Yesterday we celebrated Mother’s Day. With that comes reflection on how becoming a mother has changed your life and how your kids have grown. My son is the kid playing in the video above, and I have to tell you in the beginning it was very challenging to teach him how to play the piano. Like any kid he didn’t like the idea of practicing and he got easily frustrated with all that playing the piano involves. Our lessons often ended with both of us upset and ready to throw the piano out the window, but it was too heavy for either of us to pick up! This continued for several years and then one day after about 7 years something changed.
Today we are both so glad that we did not give up. It’s pretty often these days that my husband and I wake up to the sound of live jazz piano being played in the morning. We can hardly believe that we even have to ask him to take a break from practicing sometimes to do important things like eating and sleeping. I’m talking about a teenage boy choosing piano over eating! That alone is enough for me to know that when it comes to piano lessons and frustrated kids and parents giving up cannot be an option. If you hang in there – especially on the most difficult days, the day will come when your child too will be glad you didn’t allow them or yourself to give up!
Do you remember the first time you realized your hands had grown enough for you to reach an octave on the piano? It happened to my daughter today, and she was so excited! She yelled for me to come look and take a picture. These are the moments that are priceless.
Parents, moments like this are the reason to encourage yourself and your child to hang in there when music learning gets tough.
Parents want to HELP their kids do well in piano but often don’t know how and are pressed for time. As a piano parent myself, I totally get it. So in the spirit of multitasking, here are 4 simple things parents can do in the car on the way home (or headed to the next destination) after lessons.
Just remember the word
Highlights – Ask your child questions about the lesson
Encouragement – Make a positive statement about their piano learning
Let it go – Laugh about something. Anything.
Play – for the first 5 minutes at home have your child play something they started learning at the lesson.
Here is a great book to add to your library of fiction books about piano lessons. Susan Bonners tells an engaging story of a young girl, Annie, who moves to a new neighborhood with her mom and little brother. The trouble is that they are moving far away from her Uncle who was teaching her how to play the piano. In the new neighborhood Annie is surprised to hear piano music coming from a neighbor’s house. As the story progresses we watch Annie and her neighbor - who happens to be a retired piano teacher – form an unbreakable bond because of the music.
Young readers who have an interest in playing the piano will easily relate to Annie as they read about how Annie struggles to remember the music her Uncle taught her before she moved away and how she eventually does remember HOW to remember! As a piano teacher, I constantly encourage young students to read fiction books about kids who play the piano or who want to learn to play. I believe that these stories are very valuable in validating children who take lessons by giving them characters who have similar desires and interests as their own. This is especially important because of the fact that piano learning is in so many ways a lonely pursuit.
The piano teacher in me enjoys reading these books because of the “knowing about the process” that is often depicted in them. For example, there is one line that jumped off the page as I was reading Making Music – “Teaching is tiring” the neighbor tells Annie when Annie asks her to teach her to play the piano. Simple relatable comments like that can be very refreshing because they are reminders that other piano teachers sometimes experience the same emotions that I do when it comes to teaching piano.
The story is a quick read that can be helpful for parents as well. Parents who read the book will get a glimpse into the mind of a young child who desires to play the piano and gain an even better understanding of lessons as it relates to their own child.
I found this book at my local library, but after reading it decided that I wanted to have my own copy. It is available through several sellers including Amazon.com.
To celebrate completing the first month of piano lessons for this school year, I held a piano photo contest for students and families in the studio. Below you can see all the entries. Please vote for your favorite picture. The owner of the winning picture will receive a $10 Amazon gift card!
When my son signed up for orchestra at his school a couple of years ago I learned a valuable lesson as a parent. It is a lesson that I believe that piano playing parents who have enrolled their children in piano lessons can benefit from as well. So here it is…
Violin was my son’s instrument of choice that year. He was very excited when we got home from the music store with his brand new violin. I was excited too! I had never played a violin before, but knowing that music is in the musician and not in the instrument, I decided to try playing a simple tune on it. Before my son could get in the house good, I was playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on his violin. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect technique wise, but it was recognizable. I was proud of myself for being able to demonstrate that an instrument is merely a tool in a musician’s hands much like a pen is a tool in a writer’s hands. It doesn’t matter what kind of pen the writer uses – he can still write with it. Just as I was about to pat myself on the back for my musical genius (lol), I looked up to find that my son was less than impressed. In fact, he was upset.
Why was he upset, you may ask? The violin was supposed to be HIS thing, not MY thing! He wanted to impress me with his ability to play the violin and to show me that he could do something that I could not. He didn’t say this to me, but I realized it just from looking at his response. From that moment on, I did not pick up his violin - at least not when he was home! He went on to qualify for the Honor’s Orchestra by the end of the school year and I went on being grateful that I have a healthy, happy son who is able to enjoy music all on his own!
