Fall is in the air, the kids are back in school, and it's time for piano lessons to begin! In addition to offering fabulous brain benefits for kids, playing the piano is fun and rewarding. Creating something beautiful, learning to express themselves, and mastering a challenging skill over time gives developing musicians the fuel to keep learning.
Getting back into the routine of practice after a chilled out summer can come with its own challenges! Read on to learn 10 things you can do beginning with your very first lesson to help your student stay in the groove this year.
1. Remember what you love about music and the piano.
When we're overwhelmed by our busy schedules and worn out from the back to school routine, it can be a great motivational tool to remember why we're becoming musicians to begin with. Explore some music you love live or online with your child, review or reminisce about really fun pieces they've played, or make some low key music as a family.
2. Set a practice routine early in the year and stick with it.
Consistency breeds achievement and achievement breeds enjoyment. There is no way to escape the link between regular practice and sticking with lessons. When we're good at something, we find it fun - and when we find it fun, we keep doing it.
3. Resist the urge to overschedule.
Our lives are chronically busy, and if you're like me, you may feel like this busyness is a sign of forward movement and progress. Skills like piano take free time to develop. When kids are forced to squeeze piano in between two hours of sports practice, dinner, and homework, they naturally resist. (I do too!) The inspiration to make music often requires some unscheduled time.
4. Don't mistake dislike of practice for dislike of playing the piano.
After 20 years of teaching piano lessons, I know that there is one thing EVERY student has in common. No one - I repeat - NO ONE likes to practice, at least not all the time. Most kids do love to play when they have mastered a piece.
Does your child ever sit and play a piece they've mastered over and over without reminders? Probably. We all love to play things we're good at, so don't mistake practice resistance for dislike of playing the piano. Motivation ebbs and flows, so help your student ride these peaks and valleys with encouragement and examples of your own perseverance.
5. A little cheerleading goes a long way!
Even if you aren't musical yourself, acknowledging a job well done can go miles in motivating your student to make it through the hard stuff and on to the fun stuff! Word your encouragement in ways that foster a growth mindset. "You have worked so hard on that piece, and it sounds so polished!" makes it clear that hard work brings success, while "You're so talented!" subtly creates the impression that we have no control over our progress.
6. Check in on weekly assignments.
This may go without saying, but basic support like checking in on the week's assignments can be the deciding factor in real success at music lessons. Making sure young students understand the teacher's directions and can find online assignments can be particularly helpful. Very young children almost always need a parent sitting next to them during practice, and until age 10-12, most students need some guidance on how to structure their practice time.
7. Encourage "noodling" and free play.
Not every day's practice has to involve playing method books, scales, and repertoire pieces. While we have to do this frequently to build our skills, free play, improvising, composing, and review are essential elements in musical development. When I was in high school, impromptu arranging sessions of my favorite pieces on the radio saved my progress sometimes! These side projects encouraged me to make my music my own, and I never showed them to my teacher.
8. Communicate regularly with your teacher.
If something is not going well at home, I promise that your teacher wants to know. If something is going great, we also want to know that! If your student has a passion or interest that can be used to motivate them in music lessons, please share it. Parents know their children better than anyone else, and this feedback is vital.
9. Remember that your child is essentially learning a second language.
For all intents and purposes, learning to read and express music makes your child multi-lingual. While the understanding of music by the listener is somewhat universal, the ability to read and "speak" the language of music bears remarkable similarity to learning to read and speak a second language.
Like language acquisition, musical acquisition takes time, repetition, and exposure. Through encouraging regular music reading, review of learned pieces, and listening to quality performances, you can become your student's musical language coach.
10. Don't give up.
As a parent of a high school student enrolled in private music lessons myself, I know that all of this support and encouragement can be seriously HARD sometimes. Life truly is busy, practice fights truly aren't fun, and getting really good at music takes years. It's expensive, it means a lot of driving, and it takes up weekends and family time. It's HARD.
What you are giving to your child is an irreplaceable gift. I have immense gratitude for each and every parent in my studio who drops off their student week after week with materials in hand, supports home practice the best they can, and prioritizes music. The brain benefits of piano are immense, and so are the emotional ones.