If I could close my eyes and make a wish for my piano students it would probably be “regular practice every week”, and I am sure that if I shared that wish with other piano teachers they would probably agree.
As piano teachers, we work very hard and sometimes we spend a lot of time thinking about ways and strategies to engage and motivate our students, such as fun exercises, games, working on music they enjoy, rewards, etc. Unfortunately, in my personal experience I have realized that none of these strategies work if we don’t take care of an essential piece of the puzzle, which is parental support.
Every student needs support at home, directly or indirectly. I feel very lucky that most of my piano students receive a lot of support from their environment. However, the concept of support is sometimes understood in very different ways depending on the parents and their education and background. Even if some parents have the best intention to motivate and support their kids, sometimes they might be doing it in a way that could get negative or toxic.
A very common confusion is mixing the concepts of SUPPORTING and SUPERVISING. Sometimes, supervising can be positive, mostly when a student has special needs or requires help with certain aspects. However, when supervising turns into the only way of supporting, it might have negative effects. These are the ones I have observed during my teaching experience:
Students get dependent on this supervision and they are not able to study without it. They feel insecure when they don’t have it.
Students feel a lot of pressure from their parents. Parents supervise them with their best intention, but the result they normally get is the opposite.
Students don’t see practicing piano as an activity they do for fun and interest or to develop a skill, but they see it as an assignment they have to do for a lesson.
Therefore, what are positive ways to support piano students at home? Here I mention some examples that always work with my students’ parents. As teachers, it is always nice to share this advice with parents who want to support their children and sometimes don’t know how. I am not a mother myself, but I know that parents are not taught how to deal with everything. Sometimes, they want to help their children but they don’t have an instruction manual, so helping them in the process of supporting their children in piano practice can even be a relief for them.
Positive ways to support piano students at home:
Ask your child to play something for you: This way, they feel parents are interested in what they do. Children don’t need to feel their parents are understanding what they are playing, they only want to see that you are interested! In fact, according to Borthwick and Davidson (2002) in Developing a child’s identity as a musician, even if there are more factors that influence children’s musical identities, the parents’ musical beliefs and experiences and the way their parents regard them in the role of musician are of central importance. Then, parental involvement seems to be essential in children’s musical development.
Listen to music at home: You can listen to the pieces your kid is playing, but also dare to explore. When I was a child, I remember my mum and I used to listen to a different composer every week. One week was Mozart’s week and the next one was Brahms’ week!
Go to concerts: It doesn’t need to be a very long or dense concert. Sometimes there are a lot of concerts going on in our town or neighbourhood, so it can be as easy as searching for a bit of information and just going! This can be even combined with the previous activity. If you have been listening to a Mozart’s Piano Concerto at home and there is a concert where it is going to be performed, I’m very sure you will feel very connected to the piece and motivated after the concert! It can also happen the other way around: if you see there is a concert and a certain piece is going to be performed, you can start listening to it at home.
Ask your child to teach you an easy song: This is another strategy to make them feel that parents are interested in what they are doing, but it even has more positive effects. By doing this, kids need to analyze the way they study to be able to teach it to someone. This could be a very positive alternative for “supervising”.
Organise concerts at home: This is a great activity with multiple benefits! It doesn’t need to be a big and formal concert, it can also be a gathering with friends or close relatives. This way, piano students feel that these people who are listening are interested in what they do and will feel supported. Also, they get the opportunity to play for people and normalize that situation (which will probably help them to avoid stage fright in the future). Moreover, they might also feel that all the work they do during the week is also something they can share and it doesn’t stay only in the practice room.
Go to piano lessons regularly: It sounds very obvious, but it is very necessary to mention. I see a lot of cases of kids who are involved in a lot of after-school activities or have a lot of hobbies. In these cases, it is sometimes difficult for children and families to set priorities. It is very important to help parents understand that it is very important for piano students to go to piano lessons to keep their motivation and to really make improvements every week. In fact, according to Costa-Giomi (2004), children who drop out of piano lessons are usually the ones who miss more lessons.
Make piano practice an activity: In some cases, I see that some parents think that practicing piano is similar to doing homework. However, it makes a big difference when both parents and kids see practicing piano as an activity they do everyday (as well as going to school, or doing sports). Mostly when they are very young, it is not necessary to practice for a long time: in these cases the goal is not studying for a long time, but making piano practice be an activity that takes place every day (habit). What can also help is choosing a specific moment of the day that is always booked for piano practice.
Communication between parents and teacher: As I mentioned in my last post It takes us all, if a piano student takes lessons once a week, the responsibility of engaging and motivating the student belongs to the teacher only in the moment of the lesson but afterwards only the student and his/her parents are responsible. Therefore, there must be an agreement between parents and teacher to set goals, priorities and a clear guidance for the student.
Focus more on the process and not so much on the outcome: Enjoying the process is what will make children develop their own interest and motivations. If there is too much focus on the outcome or external goals, it is possible that the interest to practice piano doesn’t come intrinsically from the student.
I hope you found this advice helpful! If you have more ideas (as a teacher, parent or even student), you can share them in the comments!
I wanted to thank René Maurer, piano and methodology teacher, for our fruitful conversations about piano education, and for inspiring and encouraging me to write this post! And also Eider Armendariz, violinist and friend, who has a mind full of ideas and cretivity which also inspired me for this post.
Borthwick, S.J., & Davidson, J.W. (2002). Developing a Child's Identity as a Musician: A "Family" Script perspective.
Costa-Giomi, E. (2004). “I Do Not Want to Study Piano!” Early Predictors of Student Dropout Behavior. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 161/162, 57–64. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40319238