Parents who have never played a musical instrument often feel lost when it comes to helping their child practise at home. They may feel their ability to help is limited to phrases such as, “It’s time to practise the piano!” or “Your lesson is in 15 minutes – quickly do some practise!” or even, “Did you remember to practise this week?” But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Believe it or not, non-musical parents outweigh musical parents most of the time. Even if you don’t know one note from another, can’t hold a tune or recognise a treble clef, you still have the skills required to help your child learn how to do these things.
In this first part of a two-part post, we will look at some of the ways you can help your child that don’t involve the music itself. Part two (in two weeks) might surprise you with the ways in which you can be involved with the content of their practise.
1. Make practising like brushing teeth. Piano practise shouldn’t be something that is done only when there is spare time. Let’s face it… we have to bug our kids to do even the simplest things sometimes (like brushing their teeth or having a shower) so why should piano practise be any different? Yes, you may need to continually hound them, but they will better understand the commitment required if they see you making practise a priority. Practise = progress.
2. Use flashcards to work with them on their music theory; note names, values, symbols and terminology. I have pdf files of flash cards I can share with the parents of my students.
3. Encourage them to perform for friends and relatives. Even for yourself. They can perform for you each week, after they have spent most of the week working on their pieces.
4. Let them hear you bragging about them to other people – it may be about how well they are playing but it could also be about how disciplined they are with practicing.
5. Have them practise when they are awake and alert – practicing in a state of fatigue won’t get them very far.
6. Ensure they are sitting correctly at the piano. Keep an eye on them and if you see them slouching, suggest they hold their back straight. This will not only stop body fatigue but will also help them balance their arms and hands properly. Their teacher should also be able to show you how they should be holding their hands, so you can keep an eye on that as well.
7. Allow them to have some “messing around” time at the piano; it doesn’t all need to be structured. This type of activity encourages creativity and early composition skills. I love it when a student turns up and starts the lesson with, “Guess what I made up this week?”
8. Help them organise their practise; schedule it into their routine and keep track of how much they are doing (this doesn’t include the “messing around” time mentioned above).
9. Accept there will occasionally be tears and frustration… learning the piano is not easy! Take a break (and a deep breath) and assess whether or not it is worth proceeding after the break. Either way, encourage your child to note the problem area so their teacher can help them with it at the next lesson.
Part two will be published next month.
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.