Role of Parents

The following is my latest article onĀ Music Teachers Helper:

All private music teachers know that in order for a student to succeed in their music study, parents play a very important role. Some parents were music students once before, so they understand the commitment involved, others are new to the world of private music lessons, and often need to be reminded what their responsibilities are. Of course, this does not mean that parents need to be musically literate or even play an instrument, but without the encouragement, support, and cooperation of parents, music lessons can be short-lived and frustrating for everyone.

I shall attempt to list some of the parent responsibilities:

1. Bring student to lessons on time – On time means just that, not five minutes late, or ten minutes early! Yes, traffic is hard to control, the occasional early arrival is understandable, but being consistently early means either interrupting the previous student’s lesson, or taking up the teachers’s private time.

2. Pick up student on time – Again, on time means just that, except in this case, it is ok to be early! In my studio, if parents arrive early before the lesson ends, they are always welcome to come in and observe and I actually welcome the opportunity to talk to them regarding progress. The teacher’s studio should never be used as a place to drop off kid(s) while parents go about running their errands and just come back whenever they are done! Occasionally the teacher may be happy to give an extended lesson (for example before a test), but this extra time should not be regarded as norm.

3. Pay tuition on time – On times means whatever the teacher says in the studio policy, not whenever it is convenient for the parent! If one should forget occasionally, the polite thing to do is to email/call the teacher and ask if payment should be mailed or made online. Simply do nothing till the next lesson/week after that/end of month is not good, unless special arrangements have been made with the teacher and the teacher is ok with the delay.

4. Bring all lesson materials – This includes everything the teacher has ever given the student, including books, assignment sheets, notes, charts, everything, unless the teacher specifically says a particular book or something is “finished” or not needed anymore and can be left home. Students often conveniently “forget” to bring certain books they try to avoid. In my studio, students often have many books they are working on at a time, and sometimes due to time constraint, we don’t get through everything in the lesson (for example the student did not practice as much as they should have and a particular piece took longer to go through than expected). But I always remember which books didn’t get covered last week, and expect to do them in the next lesson. It bothers me greatly when a student does not bring a particular book and the excuse is “we did not do it last time”! Not bringing all the books and materials to lessons simply delays progress.

5. Make sure students fingernails are trimmed – This applies to piano students in particular. Some students are old enough to do this on their own, for those that are not, it is the parents responsibility.

6. Provide quality instrument – Too often I hear potential parents say they don’t want to invest in a real piano until they know for sure the children are committed to practicing. But how can children fall in love with music or the idea of practicing when all they have access to is a cheap plastic keyboard? Of course, there may very well be talents out there that will shine through any adversity, but for the average student to succeed, a good instrument to practice on is key. Suppose one finally waits a year before making the investment to get a piano – that’s a year’s worth of proper technique that can only be gained from fingers feeling the weight and resistance of keys and hammers, a year’s worth of listening to subtle differences in tone production, and a year’s worth of enjoyment from playing on and listening to something tangible and beautiful. I am not talking about purchasing a brand new grand piano for beginners. There are many rental options, and the used instrument market is great. For those that already have a piano, parents should keep it tuned regularly and make timely repairs if necessary.

7. Help students to practice at home – Most beginner students do not have the concept of what regular practice means. It is up to the parents to instill that habit. For young students, this means sitting next to them or at least being in the same room while they practice. If the parents are musical, sure that helps a great deal, and if not, just by paying attention to what the teacher says in the lessons should give parents enough idea of what needs to be accomplished at home. Some students will just go practice by themselves like a dream, but the reality is that most need to be reminded, persuaded, or even bribed to do so. Practicing is hard work. It is not always fun, and it certainly is a lonely activity. Why would a 6-year-old want to sit on the piano bench for 30min or longer all by herself/himself doing the same thing over and over? They wouldn’t!

8. Encourage students to perform – As much as possible, have students participate in various activities the teacher organizes, such as recitals or music festivals. This greatly enhances the learning experience. Informal performances for family members should also be encouraged and praised.

9. Have realistic expectations – Music lessons is about teaching children to work hard and see where that can take them. The benefits of music study goes far beyond music itself. Not everyone will be the gold medalist in the next Chopin competition, but everyone can learn to play Chopin and appreciate beauty. Too high of an expectation means too much pressure for the students – they eventually hate it and drop out. On the other hand, too low of an expectation means children don’t learn the value of hard work. Every student is different and part of the teacher’s job is to set realistic expectations for each student. For some it may mean competition preparation, for others it may mean being able to memorize a piece for recital. Parents and teachers need to be in agreement with these expectations.

10. Communicate with the teacher – Be actively involved. As students progress, parents don’t have to attend lessons anymore, but should always be interested in and aware of the students progress. Communicate with the teacher often to check mutual expectations. Let the teacher know of any changes in family circumstances.

As you can see, my list is specific to piano students and parents. What qualities does your “dream-parent” have? Do share with other teachers!

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