“I don’t understand what she’s playing, so I don’t know how to help.”
This is a phrase I hear often from parents who have no musical training themselves. Because they don’t know the details of the music, they worry they can’t help their child with their practise. This is most definitely not the case.
I wrote last month about the practical ways a non-musical parent can help their piano student child (that post is here) but believe it or not, you can also help them improve their playing.
1. The most important thing you can do is simple. Listen. That’s it. Listen to them practise. You will hear their pieces often enough that you may surprise yourself when you realise you can pick up mistakes. You don’t need to know how to fix it, but you can stop them and have them go back over that section.
2. Don’t be afraid to say, “Again!” I’m sure you are a music listener, even if you aren’t a musician yourself and your ears will know if something doesn’t sound right. Tell them to play it again. And again. This also works really well for scales and technical work (and my students are used to hearing it – I don’t let a scale go until they have played it without error).
3. Sitting with your child for the first five minutes of practise can have a huge impact on your child’s musical success. For starters, it allows them to realise you are listening and involved and know exactly what they are doing. Use this time to ask them questions, which can be done in two ways:
- Be nosy. Ask them questions about what they are playing. Pick something the teacher has marked and ask them why or perhaps select a word of terminology or an articulation mark on the music and ask them what it means. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the answer… they are having to think about it; or
- Ask general questions, such as, “What is the hardest part of this piece? Can you play just that part for me?” or “Can you clap the rhythm of this bar for me?” I can provide flashcards containing samples.
Chances are they’ll get quite a kick from teaching you something as well 🙂
4. Encourage them to really listen to what they are doing… and listen yourself. If they play a section a few times and it changes from halting to fluent, congratulate and encourage them. Ask them what they are trying to achieve.
5. Most people can feel a basic rhythm so you should be able to tell if the rhythm is uneven or inconsistent. Ask them to show you how they count the piece/section and have them count out loud as they play it.
6. Don’t expect them to always play their pieces through. Often working on smaller sections is more beneficial. I always teach my students to “pull out” the troublesome section and work on that alone until it has improved. We can put the piece back together at the lesson if they have refined each of the sections. Sometimes a teacher may set only sections (or even just one hand) rather than the whole piece.
7. Tell them to slow down if they’re having trouble. Speed can be built back up but bad habits are harder to unlearn. There is no such thing as too slow!
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.