If you have a child who’s attending piano lessons, then the most important thing to realise is that you are their piano teacher at home. And don’t worry, you won’t need to learn to play the piano yourself, but just be there to motivate and push your child in the right direction. However, I would also advise trying to find the time to learn a little bit about the piano and how to read music, as this will certainly help your child if you are able to directly help them with their practice. But again, it’s not essential. Just being sat next to your child whilst they practice will be a huge help. Why? Because your presence will immediately motivate your child to practice properly and not skip any parts that are important. And if they do lose focus during the practice, you are there to give them a gentle nudge in the right direction.
Children are easily distracted, whether it’s the thought of what’s for tea, or what Santa’s bring them for Christmas; to what’s on TV later, or hearing their friends play outside. So it’s also really important to make sure the practice is done at a convenient time for the child, and also in a quiet room with no outside noises or distractions. Try to make sure you don’t get them to practice when they would usually be doing something else, like watching their favourite TV program. It will only make the practice seem like a bad idea, so make sure you pick a suitable time for both of you.
Getting your child to practice may be difficult, no matter how much they enjoy playing. Most children will want to sit and play songs all the time, but of course they also need to spend time on scales and learning to read music. So it’s important you keep an eye on the amount of time they spend on these vital parts. My advice would be to always get your child to run through these parts at the start of their practice, rather than the end. Get the boring parts out of the way first, and tell them that the reward for practicing the scales is that they can then play songs straight after. It’s a little bit like telling a child that they can have their dessert if they eat their dinner.
My Mum used to always be nagging me to practice my scales, as I used to find it really hard to focus. All I wanted to play was anything else other than scales! Whether it was the Simpsons them tune, or something out of the charts. So without my Mum pushing me along, I would have gave up a long time ago.
It’s also a good idea to make sure your piano teacher is making notes of your child’s progress, so you can review this with your child during practice. Again, you don’t need to fully understand what they are doing, but at least you have a checklist of things they’ve been told to practice that you can run through with them.
In regards to the amount of time you should make your child practice, it really depends on the level you hope they will get to, and how skilled you think they may be. If your child for example is a virtuoso, then it might be an idea to get them to practice a lot!! The main thing to consider is consistency. Try not to have too many days when they don’t play or practice at all. If your child is struggling to find any focus, then let them play what they want for a few days. As long as they are still playing something, then they will be improving all the time.
And above all, try to make it fun for them. Rewarding your child is a great way to make it fun for both of you! But don’t let them take the reward for granted. You must only give it to them if they practice for the right amount of time, and cover everything they’ve been given by the tutor.
One final way I sometimes find motivates my students, is to record them playing at intervals throughout the year. Not every child is confident enough to allow you to do this, so be careful not to put them off. But the idea is to record them playing a song or piece, and then record them again a few weeks or months later. Then play both the recordings back one after the other. They will be amazed at how much better they are listening to the second recording, and they can instantly hear how they have progressed in such a short space of time. Without this, your child may not realise how far they’ve come, and appreciate all their hard work.