Here’s some advice on how to get the most out of your piano lessons and what you can do at home to support your child’s learning. This advice is from Rhinegold’s Parent’s Guide to Music Education.
1) Ensure your child has their music with them.
If your child has lessons at school, pack their school bag the night before with everything that they need. Check their practice diary as well to see if your teacher has asked you to buy any new music. It is amazing how many children turn up to lessons minus everything and although most teachers can conjure a lesson out of mid air, it is not to be recommended every week!
2) Remind and encourage your child to practice.
Younger children often lead busy lives with after school activities and clubs and will need reminding to play or practise. A simple practice chart like this one filled in with stars or stickers usually does the trick. We incentivise all our students to practice daily by offering a prize from the treasure box once they have 10 stars i.e. 10 weeks of daily practice. We also reward our students at our concerts with medals and trophies for hard work and practice.
In the early stages, a small amount of practice on a daily basis is recommended. Very young children only need to do about 5 minutes a day if they are under 5, but once they are over 5 and have started school, consider increasing this to 10 minutes a day. As a rule of thumb, Graded Exams (including Grade 1) usually requires about 30 minutes a day of structured practice if you wish to be on target for completing 1 exam a year which is approximate rate at which we usually progress our students.
3) Perform in Public
As exam or competition times draw nearer, do consider upping the practice time, as well as introducing performance sessions for friends, family and neighbours. We never allow students to enter exams if they have not played their pieces at least once at a mock exam or festival as public performance is vital to enable a student to develop strategies to cope with nerves. We all get nervous but with practice, it becomes less prevalent and you can focus on presenting the best performance possible to the examiner.
4) Take your child to concerts and have music in the home.
If your child is learning a piece by a new composer, why not have a look at the many music venues that we have in London and find some concerts that have this composer’s pieces in their programme? It doesn’t matter if it is not a piano piece – live music on any instrument is a great way to start building your child’s appreciation of music. You can also get some great discounts for under 16s at lots of venue, plus there are plenty of events tailored for families. However, if your child can sit quietly through a concert, then do not be afraid of taking them to an evening recital. Try and engage in a discussion about what they liked about the music – what emotions does it evoke, when do they think it was written, what kind of music does it remind them of. Also discuss the performer – encourage them to be a little music critic! Perhaps they will pick up some useful tips about performing – they make like the way the performer bows before or after the performance, they might be impressed by their evening dress, or they might not be so keen on the way they play all hunched over the piano (this is dependent on the performer, of course!)
5) Communicate with your teacher
It is the parents’ role to supervise practice as well as checking the practice diary to see what the requirements are this week. Many parents never look in the practice book or supervise the child’s practice, so they are largely unaware of what is happening in lessons. We offer termly Parents’ Evenings, particularly for the parents that we do not see regularly, and encourage you to come to these to discuss your child’s progress and future goals for learning.
6) Praise your child.
Always encourage your child’s musical efforts, even if sometimes it sounds like it’s not going anywhere! The piano is a very slow and difficult instrument to master, so don’t expect to hear the Moonlight Sonata within the first few years. It may surprise you to know that it takes about 5 years of hard graft before your child will start playing pieces that you may start to recognise.
Try and be encouraging, even if you are a fiercely competitive parent. I have heard parents saying that a child that came third in a music festival didn’t deserve a reward as it wasn’t first place. Much as I try and encourage a bit of lively competition amongst my students, it would dishearten even the most confident of students to know that they were being knocked for having achieved a perfectly good result with a third place.
Even if a performance goes totally wrong, do not scold them for it as all musicians have had several blips along the way when it comes to performing. The important thing is to focus on the next performance and how to improve that one. Try and offer praise when your child is practising. If you can hear a definite improvement in their playing, let them know!