A guide for parents – How to help your child achieve the most from their piano lessons

Grace, aged 8

Here are some answers to a few questions that parents ask me regularly. I appreciate that not all parents are musical (mine aren’t!), but there is plenty that you can do to help your child learn to play the piano. Always try to supervise their practice when they are starting to learn. Be encouraging and supportive, do not tell them off if they can’t play something straightaway. Also, try not to spoon-feed them too much information. If they play a wrong note, they should be given the time to figure this out for themselves. them. Beginner pieces are very short and repetitive, so if the same mistake persists, then you can encourage them to work out for themselves which note it should be.

How much should my child practice each week?

Parents often ask me how much their child should be practicing each week. I always recommend daily practice to achieve the best of your ability. Even five minutes a day will always be more beneficial than 15 minutes spent hurriedly rushing through last week’s homework just before your lesson. A young child of age 5+ should be encouraged to practice 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening. Once they are able to concentrate better, then you can increase this to 10 minutes. I have practice charts available that you can fill in with your child. It is a good visual aid to seeing whether consistent practice is achieved weekly.

How to know if your child is practicing properly:

Even if you are not musical, you can get a sense of when a piece can be played properly or not. If you are not sure, please ask me to play the piece for you, or I can even record the piece for you so that you have a video to watch and listen to when at home.

When practicing, it’s important to make sure your child has mastered one piece before moving on to the next. A piece needs to be played several times before it will be correct.

How to know when a piece has been learned:

  • It should be played fluently from beginning to end without any hesitating or pausing.
  • There will be no wrong notes.
  • The rhythm will be correct. If it is a well-known tune, as many beginner tunes are, then you should be able to hear when it does not sound correct. Encourage your child to sing the song with you, then clap the rhythm, then play it on the piano with the correct rhythm.
  • All the louds and softs are audible. Forte = loud, piano = soft.
  • Are there any staccato (bouncy) notes or accented notes? If so, these must be observed.

There are many ways to fine tune a piece, as listed above in the bullet points. Even in the first month of learning, your child will be introduced to many different aspects of musical interpretation. I always write down new terms in their notebook but if you are struggling to decipher any musical terms, please ask. Also, don’t leave a question till the next lesson. Drop me a text or an email and you’ll get a quick response!

Learning to the play the piano requires a level of determination and dedication as your child will always encounter a piece that will cause them some difficulty and they will need to persevere through the difficult sections to achieve the pleasing end result. I always encourage hard work with an extra star and I will inform you when your child has gone above and beyond. Remember, trying to chip away at a piece bit by bit over the course of several days is better than trying to sit down with a piece once a week for an hour and try to bash out the notes with some hope of it coming together.

Once a student has begun to play hands together, it is still very important to remember that hands separate practice may be required. A new piece should be played very slowly. Don’t worry about the speed – pieces can only be played fast if they are able to master them slowly. Once they know all the notes, dynamic and other musical directions, they can start to play a piece faster.

Encouraging your child’s appreciation of the piano:

If your child has a favourite band or song, I will write an easy version of this piece for them to learn. Current favourite songs include Lady Gaga, Queen, Rihanna, Katy Perry, High School Musical, Camp Rock etc.

I also encourage students to listen to each other’s playing. It gives an idea of what can be achieved with the right level of effort and persistence. I have lots of videos on my web site of my students performing.

I organise trips for students to hear amazing pieces of piano music being performed. Bring your children along so that they can be inspired by hearing great pianists performing with an orchestra. The next trip is in February to see Saint-Saen’s Carnival of the Animals.

Encourage your children to perform infront of family and friends. Why not use Christmas as the setting for a little recital at home? Children love making programmes with information about the pieces that they are playing. They can also do a little bit of research about their pieces and write this in the programme. If they liked dressing up, then they can wear their party clothes and take a bow at the end of their performance. Every performers appreciates a hearty round of applause at the end of a performance! Make these performances a regular occasion, perhaps when their friends come round for tea, or when relatives come to visit.

Not all children like performing in public, but many enjoy the opportunity to take part in a formal recital. I organise yearly concerts for my students and I also enter them into competitive music festivals such as Beckenham, Bromley and Croydon Music Festivals. These competitions can be a bit nerve-wracking at first, but the more of them that you do, the less you will be bothered by them. I think it’s a useful life skill to not be too nervous when you have to stand up and perform in public. It usually makes you more confident with public speaking which often arises during a school and work career. The great thing about the music festivals is that you receive a verbal and written critique of your performance from the judge, a certificate and if you are one of the lucky ones, a medal! It’s also a measurable achievement of your hard work and all students feel a sense of great pride when they take part.

I issue written reports each half-term. Take the time to check whether your child knows all the new symbols and notes that I have written down on the report. I also write a goal to achieve with their practice over half-term, so the more time you can spend with them supervising their practice, the better.

A few tips and hints:

  • Check your child’s posture. Are they sitting near enough to the piano? Is the stool high enough for them? Ideally they should be sitting on an adjustable piano stool. Avoid crossed legs, legs on the stool, sitting off to one side, slumping etc. Just as ballet teaches good posture, children need to be encouraged not to sit in an odd way at the piano.
  • Are their fingernails short? If not, they will not be able to feel the keys properly. Keep these regularly trimmed, a quick trim before lessons does the trick!
  • Fingers should be curved, this is the optimum hand position for playing the piano. It helps you reach lots of notes quicker than if you play with super-straight fingers. It also enables you to have the black notes within comfortable reach.

About Lorraine

Head Teacher at the SE22 Piano School, a private piano teaching practice in East Dulwich, South London. I work with a fantastic team of teachers offering piano, harpsichord & music theory lessons to adults and children from the age of 4. www.se22piano.co.uk
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