I have an old cassette tape that is one of my most treasured possessions. My Dad made it for me many years ago and it contains different performances of mine over the years. It starts way back when I was 4 years old and made up a song (called “Baa, Little Lamb”) on the ukulele and also contains many snippets of me during piano practise. Or to be more precise, me arguing with either Dad or Mum about my piano practise. And all through my practise. I enjoyed playing and I did well, but like every other kid in existence, I didn’t like being told to practise. My sister and I knew that we had to practise twice a day; it was the first thing we did after breakfast and the first thing we did when we arrived home from school. Summer afternoons were hard. So were weekends. We had very strict parents. But we still tried it on.
So, as a teacher, I get it. I know my students don’t like to practise. But I also understand how much they need to. Playing an instrument is a physical skill and requires training of the muscles and fine-motor skills. When parents sign their child up for piano lessons they are not looking for a way to encourage epic battles at home.
How do we bring the desired peace to the home practise world? The wonderful folks at Teach Piano Today have put together five tips (with which I totally agree) to help restore harmony in your household.
1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
It’s true in the real estate world, and it’s also true in the home practise world. Having your piano in the most advantageous place in your home is of vital importance for successful home practise.
You want to find a balance between shoving the piano in a downstairs corner versus putting it in the centre of your most-used room. Ideally the piano should be located in a comfortable room, close to where the family is, but away from major distractions. Your child does not want to feel isolated during practise time – but they also do not want to compete with your food processor and washing machine.
2. CRAMMING IS NOT THE ANSWER
Nothing stresses a parent out more than helping their child practise when they have 10 minutes before leaving for the piano lesson. Keep the peace at home by beginning home practise immediately after you return home from their piano lesson. This is the best time as they will still remember what they covered in their lesson, and the piano books will actually make it to the piano, setting you up for a good start to a week of practise.
Cramming creates feelings of inadequacy in your child as they struggle to perfect what should take 7 days to percolate. Cramming makes you sweat and wonder why in the world you are paying for these lessons. Cramming is not the answer.
3. MISTAKES ARE OKAY
I promise! It’s the job of your child’s teacher to sort out the mistakes in lesson time. Your job at home is to be the support – to remind them to spend time on the piano, congratulate them on their efforts, revel in the joy that is your child creating music, and show that you value music in your home.
Avoid the following statements and watch peace fall over your home immediately: “Is that right? I don’t think that’s right.”… “That’s not how it’s supposed to sound.”… “Are you watching your music?”… “Your sister played that piece and it didn’t sound like that.” … “Wrong note!”… “Try it again.” etc. Your child will get their back up immediately and the practice wars are sure to ensue.
4. “BUT MRS JONES SAID!”
How many times has your child shouted a statement similar to this? “Mrs Jones said I only have to play the first page!”… “Mrs Jones said to play it up here.”… “Mrs Jones said to play it this fast!”… What your child is actually trying to say is “I want to be in charge of my learning.” So let them. Whether or not Mrs Jones actually said these things is beside the point.
Resist the urge to argue (and resist the urge to call up Mrs Jones to ask what the heck she is teaching) and trust that your child will sort it out themselves. This is often a knee-jerk reaction on your child’s part – they so desperately want to be right and in charge and it’s their way of saying “Stay out of this, I’ve got it.” If you allow them this right to direct their own learning you will help to create a confident piano student.
5. BE PRESENT
For those parents who do sit with their child during practise sessions, you and your child will enjoy practise time so much more if you, the parent, are not multi-tasking. Children thrive on one-on-one quality time, and if this is combined with their piano practise, it is an activity that you will both grow to cherish.
Take away the distractions – the mobile ‘phone, the baby, the dog, the dinner preparation – and focus on just your child. Soak up the experience of watching your young one learn such a complex skill. Find a time to practise that isn’t restricted by deadlines. Just enjoy making music together. It’s difficult to start a practise war if you are truly “bonding on the bench”.
Piano practise is a commitment. It’s a daily event that can either be gloriously wonderful or horribly stressful. Keep these five tips in mind when you start out this new practise week and welcome peaceful piano practise into your home with open arms.
If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.