The Role Of Parents In Practicing

A few weeks ago, I had a really good lesson with a great student. He had clearly practiced his assignment during the week, and showed wonderful progress in all of his songs. I said to his mom afterward, as I was on my way out “Thank you for your help, he’s sounding really good. I can tell he’s been practicing the material and it shows”. She said ” Oh, I didn’t really do anything. I encourage him a little bit to play when people come over, and I think it helps that the piano is in a central location in the house”.
I went on to my next lesson and thought about what she said. I think that mom has actually done a lot to support her child’s piano studies. She created a comfortable practice environment, which is so important. And she gently encouraged her child to play and practice, which is also key. In my observation, children benefit greatly from parents who are aware and supportive of their music studies. Note, I did not say they benefit from someone who is on their case every day of their lives and criticizes their efforts to play the piano mercilessly. But a little awareness and encouragement go a long way. The most successful, engaged piano students I teach all have parents who are enthusiastic about their lessons, check in with them periodically regarding their practicing, provide a comfortable practice environment (good lighting, not too cold, central location in the house that is not isolated from everyone else, and no tv on while the student is practicing) and build piano practice into their child’s routine. Setting aside consistent, predictable practice time is a really effective way to help a child gain confidence and enjoyment from their playing and in their lessons. This in turn leads to steady progress, which leads to more enjoyment and sometimes, even more practicing. It’s a virtuous circle that if set up early in a child’s first exposure to a musical instrument may last a lifetime.
Of course it’s difficult to find the time (and sometimes, the motivation) to practice; I still struggle with this myself. Life is busy and there’s always something else that can be done first instead of sitting down at the piano. To be honest, I rarely “find” the time if it’s not scheduled.
That’s why I definitely believe that parents who set up a practice routine for their children are doing them a big favor. Procrastination and bargaining can be eliminated early on…now is piano time, it’s in the schedule. I also suspect that many kids secretly feel relieved when boundaries and expectations are set for them in this way. There is no confusion, the task is quickly done, and it feels great to accomplish and finish something.
The younger a child is, the more guidance she or he will need in establishing effective practice habits. A greater proportion of the responsibility falls on the parent to help, support, and encourage. This responsibility gradually passes from parent to child as the student grows and takes on the challenges of self directed practice. And that is a beautiful thing to witness over the years, in my experience. What’s also evident to me is that every child still appreciates parental encouragement regarding their piano playing – even the teenagers – as they grow more independent. I guess that support just takes on more subtle forms, but it’s still important.
Giving your child the ability to express themselves musically is a precious gift. It’s something that could stay with them for their entire lives and give much joy, satisfaction, and inspiration along the way. (not to mention increasing their intelligence, helping them handle stress, and allowing them to connect with others). In my opinion, a parent’s role in helping their child derive the maximum benefit from music study makes the difference between a boring,frustrating, okay experience and a rewarding, confidence building, fun, and creative one.