The Path to Success: The first twelve months of piano lessons

Monday, August 29, 2016 by Steven Wall | For Parents

So you have decided to make the investment in piano lessons for your child.

With any luck your child will have a lovely time spending thirty minutes each week with their piano teacher. Piano teachers are notoriously lovely people, after all. If you have chosen the right piano teacher who is adept in teaching a healthy piano technique, your child is bound to have fun and look forward to going along to lessons each week.

Some children don’t need to be reminded to practice. Most, however, will need your guidance and support to help manage their time effectively in between each paid lesson. Otherwise their progress may be quite slow.

Here are some easy tips to help get them started:

  • Schedule piano practice into the daily household timetable

Make a practice schedule and stick to it.

Nothing but nothing will replace actual time spent on the piano, each and every day.

Piano practice needs to become as automatic as brushing teeth every day. It needs to become as essential as eating fruit and vegetables every day.

Now this is the bit that you might not want to hear: Just like teeth brushing and eating fruit and vegetables, it is potentially going to be a daily battle for parents.

However, if you put in the effort in the initial months to help them, I am certain that your child will start to enjoy playing because they will be confident to sit at the piano and play unsupervised. That’s where the fun begins! They will have learned some pieces. They may be able to read music and they will be able to commence exploring their own repertoire.

Scheduling piano practice into a daily routine is the singular most important piece of advice I could give the parent of a young beginner.

For example, it could work like this:

  • 7 am – The piano student has one hour to have breakfast, get dressed, brush their teeth, have their hair done and put on their shoes.
  • 8 am – Piano practice! After some months of following this routine, they know that they need to be sitting down at the piano to practice no later than eight o’clock.
  • 8.20 am – Leave the house to walk to school.

The piano student knows this routine happens every school morning, regardless of whether mum or dad is with them.

“Scheduling piano practice into a daily routine is the singular most important piece of advice I could give the parent of a young beginner.”

I would highly recommend the morning practise session, but afternoon and evenings work well also. You will need to set the expectation that practice is something that happens daily and is not negotiable. This is where the next item comes in handy:

  • Give the student encouragement

Here are some ideas about what to say to encourage your piano student, especially if you don’t know much about music:

  • That sounds great!
  • I wonder how that one would sound up an octave? (higher)
  • Oh, can you play that one again! It’s my favourite!
  • How do you think that one would sound if you played it really loud/soft/slow?

If your child is struggling with a difficult passage, you could try asking:

  • Do you think you could play that section of the piece again? I really like that bit!

In this way, encourage them to spend more time practicing smaller sections of the piece, especially to overcome difficulties. Basically, any encouragement which prolongs the student’s practice session is good.

Praise is constructive when it acknowledges the piano student’s effort. It should be proportionate to the amount of effort put in. Too much praise for too little effort may not be effective. The same goes for rewards. Reward your child for their efforts. The reward doesn’t have to be big or expensive, as long as it recognises the effort your child has put in.

  • Attend your child’s weekly piano lesson.

This is very important, especially in the beginning. Your attention during the lesson may be invaluable later during the week. As well as attending the paid piano lesson, follow through by sitting down once a week with your child for an intensive practice session together. Ideally, this is most effective as soon as practicable after the weekly lesson, for example, the next day.

Sit down with your piano student and go through their assigned piece/s. Try to make the session as fun as possible and try to be as cheery as possible.

Sometimes this is very difficult. The thing is that even the smartest piano student in the world may not remember what they are supposed to be practicing.  If you help them remember what was asked of them by their teacher during their weekly lesson, it will set up their weekly practice routine.

Your child needs you, and needs your help with this!