by Wendy Dyck
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Original Article: Click Here
Originally Published: September/October 2013
There is something magical about the piano—maybe it’s the beautiful curves of a baby grand, the complexity of sound it can produce, or the wonder of fingers moving with speed and accuracy across the keyboard. And while it’s certainly not portable and can cost a small fortune to move or maintain, the romance continues. Parents spend hundreds of dollars on lessons, hoping that their son or daughter will make the dream come alive, but the results are mixed. Every year I watch bright, music-loving, musically-gifted children slouch their way through the year making minimal progress despite my best efforts during our lesson time and I am humbly reminded that I am not central to their success—you are.
Success at the piano exists in direct relation to practice at home, and with children, parents play the most obvious role in making sure this happens. Very few children are self-directed enough to pursue music on their own, but many more who love music also need the full support of a parent to practice. How?
You will notice waves of interest in practicing—surf them! These are critical times for students because the intensity they bring to practicing can help them make significant leaps in their technical expertise, reading ability and playing strength, which feeds back into their desire to practice. Make sure your child has music that she enjoys playing, buy a new book or download some fun sheet music. Join them at the piano and play a duet, even if it’s only Heart and Soul. Get out a guitar or a drum and play with them. Arrange a mini-concert for friends, take a picture of them at the piano and frame it. Record them playing and send it to family—make a CD!
But don’t be surprised when the interest wanes. Seemingly low interest times are the plateaus where students are consolidating new skills, playing music that they really love and don’t want to give up, or just taking the space they need in a life that is full of other interests. Another wave will come. Watch and be ready!
At our house, practicing is linked to other activities—no screen time until practicing has been done. One child loves to practice first thing in the morning so he’s “done” and can use all of his after school time to play. The other child prefers playing in the evening when he’s more likely to have an audience. Is your child a morning person? Does she prefer a quiet household when practicing?
Be consistent. If you have a routine, tag practicing on to another task. Leave flexibility for weekends and accept that a day away from the piano can be helpful. One day, that is—more than one day away from playing can make the return an uphill slog as students struggle to recall skills that were only recently acquired. And any time at the instrument is good time, messing around is better than not being there at all and sometimes it’s all you can ask.
It’s great when the piano is centrally located. It’s easier to monitor what’s going on during the practice session and to offer lots of praise for a good performance. Resist the urge to correct—unless you’ve established a successful way of doing this with your child, it can be counter-productive. Practicing can be the time when your child is taking ownership of acquiring a skill, so leave the corrections to the teacher. The proviso here is that if there is a wrong note that is making the music sound terrible, an intervention can make everyone feel better.
Accompany your child. If your piano is situated in a basement or side room, consider taking a book or some work and sitting in the room while your child practices. For many children, one of the hardest things about practicing is being alone.
And if the piano is in the same room as a stereo, computer or television—not a preferred situation—make sure there is a policy with regard to how these different media interact. What gets priority? Will there be resentment on the part of other family members when the practicing commences?
Rewards for practicing should be intrinsic—playing piano better is the best reward for time spent at the instrument. But sometimes an exterior motivator can be helpful. Knowing someone else is listening can be a strong motivator for some children (“I really like that song you play in a minor key. Can you play that one for me?”), as can praise (“That is the best I’ve ever heard you play that!”). Children can be encouraged to develop their own external rewards as part of taking ownership for learning their music, maybe taking time for a snack midway through practicing when they’ve finally mastered a difficult bit, or as a reward for using correct fingering in a scale.
And although parents are key to success for young musicians, the goal must always be to move children towards ownership. Playing piano is their skill and at some point, they must make the commitment. This doesn’t happen in one day, it’s a process whereby parents need to be constantly assessing how much they need to intervene, when they can back off and see what happens. It’s a function of maturity, of skill, of interest and lots of things we don’t see. Be patient, but encourage those moments when a child takes on something difficult without being told, or practices longer than is required. Remember that music-making is a joyful experience and part of that joy springs from knowing that you’ve worked hard and the beauty you have to share is your own.
Wendy Dyck has taught piano for almost 20 years and has a music studio that includes students ranging in age from seven to 87. She believes that making music is empowering and dreams of learning to play the accordion.
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