There are 4 ways I find an oasis of quiet or stillness in our home:

  1. The twins are out of the house.
  2. The twins are asleep.
  3. I’m in my office working as I listen to music … & someone else is in charge of the kidlets.
  4. We are all reading at the same time.

So when I go to my clients’ homes it doesn’t surprise me that we can often hear life going on around us during lesson.  Some families have the piano right in the middle of everything & others have the piano off in a room by itself.  Both placements have their benefits & challenges.

Finding an Oasis in a Busy Household (that isn’t yours)

Piano in the middle of everything:

  • Benefits:
    • Practice tends to happen often because the piano is so visible
    • Parents are more cognizant of what needs to be practiced (or should have been practiced) since they hear the lesson going on in the background
    • Free advertising for siblings … many a sibling has lobbied to have lessons solely for the stickers & games.
  • Challenges:
    • You hear EVERYTHING going on
    • Students can get really distracted by non-piano topics (“I did NOT take Junie’s doll, mom!”)
    • Siblings occasionally REALLY want to join in … older siblings do not necessarily want their younger sibling sitting close by as the peanut gallery.

 Piano in a room of its own:

  • Benefits:
    • Students are less likely to get distracted by non-piano topics (though it has been my experience that if it’s ‘one of THOSE days’ they are also just as likely to listen even harder for what else is going on outside the room)
    • Siblings are less likely to try to ‘join in’ the lesson
    • Easier to re-direct a student back to the lesson at hand … closing a door, changing activities, etc.
  • Challenges:
    • Parents may send a child to practice, but whether they make it to the room or what actually happens when they get there can be a bit of a mystery
    • Parents have no idea of that happened in lesson & may be very unsure as to how to help during the week

My preferred set-up:

As teachers, we have no control over where a piano (acoustic or digital) is placed in a home.  I personally prefer something that is semi-private, especially for younger students.  A room in which a door can be left open AND the parent(s) can have a clear line of sight to the room during practice time seems to blend the best of both worlds.  It allows some distractions to be blocked out, but it is easy for parents AND students to ensure regular, effective practice is happening.

“The easier it is on a family to ensure that regular, effective practice is happening, the more likely it is to occur.  As a teacher, we can provide guidance to help our families create routines in a practice space that makes it easy for our students to practice AND their parents to provide support as needed.”

~ Rosemarie Penner

How to deal with challenges:

Going into someone else’s home means that while you may be in charge of the piano lesson, everything else that is going on in the home does not fall under your domain.  This can create awkwardness in creating an ideal learning environment.  The best advice I can give is to work WITH the family to create the best situation.

  • Create realistic expectations with the WHOLE family, especially siblings that want to interrupt:
    • “During Tammy’s lesson, we need to go to another part of the house if we want to play with toys.  If you have a question, please wait until the end of lesson.  This will help Tammy focus on what she needs to learn during lesson so she can have awesome practice times during the week.  I am also sure that Tammy will return the favour when YOU need quiet time to complete something as well.” (I always say the last line looking at my student in the eye so they know this is directed to them.)
  • Talk with parents regarding setup of the piano & the practice routine … but, make it easy for them so it actually happens:
    • Make a place right beside the piano for supplies (books, binder, practice supplies, etc) the FIRST lesson … if parents have not already done so.  Help them out by ensuring students place everything back in this space at the end of their lesson.
    • Chair for teacher with a space to place your supplies at the beginning of each lesson.  This doesn’t need to be fancy … I’ve sat in dining room chairs, armchairs, benches, modern style chairs where I had to perch on the end (otherwise I slid to the back), couches, & even little kid chairs.
    • Sufficient light at the piano so you & your student can clearly see what you are doing.  I tend to add a little humour by saying that the older I get the more light I need to see clearly.
  • In the case of irregular practice, make a weekly schedule of all extra curricular activities:  This may involve the parents sitting in during this part of lesson or, just your student if they are a bit older.  We pencil in regular practice time.  Depending on the age of the student, I may require them to show the schedule to their parent(s) at the end of lesson.  At this point, I ask parent(s) to remind their child(ren) for each of those practice times.  It makes it easy for parents since they aren’t the bad guy (you committed to these times) & students tend to take ownership of what they decided.  Remind everyone that progress only happens with consistent, thoughtful practice.
  • Send photos, videos, & tips to parents during lesson:  Keep these specific to what is expected for the week so it gives parents a great visual to show their child THIS is exactly what their teacher expects. (Think of this as the reverse of “But, my teacher said I was supposed to do it THIS way!”)
  • In the case of siblings wanting to join in lesson:  Make their participation in lesson a special occasion.  While we do not want them joining in on a regular basis, we don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm either.  Movement activities are a great choice for non-student involvement.  (“Let’s ALL move to this rhythm!”)
  • Pets constantly want to make an appearance or join in:  I am currently puppy training at one of my student’s homes, but have pet trained in many a home over the years.  We even have video of one student’s dog singing along as she played.  After 2 years, the dog has finally stopped doing this for every-single-song.  At this point, most dogs respond quickly to the hand signals I give them during lesson … or get tired of being told to sit & leave the room.  While I don’t mind pets sitting next to us, you will need to be clear with the family what you expectations are.  If you want their pets to be somewhere else, let the parent(s) know ahead of time in a clear & polite way.  If you don’t mind them being close, that’s fine too.  My rule is that pets can be close by unless they are not willing to sit/lay on the floor silently or are disruptive to the lesson.  If that occurs, they need to be removed from the area.

Your tips for finding an oasis in a busy home (that isn’t yours):

If you travel to your students’ homes, what tips do you have for creating a successful learning space?

If you have your own studio space, perhaps the family waiting area & lesson area are all in the same room … How have you successfully created different sections in the room so that you & your students have that oasis at the piano?

As always, I would love to hear your ideas.  Please leave them in the comment section below so we can continue to learn from each other.

Have a great weekend!

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