How do I help my child with practice in between music lessons?
This is one of the most common questions parents ask our teachers. This is not surprising, because the lessons themselves represent just a small fraction of the time a student will spend learning an instrument. A supportive parent - even one without a musical background - can make a huge difference in the child’s development during these formative periods.
For starters, parents can learn much from observing the last 10 minutes of lessons and debriefing with the teacher after each one. (This of course is one of the great benefits of taking music lessons at home, where the parent can comfortably listen in on the entire session.) Gathering this information gives the parent important perspective on the student’s most recent accomplishments and their current challenges, providing useful context for the parent’s support during the coming week.
Most young music students prefer to spend more time practicing songs that they enjoy and can perform comfortably. The more challenging pieces, meanwhile, receive relatively little attention without a parent’s prompting. This is a function of the student’s confidence; while a good teacher will encourage the student during her lessons, the student will quickly lose confidence when practicing challenging pieces and concepts independently. This is where a supportive parent can play an invaluable role in not just the student’s musical development, but her grit as well.
How to tell when your child needs a musical confidence boost? The most common telltale signs are when the student performs the same songs over and over again or her motivation to practice declines. It is then that a parent’s emotional support and coaching are paramount. Rather than dragging your child to the piano, mimic the music teacher by reaffirming that being patient and working slowly, and in shorter increments of time, is the surest way to progress. Here are a few specific suggestions for putting these concepts into practice.
First, schedule music into your daily routine. For example:
Print practice labels and place them on the family calendar and student’s school planner.
Pick two days per week to sit and listen to the student play after dinner. Ask your student to perform 3 songs. Place the difficult song in the middle of the selections. Applaud for the student after she finishes and give helpful comments that reflect musical growth.
Keep a notebook for your teacher and ask the student, “What kind of notes should we write for your teacher this week so they can help?”
Second, identify simple tasks to promote progress and confidence. For example:
Sit with your student while she writes counts into their music.
Tap the rhythm hands separately and hands together. Let her be the teacher by asking her to show you how to tap the rhythm.
When you listen, make sure she is playing/singing in complete musical ideas.
Ask her to stop and play more slowly if there are lots of pauses and breaks in the music.
Third - and with help from the teacher - locate the challenging places in the music and how to practice these sections. Try isolating a single idea for each one:
Figure our the names of the notes
Figure out the rhythm and how to count
Identify the range in which the notes occur
The key is growth - however limited - combined with a spotlight on that progress so that the student recognizes even modest successes. When the student enjoys this type of support in between lessons, music teachers can see a significant difference in the student’s confidence and musicianship.
Conversely, we strongly discourage parents from allowing a student to discontinue lessons simply because the student lacks motivation or is frustrated by the challenges inherent in skill development. Both teachers and parents must coach discouraged students that there will be peaks to climb before we reach a plateau and studies become easy again. This is a natural - and crucial - aspect of learning that is transferable to so many other disciplines in life. Once the student masters the concept that was causing frustration, celebrate and remind her of how difficult it once seemed. This builds confidence much like exercising a muscle, where consistent repetition over time can yield tremendous long term benefits for the student.
For more ideas on how to support your child’s practice in between music lessons, don’t be shy - just ask your teacher!