive role in the team and follow the leadership provided by their teacher. Teachers utilize a wide variety of teaching techniques in their work and are experts at using the right approach in the right situation. The teaching techniques a teacher uses with a particular student may change as the student progresses through their studies and teaching techniques may change on a week to week basis or for each piece of music the student studies as the student grows in their ability to master each of the essential musical skills required to develop into a well-rounded and mature musician. The teaching techniques a teacher uses will certainly be different for each student the teacher works with depending on the particular strengths and weaknesses of the student concerned. For example, a teacher may place more emphasis on the importance of controlling muscle movements with a student that experiences difficulties with co-ordination and they may place more emphasis on developing rhythmic abilities or memory skills with students that are technically able but weaker in these areas. Teachers may place more emphasis on accuracy with students that are prone to making careless errors or have lapses in concentration when playing a piece of music or they may emphasize reading skills more in lessons if students find it difficult to remember note names or lack the ability to track the notes in their music book as they play. Parents are advised not to fixate on one technique they see the teacher use as this may lead them to falsely assume that “this is how the teacher does it”. A good teacher will naturally adjust their expectations of the student based on the needs of the student and the way the teacher approaches lessons with your child will most certainly be different from the way the teacher approaches lessons with the student who arrives for their lesson after you. Parents need to put their trust in their teacher and respect that the advice their teacher gives them should be followed. It is usually not helpful for the parent to constantly challenge the validity of the advice they are given by their teacher especially if they do not play an instrument themselves and have no solid foundation in practical music making or music education pedagogy.

Asking leaders to play a supportive role

Parents should not try to take the “lead” role during their child’s piano lessons by telling the teacher what they expect the student to work on and how much they expect the student to achieve within any given time frame. This is often more of an issue for parents who are used to leading others in their jobs. Company Presidents and Senior Managers often experience issues when asked to take a supportive role in their child’s musical education as they are so used to being in a leadership role at work and having other people follow their instructions all the time without question. This approach will not work when working with your child’s piano teacher. Once a teacher has been selected the parent’s role is to listen carefully to the advice given by the teacher and be helpful and supportive to the student in their studies. If the parent tries to take a leadership role and constantly challenges the teachers advice and pressures the teacher to change the way they teach their child they are stepping outside the role they should be playing in the team and therefore contributing to the teams downfall.

Expectations of Progress

Whose role is it to set expectations of the progress a student should make in their first few years of lessons? Is it the student, the parent or the teacher that should set this expectation? You may believe it is the role of the parent to set expectations of progress because they are the ones funding the lessons, right? Actually, more often than not, it is a mistake for parents to dictate to the teacher what they expect their child to achieve within a given time frame. Good teachers have the experience of working with a wide variety of students, each with their own individual needs, talents, skills, abilities and personal characteristics that all need to be taken into consideration when setting expectations of progress.

The teacher must balance this with the attitude of the student towards practice and the amount of time they spend practicing. The teacher will adjust expectations of progress for each individual student taking all these factors into consideration and set appropriate expectations for each individual student that will challenge them just enough to increase their abilities without overwhelming them. It is often very difficult for parents, many of whom are not musicians and have never taken lessons themselves, to set reasonable expectations of progress for their child. Setting expectations for individual students is one of the teacher’s most important roles and needs to be handled with great care. Parental expectations often neglect to take into consideration many of the critical variables that the teacher is trained to work with and parent’s expectations are often based on no more than “what they see other children doing”.

In this example the parent wants to take a “lead role” in the team, when they should be playing a support role. Just like the team in the Apprentice, this team will very likely lose in this situation. There is a difference between a committed and motivated student who practices for an hour every day and student that only spends a couple of minutes a day practicing and wants to “get it over with as soon as possible”. Parents should not expect these two very different types of students to achieve the same results, however, all too often parents fail to take this fact into consideration when discussing expectations of progress for their own child. Teachers appreciate that there is a difference in what students who are motivated to practice for longer periods of time can achieve and they set their expectations accordingly. For students with less time to practice the teacher will be skilled at still making lessons fun and engaging while at the same time encouraging the student to do more. Parents should be mindful that there are many factors that influence the amount of progress that their child makes on the piano. If the desired amount of progress is not being made, believe it or not, it is not always the fault of the teacher.

