Behind Every Successful Piano Student …

One of the lessons  I’ve learnt as a parent is that I need to be more stubborn than my kids.  While I am being a bit facetious, one of the things that has helped us immensely as parents is ensuring our boys have a clear role in our family along with consistent, well-defined tasks.  Part of that is being more stubborn than our kids.

I was reminded of this when I heard what I am dubbing the ‘best quote ever on piano parenting’.

“Behind every successful piano student is a parent who is just a wee bit stubborn & persistent than the student is.”

~ Hetty Jagersma

My fellow Canadian, Hetty, points out that kids don’t want to practice consistently.  They would rather do other fun things.

As a parent myself, I can empathize with not wanting to add yet another task to our daily schedule … especially when that task is reminding my kids to do something.  (“Yes, you do need to brush your teeth right now.  For over 8 years, those teeth of yours have been getting cleaned right before bed.  This not something that is new!”)

But as a piano teacher, it is part of my job to ensure parents know how important regular practice is for consistent progress AND their role in ensuring that regular practice happens.

behind-every-successful

How to create stubborn piano parents …

Or, at least give them the tools to support their child(ren) in their practice.

  1. Be clear about practice expectations & parental involvement upfront.  Every new family has a ‘meet & greet’ with me before they are accepted into the studio.  Not only do I meet with potential students, but I also meet with their parent(s) to discuss expectations.  Being honest upfront means less hassle later.  And letting parents know that if they are unable to commit to those expectations, piano lessons may not be the best option at this time.  (Though if the situation changes, feel free to call or email back.)
  2. If you didn’t start of with parental involvement, be patient.  When I first started my studio, I did not set parent expectations.  Over the last few years, I have worked with my clients to build up that involvement.  It’s been small steps over the years, but slowly there is more involvement.  And, I haven’t had to give up (many) clients in the process.
  3. Give concrete, specific support.  I believe all parents want to help their child(ren).  They just may not know how to go about it.
    • Make a weekly schedule.  One of the things I have consistently done with my students (& sometimes their parents as well) is create a weekly schedule.  Everything extra curricular is added to the calendar … including practice times.  Then, I get my students to show their parents at the end of lesson.  I request that it is placed in a prominent place & reminders are given at the time of scheduled practices.  Now, I have students or families that do this on their own each year.
    • At the end of lesson, show them what to look for during the week.  If a student has a specific goal to work towards that is easy for a parent to observe, I get the student to show their parent.  This week, one of my little ones will be playing scales & chords hand over hand.  His mom now knows that he should have the bench pushed out of the way so he can stand & move easily from octave to octave without the (albeit cute) butt shuffle on the bench.
    • Send pictures or videos.  Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.  I was shocked at how clear it was for a parent once I showed a picture of her son’s tense fingers & relaxed fingers (taken while he was playing at lesson).  Now, at a glance she can easily see what his hands should look like as he plays.
  4. Remind parents of developmentally appropriate expectations.  Parents will need to have different levels of involvement depending on the age & maturity of their child(ren).  Young children need to be told when to practice (It is time to practice so let’s go to the piano.), have someone read their practice goal & guide them through their practice session.  Pre-teens don’t need someone to read the practice page, but still need reminders of when to practice & someone to check in with them as they practice.  Teens can be quite independent during practice time, but tend to like showing off their mad skills … especially to an appreciative audience who comments on their progress.
  5. Give parents the (non-musical) vocabulary to support their child(ren).  “But, I’m not musical at all!”  I’ve heard it over & over from piano parents.  And, over & over I tell them that they don’t need to know the specific terminology or how to read music in order to support their child(ren).  Some of the things I encourage them to focus on:
    • Their child’s attitude & perseverance when something is challenging
    • Their child’s willingness to practice consistently
    • Progress from day to day (or week to week)… less stopping for mistakes & more flow (steady tempo)
    • If their child added interest to the song through changes in volume (dynamics), how they played the notes (articulation), or adding something new (improvisation).
    • Asking their child to teach them something new to increase their musical vocabulary

Your ways of supporting piano parents

Being a piano parent is a special, but sometimes overwhelming role.  As piano teachers, we are in a unique position to not only guide our students on their musical journey, but their parents as well.

If you would like to hear Hetty’s interview & thoughts on teaching, please listen to her interview on the Piano Parent Podcast with Shelly Davis.

How do you help piano parents support their children?  Leave your comments below.

Have a great weekend!

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3 thoughts on “Behind Every Successful Piano Student …

    1. Shelly, thank you so much for the kind words, as well as the shout-out. I listen to your podcast as I drive from home to home & appreciate hearing your perspective on helping piano parents. It has given me new ideas & reminders on how I can continue to support them.

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