I like to share this as parents play an important role in making piano learning successful. I like to invite my student’s parents to please take a moment to read through this excerpt.
The Role of Parents
1. More than just policing
So if parents are not supposed to be fussing about how much practice their child does, how can they help?
Parents don’t need any musical training whatsoever to make a tremendous difference to their child’s music lessons. They need to dedicate some time to the process, they need to be patient as they work with their child in this fashion…
…and they need to read this.
2. Be interested
The single one thing parents can do to help their child practice is to be genuinely interestedin what’s going on with their music lesson. To be hungry to find out what happened in the last lesson, and how their child plans on being ready for the next one. To want to know what that left pedal on the piano is called. What’s the highest note their child can play? How fast is the new study supposed to be? What are they most looking forward to showing off at your next lesson?
How their child is feeling about their next concert? What made them decide to choose to play this piece?
Such questions can happen in the car, at the dinner table, straight after lessons…wherever. But they should happen a lot.
Most children are delighted to be the center of their parent’s attention, and will tend to view favorably any activity that thrusts them into the limelight like that.
Calculated positive feedback from parents is a great way of reinforcing behavior.
The logic is that if the parent catches their child doing something right, and then praises them for it, the child is likely to want to repeat that behavior in the future. So if the problem for the past few months has been that the student practices too fast, the next time the parent hears a passage of slow practice—however fleeting—they should pop in and mention to the student how careful their practice is sounding.
They can also keep and ear out for when the student may be sounding frustrated with what they are doing. Depending on the situation, they can gently encourage the child to try the section a couple more times, or try a different way, or try a different section altogether, or even to take a break for a while and come back later.
The point is that when the child battles with practicing demons, they do so with support, and with plenty of encouragement to persist.
Parents can ensure that the communication between studio and home is complete by having the student reflect back to them the essential information for the week ahead.
The student should be able to explain exactly what their tasks are, together with the practice techniques that were recommended to compete them. They should also be able to answer questions about key points that were raised last lesson and any details of upcoming deadlines or performances.
The questions from the parent are designed to help the student cement their understanding of what’s required, and are probably best as soon after the lesson as possible. It’s also useful to pop into practice sessions at random and have the student outline again what their goals for the week are…that way, the student will be gently reminded to get their eye back on the ball.
The parent can help the child work out how many practice sessions will happen, when they will take place, and how long will be available for each one. Once that’s been done, they can build together a plan for getting everything done.
Being enthusiastic can help motivate students to be excited about things they haven’t even started yet.
For example, parents can enthuse about: the new piece their kid has been given, the fact that their child is almost finished their new book, the new instrument their child now has, etc. (Enthusing will have its greatest credibility and impact if the child believes they were not supposed to hear what was said).
7. Progress checks
With the practice model being based around the student having specific jobs to do, knowing whether or not they are ready for their next lesson is more important for students than ever before. Students need to know early in the week if they are starting to fall behind, so that the lesson itself doesn’t sneak up and ambush them.
One of the best ways to assess progress is with a couple of well-spaced midweek Checkpoints, and the parent is the perfect audience for the student to show off their work so far to.
The check doesn’t exist so that the parent can lecture the student about keeping up. Even if the session reveals that the student is behind, all the response needs to be is a discussion about how to restructure the rest of the week to still meet the deadline.
There is plenty they can’t do in the remaining days to ensure that the bad start to the week simply won’t matter at the lesson.
This restructuring is not just a conversation about how to fit in extra practice sessions. It should also target how the student is planning on practicing. Often students fall behind because the way they are practicing is not working, not because they are spending insufficient time in the practice room. The parent can go through the list of suggested practice techniques, and help the child look for alternatives to the one they had been using.
8. Knowing when not to help
Sometimes the best help is not to help at all. Some students work best when they are given room to move. Other students are undergoing temporary difficulties in their relationship with the parent concerned.
Independently of the state of the relationship between parent and child, as students become more autonomous with their practice, the parental involvement model moves gently from helping regularly to simply being available should the student need it.
But no matter how independent the practicing becomes, parents continue to set the enthusiasm levels with their own attitudes toward what is happening in music lessons. It can be as simple as eye-contact and a small nod at the end of an obviously good lesson. Parents don’t need to compose a sonnet for their kids to know that they are proud. And they don’t have to be sitting on the piano stool with their kids for every second of practice for the child to feel thoroughly supported, and to feel that the excitement surrounding their progress in lesson is being shared.
This summary is from chapter 15 of The Practice Revolution by Philip Johnston (PracticeSpot Press, pages 298 to 304)