Piano lessons are a significant investment of time and money with the potential for a lifetime of musical fulfillment. How do we make sure you're making the most of your lessons?
Here are 8 tried-and-true tips:
1. Don't miss lessons
Consistency is key! While illness and vacations are unavoidable, every effort should be made to ensure that lessons are happening on a weekly basis. Music is a difficult discipline that requires daily repetition to advance. When lessons are missed, students often forget what they have learned, leading to lessons that are just repeats of previous ones! Definitely something to be avoided.
2. Practice every day
No matter one's intentions, if a student doesn't put in the necessary time consistently, they are not going to acquire the skills for proficiency. And it takes a lot of time. Playing an instrument and learning to read notation are complicated tasks akin to learning a foreign language, but with an added component of physical dexterity and coordination that can only be gained through daily repetition. Sports teams often demand multiple practices a week in addition to games, and there you have teammates to help you. Studying a solo instrument puts that much more emphasis on the individual, and thus should require at least as much time and dedication as sports. Yet because lessons usually occur only once a week, students and their parents often do not carve out the time in their schedules necessary to really learn their instruments.
3. Practice with them
This is pretty much non-negotiable for children under 7: Kids who are not fluent readers will need a lot of support. But even after that, they may not be able to get much done on their own. It can be very helpful to have a second party that can point out when something needs to be repeated. Related to this, it takes a significant amount of maturity to admit a mistake and work on it until it improves. It's a lot to ask of young kids. If you can support and encourage them through this, you will be teaching them not just how to address challenges in music, but in life in general, so it's well worth the extra effort.
Of course, most kids at some point will kick their parents out and refuse to let them in the practice room any longer. That's normal, and they can start to learn independence in this way.
4. Practice at the same time every day
It's one thing to say practice every day, but who has the time?! Modern families have busy schedules with many competing demands. Your best bet at consistency is to have a designated practice time that is the same every day. Like so many other things with kids, routine is your path to salvation. Some early risers have found success practicing before school. Others do better to get it out of the way right after they come home, or before or after dinner. Find out what works best with your schedule, and then make every effort to stick to it!
5. Offer long-term incentives
Learning a piece of music, particularly if it's a complicated one, involves delayed gratification - a challenge for a human being of any age! It's a valuable learning experience for a kid, but can also be tiring and frustrating, so sometimes we need to look beyond the music. Reward systems can be very effective if done well. I gave my son Sebastian $1 worth of credit toward a Lego set he wanted for every practice for a while. He could even get $2 if he wanted to do a double session. I got a solid two and a half months of daily practice out of him using this method until he earned the set. Of course, the system for positive reinforcement needs to be switched up frequently, because as soon as a kid gets too accustomed to it, it loses its novelty and a lot of its motivating power. Some other ideas for short and long-term rewards include stickers, treats, and one on one time with parents.
6. Listen to recordings of the pieces they're playing
This is an easy one. Take advantage of modern technology! In general I find that kids don't listen to anywhere near enough music. Did you know that you can bypass up to 50% of practice time at the instrument just by doing a lot of listening? Find a good recording of the pieces from their lesson (Youtube, Spotify, etc.), and put them on repeat! (Bonus points if everyone can sing or hum along!)
7. Listen to recordings of other music
Of course, there is no need to confine your listening just to the pieces you're playing. Listening to a broad variety of music in all genres with all manner of ensembles will increase musical fluency and creativity. Listen to whatever music will sustain your kids' interests!
8. Go to concerts
Concerts are of course the natural extension of the listening experience. Students who regularly attend live performances will be far more likely to form a lasting relationship with music than those who don't.