So, what am I saying to piano playing parents? Let your children take the lead when it comes to whether or not you should play the piano with or for them. Resist the urge to show them that you can play the rest of the song that they just started learning. Give them the joy of inviting you to the piano to play along or sing along, or just listen! They will be much more cooperative because they can own their musical education. Once they feel that sense of ownership, they will be glad to share in many musical experiences with you!
Most of the students that I teach LOVE to perform in public! They enjoy the attention they receive from their friends and family when they play the piano. Still there are a couple of kids that I teach who, like me at their age, would rather be eaten by a lion than play the piano in front of others. Does this mean that nobody will ever get to hear them play at studio events? It doesn’t have to! Kids who are not into playing “live” can still be part of the annual Fall and Spring Concerts via pre-recorded video! If your venue has video capability, why not allow the audience to experience this students’ playing as well AND save your student the butterflies and avoid the torture of playing in public? After all, the point of the event is for others to see and hear them play – who cares if it’s pre-recorded? People LOVE watching videos and they will applaud a good performance – hello, can you say YouTube? A couple of well placed videos could be a welcome break from a string of on stage piano players during your studio event. As a bonus, the kid from the video can come to the stage and take a bow after the video is shown or have a special autograph table set up afterwards. Who knows, this could boost their confidence and inspire them to play live in the next event!
So, I’m curious readers. Have any of you done this at any of your studio events before?
This morning I received a very thoughtful email from a parent thanking me for the music books I had chosen for her daughter. As music teachers we spend a lot of time searching for just the right method books to use. I like to use Faber Piano Adventures, and I know that there are many teachers who would either agree or disagree with me about my choice for various pedagogical reasons. But this post is NOT about what method books are the best! This post is about why music teachers should be more concerned about the type of music their students want to play and the type of music the families of their students want to hear.
Now, the parent who sent me the email wasn’t concerned about the brand of method book. She was appreciative of the STYLE of music that was in the books. One of the first questions I ask parents and students when beginning lessons is, “What music do you like to listen to?” Another question I often ask is “What TV shows do you watch and what is your favorite movie?” These are research questions that help me determine what songs I will use to teach them how to play the piano. This approach to teaching piano is definitely more time-consuming than the traditional way of teaching, but it is absolutely essential for success with students and families. People want to learn how to play the piano in order to play their favorite music, not ours!
This is where the Law of Supply and Demand comes in. What do you think would happen if you got a student who always dreamed of playing Beethoven’s music but his piano lesson only consisted of learning blues songs? Or what if you had a student who loved pop music (and most students do), but the piano lesson only consisted of learning classical music? Well, the answer is simple – the student would most likely quit as soon as he is allowed to do so.
Now, as music teachers we have several clients for each student we teach. Yes, the student is a client, but the student’s family members are too! Remember that the family members have to listen to – or endure in some cases – the practice sessions! Consider two scenarios – Student 1 is learning music that the family members enjoy and Student 2 is learning music that the family members either can’t relate to or don’t enjoy. Which situation would most likely result in more diligent support of practice at home? Of course it is the scenario where the student is learning music that the family enjoys!
So, the Law of Supply and Demand for music teachers –
Supply students and family members with music they love to hear and the Demand for your lessons will go through the roof!
Those are the words I heard J.R. Ewing say as I watched the TV series Dallas a few days ago in an episode from this past season. You just never know when you are going to hear a bit of wisdom like that! It was such an unexpected comment – he was speaking to his son about business negotiations – that I had to rewind it just to hear it again!
Of course I relate most things to music, music teaching, and/or parenting. I think the statement applies to all three, actually. Great musicians know that there is much beauty in well placed silence. Great music teachers know that deliberate moments of silence allow students time to understand more deeply, to explore, and to create. These same moments of silence are what give life to music and allow the notes to breathe. Great parents know that when we are silent we can hear our children speak – not merely by their words, but by their actions and by the way they respond to various situations.
So, kudos to the writer or writers responsible for this magnificent line! And now here is my chance to shut up.
Imagine your student walking towards your studio, music bag in hand. She may be thinking about the super hard test she had at school today or the mountain of homework that is waiting for her to do after the piano lesson. All this can be very distracting and maybe a bit discouraging until… she makes it to your studio door and sees a welcome sign with her name on it just as she is about to enter! You can predict what will happen next – a big smile will appear on her face and she will enter the studio that much more excited about her lesson. Pictured above is the sign I put up for my students everyday during the first week of piano for the new school year. Each day I simply replaced the previous day’s names with the students for that day. OK – truth – I had my daughter do it for me! It was definitely a hit with students and parents as well. An added benefit to this sign was having all the students for the day listed. Seeing other kids’ names lets students know that they are not the only ones taking piano lessons and that they are part of a music making community. For more about building community in your studio, see my post on how to Get Parents Geared Up For A New Piano Season.