Over time, with the right approach, a student’s love of music and desire to practice may grow if they are given the opportunity to learn within a supportive environment, but a child’s enthusiasm for music can be easily squashed by unreasonable and excessive parental expectations of progress in the early years of playing the piano. Many parents believe they should dictate to the teacher the direction and content of the learning that takes place in lessons because they “know their child better” or because their child has some “special circumstances” that the teacher will be unable to understand. Parents should understand that after many years of experience working with a wide variety of students, who all bring their own set of strengths and weaknesses to the table, it is highly unlikely that the teacher will encounter a child that they cannot teach without the help of the parent. In the unlikely event that a teacher should encounter a student they are unable to help the teacher will most certainly make a point of asking the parents for their assistance. Having taken the time to carefully select the best teacher for their child, parents should not assume that the teacher will be unable to teach their child without their regular input. The parent’s role is to listen to the teacher’s advice and encourage their child to practice – not direct the learning that takes place. A hands on approach to their child’s music lessons is not always the best approach for parents to take and there is a lot to be said for stepping back and allowing the teacher and student the space they need in order to be able to work together effectively.

Getting value out of music lessons

The biggest mistake parents can make is to try and place a financial value on what their child learns in their lesson each week. “I just paid $100 for lessons and she only finished two pieces of music!!” The study of music takes years and there will be an investment to make in your child’s education. Look back at what your child achieved over the last year and ask yourself if it has been worth the investment. Don’t try and do this on a weekly basis. Look back at what your child was studying a year ago ask the student and teacher how they feel about the progress they have made. Don’t try to take a “hands on” role on a week to week basis. If you have done your job properly by selecting a good teacher in the first place let the teacher lead the learning. Results will be better in the long run and your team is much more likely to end up winning if everyone plays their role.

But my child is not progressing through the book fast enough

Musical skills build on each other. One level has to be fully mastered before the next level can be attempted. Playing piano is not like studying Geography or History where you can quite happily jump from “book A” to” book B” even if you missed most of what happened in book A. The student has to spend time with the music at each level before they are ready to move on. If a student only practices for 5 minutes a day they should expect to spend longer at level A than a student who practices for an hour every day. If a student only practices a couple of days a week they should expect to spend more weeks on each piece of music than a student who practices every day. Attempting a “level B” piano course before “level A” has been fully mastered is a recipe for disaster. No music teacher worth his salt will allow this to happen unless there is excessive parental pressure (or pressure from the music school boss!) to do so - and all “good” music teachers will avoid this unhealthy situation at all costs by working with parents to manage their expectations and help them understand what constitutes good progress for their own child given their own particular mix of circumstances. Learning piano is not like studying other subjects at school where all the students in a class are expected to progress on to the next book at the same time. Actually it is a great strength of individual instrumental lessons that the pace of the course studied may be tailored to exactly suit the requirements of the individual student. Parents who push their teachers to assign pieces of music to their child that are too difficult or beyond their current skill level are not only failing to understand the most basic pedagogical concepts in music education, but they are also failing to play their role correctly in the team and they will surely cause the teams downfall sooner rather than later.

Don’t make excuses for your child if they fail to reach the goals set by the teacher

Don’t pressure the teacher to move on to more difficult music if the student’s current assignment has not been completed to a satisfactory standard. The teacher will always be in a better position than the parent to adjust the goals and expectations they set for the student.

Don’t assume that the teacher’s expectations for your child are unrealistic

With years of experience music teachers are very skilled at setting weekly expectations for their students. Moving on to the next piece of music in the book may make you feel better now but if you routinely progress to more difficult pieces of music before you are ready it will only be a matter of time before you are unable to make any further progress at all. It is only by completing each assignment to a satisfactory standard that the student becomes ready to move on to more complex material. It is the teacher’s role to judge if the students’ performance is satisfactory or if some more time should be spent on a piece of music. This decision should not be made by the parent. Parents should not pressure teachers to continue on through the book if the student has not had chance to get to know the material currently being studied. It is a fact of life that some students learn faster than others and some students take longer to master the material that needs to be absorbed at each level. Students that only do minimal levels of practice will often forget material that they have previously covered and additional lesson time may be required to go over previously covered ground.

If your child needs extra time at their current level the best thing the teacher can do is to give the student extra practice by introducing supplementary materials to study or going over some previously studied material again. If your teacher suggests spending more time at the current level rather than immediately progressing on to the next level you should be grateful that your teacher recognizes that your child needs to spend extra time to build their current level of ability and not become annoyed with the teacher because your child is not progressing onto the next book fast enough or view this as a sign that the teacher is taking the wrong approach with your child. In summary;

  • The student’s role is to have fun learning.
  • The parent’s role is to encourage and praise their children during their lessons and listen to the advice given by the teacher.
  • Everything else is the role of the teacher.

Respect your teacher, follow their advice and you can be sure your child will make the most of their potential based on their level of musical talent, motivation and the amount of time they have available to spend practicing. Your child is like a seed ready to grow into a tree. It needs the right environment to grow and trying to force it to grow any faster won’t work. Enjoy the journey.

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